NORFOLK BLACK HISTORY MONTH

THEN

AND NOW

In 2003, Tonia Mihill, Head of Therapeutic services for MAP, Writer, Commentator and Educator – wrote an article for ‘Norfolk Education & Action for Development ‘ an organisation increasing awareness around equality issues. Here, Tonia makes a great reflection on the progress that has been made since then…

How long it will take to eliminate racism is down to all of us.

Black History Month (BHM) is one tool among many that we can use for this task.

Few could have missed the resurgence of anti-racism this year with protests across the world in response to George Floyd’s murder. People were moved into protest, in white villages, Black neighbourhoods, diverse cities and online, it was global. The question has been asked, will this movement for change be more than a passing social media hashtag…?

I answer confidently, yes it will.

We are in a continuum of activism that spans centuries – from the first Africans who escaped capture, staged rebellions, refused to eat and jumped off ships rather than be taken into slavery – and that has never ceased, will never cease, while there is injustice to fight. The human spirit resists oppression and strives for better, always.

Black Lives Matter Protest, Norwich, Norfolk 2020

Whilst working for Norfolk Education and Action for Development on a project that increased awareness and action on local and global equality issues – through all kinds of art events and discussions, I wrote a piece that remains in the BBC archive, for the launch of the first co-ordinated, county-wide Norfolk Black History Month programme, explaining why it was happening in what was often perceived as a white area.


Looking at that article, the first thing that strikes me is the face you see. Bernadine Evaristo who came and read to a small audience at the Millennium Library has this year become a Booker Prize winner and bestselling author!

Photo credit: BBC Archive.

Back then I mentioned the little known figure of Norwich born circus owner Pablo Fanque (1810-1871). Now there is a blue plaque marking the place where he lived and you can go on a walking tour of the Black History of Norwich that takes in this and other sites


17 years of BHM have, as the original project intended, embedded it as a feature in Norfolk’s calendar… And, of course, there is more to be done… In 2003, I publicised the Norfolk and Norwich Racial Equality Council’s ‘Roots of the Future’ exhibition, documenting the lives of diverse communities in Norfolk. This October marks the launch of a new project based at Sheringham Little Theatre that aims to build on and update this work, including a very much still needed education component tackling rural racism

So, reflecting on that first 2003 Norfolk BHM article, I see the opportunity remains there for us to discover, reinstate, highlight, discuss, enjoy and celebrate the missing Black chapters of our stories and to act in whatever we can to make the ugly trail of slavery, colonialism and racism truly a subject of historical interest rather than a present day poison.

To create an inclusive, just and non-racial society we need an inclusive story that does justice to all those who are and have been part of it.

Key to reminding us of this is Black History Month and it is as needed in Norfolk now, as it was in 2003. And needed as much here as anywhere else on our small planet. Knowledge is Power! And “Freedom is a constant struggle” Angela Y Davis (if you don’t know who she is, in the spirit of BHM and anti-racist action, I invite you to google her!)

To find out what activities young people are up to and where, follow our social media accounts together with Young Activist Network in partnership with MAP.

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