Back in June when I began the role as Welfare and Equality Officer, the first project I set my heart on was Black History Month. As a black undergrad student here, I had generally felt disillusioned with efforts to "celebrate" blackness on campus, and had felt like that majority of the people who had taken the stage when celebrating black excellence were non-black people. So I really wanted the month to be centred around our black students, black staff and black members of the local community. In a city dominated by white spaces, Black History Month offes an important time for black voices to be heard.
Despite some criticsim from people who couldn't understand why the month needed to be led by black people, and that non-white allies had to appreciate from the audience, the month was an incredible success and recieved well by so many. Our Opening Night had over 200 people attend- the most any Black History Month that the Union has hosted had ever attended- with a diverse mix of different ethnicities, cultures, ages, genders. On stage we saw myth-busting motivational videos designed by our Racial Equality Officer to unearth the royal black histories,an art show by student group M3MOREX, followed by a peformance by the incredible duo from Ladies of Midnight Blue who hypnotizde the audience with their moving drum and afro-latin percussion set, we watched local black dancers showcase a variety of moves from different black genres, two student rappers who spat bars from the heart, and a wonderful fashion show by Afro-Caribbean Society in collaboration with Fashion Society with beautifu black students wearing traditional clothing and gold on their bodies. This was all topped off with some scrumptious Caribbean scran from local food vendor the Calabash Tree. A clip from the night can be watched here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nc1BMl32Fw
In the second week we collaborated with the Great Debate Tour and other universitites/groups in the North East, including Northumbria University, to host a debate over topics that affected black lived experiences. With over 70 people attend and a diverse panel of students, staff and local community members, we tackled a whole range of topics including mental health, knife crime and breaking into elite proffessions. The full video of the night can be watched here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5WHO4-pvzg. In the room there were key members of staff listening to the needs of black students and they are now feeding that back into their own work.
In the third week we hosted our #WordsHurt and #BlackChat part of the campaign, which was all about students articulating their lived experiences. Inspired by BBC's videos "what not to say to", I filmed 6 different groups of black students for #BlackChat- all l female, all male, LGBT, faith and belief, a mixed group and a staff group- who were asked questions like "if you could change one thing about being a black person on campus what would it be?" and responded to microaggressions that they had potentially experienced. Then I projected some of those microaggressions on posters that hung around the union, in hope to raise awareness over the different types of racism students face on campus, including "Can I touch your hair?" and "It wasn't be who enslaved your ancestors". Being controversial and striking posters, this triggered a lot of conversations, both positive and negative, and one of the posters which read "I would love to try a black guy" was ripped down in the men's toilets in the SU. The posters were uncomfortable for many people who weren't black, but reflected the discomfort and awkwardness that black people feel when they are victims of microaggressions. All the videos and posters can be seen on our website: https://www.nusu.co.uk/big/.
For the big finale of the jam-packed month, we hosted a closing party at World Headquarters with Northumbria University. The venue was chosen because its renowned commitment to racial equality and giving marginalised groups platforms to showcase their work. Two black DJ's from Newcastle University took us through a host of different genres from the African diaspora, and over 230 people danced the night away. We also raised money for the Angelou Centre on all non-student paying ticket holders- a charity in Newcastle known for its commitment to helping BAME women in Newcastle.
Overall the month was an incredible success. I loved every moment of it, and black students also found the month incredibly empowering. Some of the feedback I recieved was "Your campaign for Black History Month made be gain hope in the Students' Union. Thanks for making Black History Month a big deal in a university where its usually brushed aside", "Excellent event. I was truly inspried by the history of my culture which isn't represented. Keep up the good work!" and "Thanks for the time and energy you put into Black History Month and for making our rich culture and histiry more accessible!!"