AUDIENCE members at Black History Summit 2023 have been encouraged to take the lessons learned out into their communities where they can be used to build a more inclusive society.
Organised by the North West Migrants Forum, the theme of this year’s conference was ‘decolonising education’.
Around 100 people gathered in the Great Hall of Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry to hear why the diverse experiences of black and minority ethnic communities and individuals should be taught as part of the school curriculum.
Among the speakers was Dr Ebun Joseph. She said the system of education that exists today is “racist” and needs to be reconstructed.
“They are still trying to make us read Othello. They are still trying to make us read To Kill a Mockingbird. Why can’t we read Audre Lorde,” asked Dr Joseph, referring to the 20th century feminist, civil rights activist and author of acclaimed works such as Sister Outsider and From a Land Where Other People Live.
Other panellists included University of Glasgow researcher Dr Hyab Yohannes who addressed the packed hall alongside Professor Charlotte Williams, one of the key figures in the introduction of black history to the school curriculum in her native Wales.
Through traditional Ugandan song, drum rhythms and dance, Donna Namukasa brought a different type of enthusiasm to the Ulster University stage. She explained how music and the energy it creates can be a unifying force.
This was the North West Migrants Forum’s third Black History Summit, held each year as part of Black History Month.
It was jointly chaired by Seun Awonuga and TJ Mushapho, the Derry schoolboy who is campaigning to have black history taught in Northern Ireland’s classrooms.
“As a student at St Columb’s College, black history in education is a topic close to my heart,” said the 12-year-old.
“It is close to my heart because only once in my school life have I been taught black history. That was in P7 when for one week we learnt of Harriet Taubman who was an escaped slave who became an abolitionist. By contrast we learnt a lot of Irish history and British history for example the royal family.
“As the son of proud black parents, I feel that there are many stories about black figures that we never get to hear. I would like to see black history in the curriculum and I look forward to the day when it black history is just another element of education in Northern Ireland.”
Naomi Green is Programmes Manager at the Migrants Forum and helped bring this year’s event together.
Ms Green described it as a “great success” and said she hoped those in attendance would take what they had heard and learned back with them to their own working environments.
She said, “Donna Namukasa opened the summit with her infectious energy highlighting how drums can be a tool for not only learning about black history but for bringing people together.
“Dr Hyab Yohannes spoke about how colonialism still influences power structures and how we think and talk about people with non-European heritage today. He made the point that how we think about people impacts how we value their lives, knowledge and the importance of moving towards a universal acknowledgement of humanity.
“Dr Ebun Joseph highlighted the vast breadth of black history from ancient civilisation to the present day in education medicine and politics, reminding us that black history is world history.
“Professor Charlotte spoke about her experiences of introducing the black curriculum in Wales and the Welsh concept of ‘Cynefin’ which focuses on creating a sense of belonging, space and acceptance for all.
“We also had some of the most amazing food provided by our community. Attendees had the opportunity to try traditional Nigerian, Eritrean and Sudanese cuisine and much more.
“It was such an excellent event and I really hope those who attended felt challenged and inspired to try and bring more inclusive narratives and approaches to their own organisations, schools and work environments,” Ms Green added.
Ulster University Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Philip McDermott, was another key component in making the conference a success.
He said it was an important tool in terms of teaching students about the importance of embracing a multi-cultural society.
“The black history and heritage event was a true exploration of themes relevant to higher education.
“Educators should always be striving to create a shared and equal space for everyone.
“Working in collaboration with the North West Migrants Forum helps us to learn from communities and apply this knowledge in our own practice with students.”
Bringing this year’s Black History Summit to a close, Director of the North West Migrants Forum, Lilian Seenoi Barr, said she wanted to thank everyone who helped make it happen.
The Migrants Forum Director added that she had a dream that one day black history would be sewn into the fabric of Northern Irish society.
“Our work is only starting and together we can make a real impact,” she told the Great Hall.
“It is really important the lessons from this summit do not stay in this room, share them with your families, friends, share them on your social media.
“The more we share, the greater the chance we have of building a more inclusive society.”