What is the importance of Black History Month for you and the university?
I’m not necessarily a proponent of Black History Month as it is now, because I believe we should always embrace history across ethnicities, and support this in universities. However, meanwhile it’s important to have a specific time to acknowledge black students and staff. The role of a university is not to create activists per se, but to activate minds that can decide where to be active.
Have planned events for this month been disrupted by the pandemic?
Yes. I certainly would have loved to be there personally to give the talk, rather than doing it online. A year ago, we planned a conversation here in London on black Britain and its meaning. We had an entire two-day event planned, but this time of celebration has now become a six hour online virtual event. So, things are different. But we’re learning how to manage that.
What made you choose the title ‘A Bitter Sweet Journey: from slavery to freedom and beyond the colour line’ for your lecture?
It comes from reconciling the fact that the wealth of the British empire came from slavery. I will be reflecting on the past as we’re living in the present in order to think differently about a future. This makes the idea of erasing history very jarring for me.
Rather than removing statues of white imperialists, wouldn’t it be better to leave the statue there and perhaps cause it to interface with another statue of a slave? I’m afraid that if we erase these historical figures without having a narrative to them, some people will not be healed.
How does your faith influence the way you have reacted to these protests?
I believe the most fundamental message of Christianity is love. Jesus’s greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, mind and soul. If I am to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus, I may wrestle with questions of hate and oppression, but in the end, I must come back to love.
How would you recommend students of all ethnicities make the most of this month to educate themselves on Black History?
This is a moment to pause, to celebrate otherness and to learn something new. To understand that our humanity is what leads and guides us. What excites me about Newcastle is the deep, rich history that it has of abolitionists.
A critical city in raising funds to help Frederick Douglass obtain his freedom, many other racial campaigners have also interacted with it. So, this is a moment to tell the world that Newcastle has been a part of this narrative since there was a narrative.
What do you think is the single most important lesson we can learn from the abolitionists?
The abolitionists had a faith that said liberty and justice is a human right. This belief was important in going from changing the law to how we can use this to bring about long-term change. What are we trying to abolish? How do we focus on being united?
Feature Image: Arron Dunworth