Celebrating Black History Month in the North East
Written by Elif Gulmen on 12th October 2023
October is most known for its Autumn leaves and its spooky celebrations but this time of year is also very important to the Black community – with Black History Month being celebrated throughout the month.
The celebration honours and acknowledges the historical achievements and contributions of Black individuals to British society, culture, and history.
The University of Sunderland is actively working on events and activities for Black History Month, with its Student Union putting on a number of events during the month – which can be found on their website.
Prince Oladimeji Adepoju, 40, from the Universities Student’s Union said:” I strive for unity and inclusion, as evidenced by my Student Union portfolio, with a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“I also aim for inspiration and empowerment, having been an inspiration to students myself, and recognizing the challenges our past heroes faced and why they deserve celebration. Furthermore, as a Yoruba from Nigeria, I place great value on cultural celebration. In Africa, our rich cultural heritage allows us to honor our heroes even beyond their lifetimes.”
University of Sunderland student, David Joshua Mighten, 22, highlighted the importance of Black History Month: “It’s important to understand Black History as it’s the first step to acceptance, it gives a deeper understanding of black culture.”
David, who studies Sports Journalism, thinks the month is a great time to reflect on idols and inspirations within the community, stating:
“Viv Anderson, was the first black player who played for England, 1978, his name would be passed around the house, he was an inspiration to me and my family.
Oluwaseun Akinola Esther, 26, is looking to become the next inspirational figure within her community having recently been named Queen at a prestigious black-tie ceremony at the Leonardo Hotel in Middlesbrough on September 30th. She won the ‘Miss Black History North East’, at a special beauty pageant founded by the charity, Taste of Africa North East, to give young Black women a platform to express themselves.
She shared her excitement about winning and her plans during her reign, she said: “I intend to introduce some educational initiatives on different academic levels such as workshops to highlight contributions of Black individuals to history, culture and society.
Oluwaseun also added that she wants to inspire members of the Black community:
“I also intend to encourage more cultural celebrations, host cultural festivals, art exhibitions and performances that showcase the rich heritage and diversity of Black communities in the North East region and the world at large.
“Additionally, I want to develop outreach programmes to support and uplift the Black community, including mentorship programmes for Black youths, job fairs and initiatives to address social issues like inequality and injustice.”
Despite Black representation massively improving over the past 25 years, David believes there is still some scope for improvement:
“As time goes on it’s become a lot easier. But what you learn in school, you are underrepresented, in classes like history you don’t really learn about Black history, it’s hard to feel represented in school.
“Can feel like you struggle to fit in, it’s hard to establish your identity.”
Professor of Language and Culture, Angela Smith at the University of Sunderland, is looking to combat this by collaborating with local secondary school history teachers on a North East Black History project.
She said: “What we have all been doing for the last two years is researching local Black history, uncovering a huge amount that would otherwise have been invisible. This is all feeding into a website we are developing, which will be mostly aimed at schools but also be publicly accessible.”
As part of this initiative, she is in the final stages of creating a Sunderland walking tour aimed at fostering active engagement with the city’s Black History. The walk will be facilitated through a geolocation app.
The app will enable individuals to explore specific areas of the city that have historical significance related to Black history, including both those involved in the slave trade and activists.
Angela said: “I am working with Northumbria Police to make this app available for them for community engagement to help combat racism. The app will be free to download and promoted through local networks.”