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Diversity and Black History Workshops

A two-day set of workshops by the Race Council Cymru team aimed at (i) promoting diversity with Citizens advice and (ii) celebrating the achievement of the African Institute Research Group. 

Picture - Gwyneth Harrison (centre) being presented with a pot of flowers in thanks for bringing along her African Institute autograph book. Also - Liz Millman of Learning Links International and Charles Eaves, one of the founding members of the African Institute Research Group.

Part 1 - Diversity, 14 July 2016

A half-day of working with trustees, staff and volunteers of Citizens Advice (CA), Conwy. We provided a mix of talks and workshops with the following themes:

  • Respect for languages
  • Combating ethnic blindness
  • Identity and belonging
  • Challenging racism
  • What can you do 

Participants were encouraged to think about issues such as:

  • Ways they could reach out to people from minority backgrounds who might not otherwise contact CA about their concerns
  • Cultural sensitivity - recognising what is fine to one community can be offensive to another
  • How languages are there to help us understand the world, not narrow our perspectives
  • What they can do personally to recognise and celebrate diversity

Part 2 - Celebrating the work of the African Institute Research Group, 15 July 2016

A full day of celebrating shared histories and community endeavour, held in Colwyn Bay's Centre for Cultural Engagement. We are grateful to the support of Dr Sibani Roy of NWAMI (North Wales Association for Mulitcultural Integration) in providing the room for us. 

Picture - cover of folder produced by the African Institute Research Group

Background - The African Institute Research Group has explored the history of the African Institute of Colwyn Bay (1890-1912). The institute, run by missionary William Hughes, brought young African students to Colwyn Bay to learn new skills and learn about Christianity. These students then returned to their African countries, becoming pastors, teachers, and other professional people. One, Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu, co-founded the college in South Africa where Nelson Mandela studied. 

The Research Group has produced a detailed folder to present their work on the Institute, the students, their impact on Colwyn Bay and much more. The folder is well laid out, informative and attractive. It is a tribute to the group's hard work.

Overview of the day - an excellent turnout, with standing room only for the larger part of the day! Representatives of a number of organisations showcased their work on diversity, tackling racism and the value of shared history. These included:

  • Race Council Cymru 
  • African Institute Research Group
  • Learning Links International
  • HOPE not Hate
  • North Wales Police
  • Conwy Town Council
  • Citizens Advice
     

Picture - HOPE not Hate representative Katie Wilkinson (2nd left) holds up her banner with help from the participants

Dr Marian Gwyn of Race Council Cymru provided the keynote speech, in which she highlighted the following points:

  • Rev Hughes was forward-thinking in his attitude towards education, training and diversity
  • The African Institute's work in celebrating the work of talented Black students complements this year's Black History Month theme of Young, Black and Gifted
  • Shared histories, like the work of the Research Group, break away from formal history, allowing different perspectives to be considered. This is an excellent method of exploring difficult pasts, especially those associated with colonial atrocity
  • Good work inspires others to do good things, and the work of the Research Group will inspire others to explore the shared histories of where they live

Highlights of the day

  • PC Newton-Miller stated firmly that North Wales Police operated a zero-tolerance policy to hate crimes. Liz Millman of Learning Links International thanked the police for their positive action combating the recent upsurge in racism following the recent EU referendum.
  • Katie Wilkinson confirmed that HOPE not Hate's mission was to encourage communities to challenge racism by providing advice and support.
  • Many of the attendees joined in a lively debate on the importance of openness when exploring a sensitive subject. One delegate suggested that it was wrong to gloss over difficult issues as this would devalue the worth of positive outcomes. Most agreed that we should acknowledge the negative but celebrate the positive.
  • David Reed, co-founder of the Research Group brought along a fascinating collection of memorabilia from his many years of living and working in African countries. The artefacts he presented included a mboa board (a game played with beans), a chisangi (a musical instrument), and maps and pictures.
  • Mrs Rita Hughes spoke about how she had helped a Black student, Norbert X Mbu-Mbutu, who had arrived in Colwyn Bay to study the African Institute. He went on to publish his work in Bamonimambo - Rediscovering Congo and British Isles Common History. 
  • Mrs Gwyneth Higginson brought her autograph book, which she had inherited from an elderly relative, a descendant of missionary William Hughes. The autograph book is filled with comments, poems and pictures written by the Black students of the African Institute. The book generated considerable interest and discussion by all present.

    Picture - participants exploring and discussing the African Institute autograph book

Feedback

Feedback from both events was excellent.

  • The Citizens Advice team welcomed the opportunity to explore new ways of looking at how they worked.

Highlights from the African Institute Open Day feedback include:

  • "It was great to see original documents and artefacts"
  • "I loved the way that everyone could discuss difficult subjects openly"
  • "Thoroughly enjoyed the day - I met people who could fill in the gaps in my knowledge"
  • "People stayed to talk and find out more"
  • "I could see so many parallels between the past and the present by listening to what people were saying. I learnt so much"
  • "The Research Group needs recognition for all its hard work."
  • "I'd never heard of HOPE not Hate before. It was great hearing about their work"
  • "I see today as a kaleidoscope of ideas just emanating out of what people were saying. I loved it"

Bonus! 

In July 2016, a delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo visited Wales to trace the links between the two countries. They focused on two towns, Colwyn Bay - the site of the African Institute, and Denbigh, the home town of 19th century explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley. See two short videos of their visit here:

Video 1

Video 2

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