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The County South lecture theatre was transformed with flashing lights, a DJ, and a grand stage for the African Caribbean Society’s (ACS) Black History Month Cultural Celebration on October 29th.
In her opening speech the day of the event, Christine Ochefu, a second year and Vice President of ACS, spoke about the injustice that black people often face, why Black History is an important topic, and why Black History should be celebrated every month.
“Black History is a part of history that has historically been denied a space in our cultural awareness due to structural, institutional, and societal injustices that black people worldwide have faced and are still facing now,” said Ochefu. “We aim to combat those injustices and rework how we think and feel about history to give black people the honour, recognition, and place in our History books that they deserve.”
Patrick Vernon, whom the society found using the organisation Media Diversified, was this year’s guest speaker. Vernon has received a Queen’s Honour for his work and research into black history and culture. His presentation focused on a list by the BBC of the most influential British people in history—none of whom were Black. Vernon created an alternative list, mentioning influential Black figures like Mary Seacole, Ignatius Sancho, and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Vernon tied this often-ignored history of British Black culture in with contemporary issues, such as Brexit and the Black Lives Matter movement.
One of the goals of this year’s program was to involve more student groups. The Lancaster University Gospel Choir, the Lancaster University Belly Dancing Society, and Melanin Mob (ACS’s dance troupe) all performed.
In addition to the student organisations who participated, Lamiwa Abayomi and Ayotelemi Ikuforjii, second year Law students, performed a spoken word piece, and Yemi Adigun, a third year Accounting and Finance student, read a piece a creative writing. Rahim Heavens, a comedian popular with social media, was chosen by a Facebook poll to also perform.
ACS also aired last year’s video by One Love Org., entitled “Why is my curriculum white?” which interviewed students on campus about Lancaster University’s curriculum and how it often excludes certain cultural narratives.
“I really pushed for that video to be present there,” said Ochefu. “I definitely sympathise with most of the opinions in that video.”
Several members of the audience got up to speak about their personal experiences with Lancaster’s “so white” curriculum. When it was released last year, the promotional video was not well received by some departments on campus. To change the academic climate that often excludes diversity, Ochefu recommends reconstructing how the campus thinks about history, increasing minority representation among teaching staff, and using more diverse sources.
“We need heads of departments to take criticisms on board instead of deflecting,” noted Ochefu.
This year, Ochefu says that ACS wants to “stress the idea that we are a very open society.” The organisation welcomes everyone, even people who don’t identify as a minority, to participate in many of the society’s events. Some upcoming initiatives include expanding more into sports, a club night at the end of the year, and a bigger emphasis on education and academics.
The society’s goal is to educate, inform, and involve the campus community in different cultures, because, as Ochefu noted, “[Change] starts from dialogue.”