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27 October 2023

“We are pioneers and innovators”.

by Edith Yembra, Treasurer to MRN's Board, for Black History Month.

Being in community

Every year, I take my children to the Black History Month celebrations in Borehamwood, Stevenage in Hertfordshire. There are so many different African flags and markets, and many small businesses selling clothes, fruits, books, pieces of art, clothing, Black skincare products, and various other things. Black writers and film producers are also showcased. There are also book launches, and immigration advice is also given to those who want to know more about their rights or renew their passports. Celebrating our heritage is about celebrating it together: in community with one another. 

Sharing our voice

When I came to this country as a teenager from Nigeria, I knew straight away that I was an immigrant. It was not an easy journey: I felt like I didn’t have a platform to speak or fight. Racism was embedded in every institution, and still is. I began to realise the importance of Black History Month: it is a platform for us to come together and share our voices. It allows our voices, our values, our celebrations, and our pride to be heard by the world. What use are our voices if they are not even heard?

This is why Black History being taught in schools is so important. We need to be represented, in our totality and fullness, and the voices of our ancestors must be amplified and heard. This is also why migration charities must also be talking about Black History Month: to ensure that our voices are heard by those in power. Charities need to stop shutting our voices down, or assuming that they know best. This is White saviourism. 

Do not forget

You only know who you are when you understand where you have come from.

Darcus Howe

The theme for 2023 is “celebrating our sisters”, which is about honouring the vital role Black women have played in history: from literature, art and culture, to music, politics and healthcare. Black women have always been underappreciated and are often not given the credit they deserve. Our achievements as Black people are often appropriated. The world must celebrate Black women, sing our praises, and give us our flowers. But we must celebrate ourselves first. If we don’t celebrate ourselves first, then no-one else will.

It is really important to me, as a Black woman, to celebrate, appreciate and honour my heritage, and to remember our ancestors who fought for the life we live today. Our ancestors must live forever and for generations to come- we must not forget them. Black history is history for us all. If we forget our past, where we come from, then nothing will be left for the future.

Looking to the future

People have dismissed Africa and its people, constantly saying that nothing good comes out of our continent. But we are pioneers and innovators: whether it be Afrobeat music, or films like The Woman King or Wakanda. I am constantly inspired by Black innovation. Our power to innovate is incredible, and we can use it to inspire, and to create the kind of future that we want for the generations to come.

I want a future where Black people can collaborate and trade freely with each other. Where our countries are not plunged into further debts by the West. Where we are economically empowered. Where our stolen and looted wealth is returned to us by those who colonised us. 

I wish for a future where we are free to embrace and celebrate our heritage fully. Where we are able to excel without fear, and not be hindered or limited by systemic oppression or other people’s perceptions of us. Where Black History Month is every month. We don’t need to wait for October to celebrate, we can celebrate our Blackness every day.

We have to be hopeful. We have to imagine and plan the future that we want, open our minds to it, and move towards it. We need to look behind us, to know where we are coming from, so that we know where we want to go. We must think about our roots and our struggles, and take lessons from the past, but we must also not entrap ourselves into only looking backwards. We cannot allow ourselves to become trapped by hopelessness or internalise the oppressor’s narrative: that we are destined for or only worthy of the bare minimum. We must look forward too. We must imagine and innovate our way out of this unjust present, into a just future.