Black History Month 2020

07 October 2020

Every year, October marks Black History Month in the UK, a celebration which recognises the achievements and contributions of people of black heritage around the world, and a chance to remember and acknowledge the enormous racial prejudices and systemic racism black people still face today.

Although unable to meet in person due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of the Trust’s funded partners are still finding ways to connect and celebrate during this important month of remembrance and education, as well as deliver vital services during the pandemic, and with the ongoing  lockdown measures. 

The East African Support Group in Gateshead and it’s project ‘Food, friendship and furtherance’ hosts weekly meetings at a community hub project for refugees from East African countries, where all members sit down to a shared meal to share stories and experiences, build friendships, retain cultural links and alleviate social isolation. Volunteers and members offer peer support and advocacy to new members, helping them through the resettlement process and in turn also develop their own mentorship skills and gain confidence.

East African Support Group project members 

Most project members have recently moved into Gateshead through the government resettlement program. This group of people are also struggling to settle into a new country and are facing isolation in their lives. The funding from the Trust enabled the project to address two important local priorities; social isolation and a lack of information for new settlers by bringing people together to create long term meaningful connections through food.

Sirak Berhe, project coordinator said, “Food always attracts people. At a meal you bring topics, create discussions and people share information and experiences, support each other emotionally and this helps address isolation.”

He continued, “The project was going really well with people even meeting up outside of the project to play football and forming friendships that would last beyond the project, but with the pandemic, things had to change as people could no longer meet. People’s Health Trust have given us a lot of support during coronavirus. We had to change a number of our activities to address sudden emergency local needs.”

The project members are keeping in touch during the pandemic through video calls.

Before lockdown, the project would meet every week and bring people together to eat homemade food, and discuss different topics to create bonds and connections. After lockdown, the project changed to move the sessions online and keep people connected and talking. People were unable to sit down together and eat, so the steering group consulted with its members and it was decided they should carry out a food distribution for those in need. That way the essence of the project, keeping people connected through sharing food, would continue.

The pandemic has also affected the way the group intended to mark Black History Month. If it weren’t for the lockdown, and social restrictions, they would be hosting an event to mark Black History Month with a possible seminar or awareness session, inviting different people from the local community to educate them on black history, and to also come together and try food from other cultures.

Sirak said, “We’re looking for other ways to still reach out to people online and share awareness of black history month together, and have people share their own experiences. Even in the pandemic, it’s important to keep people connected, and keep people sharing their stories.”

Another project marking Black History Month is The Caribbean & African Health Network Greater Manchester CIC in Wigan and their project ‘Wigan Caribbean & African Community Support Group’. The organisation wanted to address residents’ feelings of not belonging in their neighborhood, and although in the past the organisation had been occasionally engaging with the black community in Wigan, hosting events periodically, they created the project as they wanted to create stronger permanent links between the community.

CAHN project members on a zoom call.

The project started during the pandemic, so the group had to constantly adapt to government guidelines, holding online meetings and face to face interaction where they could, They have already had a strong start, with 20 members already on weekly Zoom calls, coming together, sharing their aspirations for the project, and laying out a plan to achieve the local priorities the group have identified together, as well as checking in with each other during the pandemic.

Charles Kwaku-Odoi, Chief Officer said, “In the current climate, people want that sense of belonging, and sense of community. They are wanting to talk to each other, wanting to make a contribution, so it’s been great to get people together during this time.”

Charles Kwaku-Odoi, Chief Officer of he Caribbean & African Health Network Greater Manchester CIC

For the first three months, their priority was creating a place for the community to get together, share their experiences and make friends with people in the community they don’t usually have the chance to encounter. The project has quickly seen great success, with many members stepping up to become volunteers, and people volunteering to represent the third sector at local community meetings. The project has even had interest from statutory bodies who have reached out to the group in order to facilitate recruitment of Black people from Wigan to better represent the people in the area, quickly demonstrating the power of having a project to represent the community on a wider scale.

The group are marking Black History Month by launching a celebration event for Greater Manchester online, as well as hosting an event for the Wigan area, which the project members will co-design and deliver, bringing together senior leaders from Wigan to watch cultural performances and celebrate black achievements and history, with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics  (STEM) to show the contributions that black people have made in this area.

Project members at an event (photograph taken before the pandemic)

Charles continued, “Black History Month is a real opportunity to showcase the contribution that Caribbean and African people have made in society locally and globally. Some of the lessons we’ve learnt from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and solidarity protests is that there is still a lot of ignorance in society to this contribution. We welcome Black History Month as it will be great opportunity to show people just how much this community has contributed to this country.’

The Caribbean & African Health Network and The East African Support Group are funded through the Trust’s Active Communities programme with money raised through Health Lottery North West and Health Lottery North East and Cumbria

Read more about Black History Month  

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