“Why are you even doing this?”
Why are you even doing this? A question I repeat to myself at least daily in the run up to curating a Power in Discussion event. It’s possible that this 6 word phrase is a positive. My mind’s way of refocusing my thinking on the end goal? Perhaps it serves as a reminder to take important conversations off line and create a physical platform for discussion.
On reflection, it’s more than that. I hear every syllable of the recurring question loud and clear. It’s the kind of penetrating thought that sharpy interjects as you’re mid sentence passionately answering “So, Simon, tell me what exactly is Power In Discussion?”. It arrives uninvited and bolshy as you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed, seeing the good work showcased by fellow Black British millennials ; “Why are you even doing this?”
The morning of the event the question manages to worm its way back to the forefront of my mind, somewhere between the sea of last minute printing and the avalanche of text messages.
The Power In Discussion x Black History Month event came about as the result of discussion on Twitter with staff from the local art gallery and museum, The Higgins Bedford. I highlighted my perception that there seemed to be very little celebration of Black History, during the dedicated month, from the local council. This was something that particularly frustrated me given the ethnic make up of Bedfordshire.
Fast forward to October 2018, I was now in the throws of hosting my second Black History Month event for Bedford Borough Council, this time under the name Power In Discussion.
The day kicked off with spoken word by Tre Ventour, a local poet, writer and student. His words echoed throughout the silent room. The space was filled with imagery of Empire, conflict in identity and a sense of pride for our homelands.
The Generation Gap held the spotlight on the perspectives of people from differing generations on Black identity. This discussion brought about a degree of self reflection from panellists and the audience alike. People within the room were able to think about the legacy and contribution made to Black empowerment across generations. There was an ability to recognise that the way in which we navigate the world as Black people has changed in recent years, arguably for the better, whilst also being mindful of the challenges which remain.
Why are you even doing this? The question grew quieter still.
We’re often reminded of the challenges which come with being Black. Whilst these are important (read:vital) discussions to be had I wanted there also to be dialogue which focussed on the celebration of Blackness. Black and Glorious proved to be just that.
Sharon DeLeonardis (CEO, SpectaculArts) hosted the discussion and provided the panellists with the opportunity share their journeys of self acceptance within their Black identity . Personal anecdotes lovingly filled the room as we discussed our pride in our ‘Blackness’. The discussions provided a great platform to reflect on the intersections between race and sexuality and the difficulties which arise from straddling multiple identities. Being a proud Black man from the LGBT community my heart swelled with pride when the words “ I’m Black, I’m Queer and I’m here” left the lips of panellist Josh Rivers (Busy Being Black).
Why are you even doing this? The recurring question was almost a whisper.
D for Diversity ? gave way to discussion about being Black in the workplace, how this has changed over the years and the impact of diversity initiatives. ‘Lived experience’ , ‘sisterhood’ and ‘solution focus’ are words which spring to mind as I reflect on this discussion. The host, Richie Brave, demonstrated his ability to effectively facilitate a panel which touched on mental wellbeing, racism, sexism and privilege, with a respectful sensitivity and humour. In the days following the event, several people commented on how openly and passionately Veta, Dennika and Serena (Dear Black Womxn) spoke about their experiences as Black women from different professional fields, across different generations. People offered friendly advice about managing the minefield of microaggressions and responding to bullying in the workplace. The room was a visual representation of ‘community’. Unapologetic and Black.
So, in answer to the loitering question, the ability to bring people together in a shared space where they feel safe to discuss their experiences is the reason why I do this.
Self doubt can be rude and intrusive. It sometimes forces you to unfairly compare your progress to others. Write it down, memorise it and repeat. So when that nagging voice asks you Why are you even doing it?, you’ve got the answer!