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October 2017 marked the 30th celebration of Black History Month (BHM) in the UK, an annual observance that addresses the historical and current inequalities experienced by black people.
Organised by Lancaster University Students’ Union and supported by the We Are Lancaster campaign, a series of events took place across last month. Working with a number of societies, including the Afro-Caribbean Society, Ethnic Diversity Committee, Islamic Society and others, the Union organised a range of events catered to different tastes. Events included an art exhibition titled ‘Union Black’, Africa in the Square, and a BHM Sugarhouse event featuring Donae’O.
The Union’s Vice President of Welfare and Community, Sofia Cissé Akel, worked as the main organiser of the event with the aim to educate people on the matter of inequality and black history. Sofia said: “this is something that is very much omitted from national education at all levels, popular histories, and the national narrative of this nation”.
This year’s month-long exposure to the matter proved to be the biggest celebration of black history at Lancaster University. “It is hard to pinpoint which was the most successful event […] However in my opinion I’d say that the opening celebration with Fylde College, and the official BHM Party at the Sugarhouse with Donae’O were highlights for me”, Sofia says.
“If at least one student has learned something of black British history or an Afro-Caribbean student feels acknowledged, represented and supported by their Students’ Union, then I will consider this month a success”.
Whether success is defined as the number of attendees, or the enjoyment and social impact of the events across campus, it is clear that the Union arranged one of the most successful celebrations of Black History Month that Lancaster University has seen to date.
With this year’s celebration being the first to occur across the full 31 days, it raises the question of why the support from the University has taken so long to come into place. Sofia said “It is unacceptable that it has taken this long for the University to be engaged, and I dare say that they only have due to the Students’ Union taking a solid lead on it”.
While such an extensive acknowledgement of black British history was overdue, its impact this year is certainly noticeable. The opening celebration with Fylde College “was really neat, there was music and food and activities that created an upbeat atmosphere!” said Hannah Wilms, an exchange student from Canada.
The importance of Black History Month is immeasurable to those who are Black British. The month acts not only as an opportunity to celebrate culture, community and backgrounds, but also as an opportunity to shine a light on the institutional inequalities still prevalent today. “We are confined to one month to be unashamedly proud of being black in the UK. During which we fight to have our voices heard, to shine a light on the covert and overt systems of institutional inequality and oppression and for our story to be told year-round and included in the national narrative of the UK, not 31 days of the year”, said Sofia.
Sofia and the Union acknowledge the efforts of all those who took part, making this year’s Black History Month possible, “from our main sponsors, We Are Lancaster, to the societies and volunteers who were amazing and those who supported me as I organised this whilst writing my master’s thesis, which as you can imagine is very stressful!”
The plans for future celebrations of black history at Lancaster University can be expected to be even bigger than this year, with plans starting early to arrange BHM 2018.