Celebrating Black History Month
October is Black History Month and Gates Cambridge Scholars have organised a raft of events to celebrate and raise awareness, ranging from speed mentoring sessions to a Black History Month Comedy Night and a panel discussion on anti-colonial research and activism.
The events, most of which are internal Gates Cambridge events, kick off on 17th October with BAME speed mentoring sessions at Newnham College where BAME scholars will share their skills with BAME undergraduates.
On 24th October there will be a panel discussion** on anti-colonial research, activism and making universities more inclusive. Take back the academy! features Peter Sutoris, Jessica Fernández de Lara Harada and Reetika Subramanian.
Reetika , who is doing a PhD in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies, will speak about community-based action research in Mumbai, focusing in particular on photography and documenting migrant workers.
Jessica , who is doing a PhD in Latin American Studies, will speak about overlooked minorities in the past and present, and the value of articulating their unspoken narratives.
Peter , who is doing a PhD in Education, will discuss the intersection of education and environmental activism in spaces affected by environmental degradation, including communities in Pashulok, India, and South Durban, South Africa, and related curriculum reform.
Another speaker is Amal Bider, from Goldsmiths’ Anti-Racist Action, who will speak on the topic of occupying university spaces in the service of decolonisation.
The month’s events finish on 25th October with a talk by Sohini Alg-Nijjar, an immigration specialist, on the issues facing international students.
Several current Gates Cambridge Scholars’ research focuses on issues relating to black history. They include:
Siyabonga Njica  whose PhD in History is on the role of exiled artists in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Siyabonga is a well-known poet in South Africa who has been actively involved in student movements which are part of the ongoing response to the legacy of the apartheid system in South Africa. At the University of Cape Town, where he was an undergraduate, Siyabonga and fellow activists led poetry and music sessions that followed heated political discussions by student-led gatherings aimed at fostering a culture of debate and critical thinking. He says: “Under the banner of ‘Imbizo’ we were using the arts to grapple with major political issues in South Africa such as the unresolved land question which remains a thorny issue and is at the heart of much public discussion and debate in South African politics today.”
Anna Nti-Asare-Tubbs  is doing a PhD in Sociology which explores the stories of the mothers of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Junior and James Baldwin - Alberta King, Louise Little and Emma Berdis Jones. Anna plans to turn them into a mainstream book so they are more widely known and their influence and impact given the acknowledgement they deserve. Anna says: “Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King Jr all credited their mothers in different ways throughout their lives. However, scholars have chosen to ignore that.”
Collin Edouard  has just started his MPhil in Music aims to change music education and make it more inclusive, to challenge the received idea that western classical music is the highest form of music and that other cultural forms are somehow of lesser value. Collin whose passion is rooted in the Haitian music he grew up listening to at home, says: “I want to break the hidden curriculum in music and music education that suggests western art forms are the most important forms of music we can teach.”
Another new scholar is Lolade Aliyu Siyonbola  whose PhD in Sociology seeks to understand how the identification choices of Nigerian second-generation immigrants influence how well they assimilate, their contributions to their host countries and the role of the Nigerian diaspora in Nigeria’s development. Lolade, who was born in Lagos, but grew up mainly in the US, set up her own cultural institute to teach African languages to diaspora communities. That institute has now developed an online platform. She says: “The aim is to build a community of like-minded people and to ensure those who visit Africa have local support for the integration process. If people have mastered a local language and have a network in place their experience when they travel back will be richer and they will be more likely to return or spend more time there. Knowing a language makes you feel less of an outsider.”
Previous scholars have included Wale Adebanwi , the first Black Rhodes Professor of Race Relations at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, and the Director of the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. Wale, who did his PhD in Social Anthropology, has written numerous books on Nigerian history, including Authority Stealing: Anti-Corruption War and Democratic Politics in Post-Military Nigeria and Yoruba elites and ethnic politics in Nigeria: Obafemi Awolowo and corporate agency, the first academic book on one of Africa’s most powerful and progressive elites.
Scholars have also been very active on inclusion issues within the university. Njoki Wamai, who did her PhD in Politics and International Studies and was awarded the Bill Gates Sr Prize, co-founded Black Cantabs, a historical and research-focused society that aims to highlight and share the past and present stories, experiences and achievements of the University's Black students. Through its activities, the society has documented and featured the diverse and rich histories of these pioneering scholars. Njoki  is now Assistant Professor in the International Relations Department at Kenya's oldest private university United States International University-Africa.
Current scholars have also been active in promoting greater inclusion at the University of Cambridge. Harum Mukhayer  was recently Highly Commended for her outstanding contribution to Inclusive Practice in the Outstanding Student Contribution to Education Award selected by the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning.
Harum  was recognised for a range of activities for both her college and the University as a whole, including her leadership of Decolonise Law initiatives with law students. Harum was also President of the African Society of Cambridge University from 2016-2017, following in the footsteps of Johanna Riha , who was elected the Society’s first President in 2013. Njoki Wamai was also a key figure in the ASCU’s formation.The Gates Cambridge Trust has supported the ASCU’s annual Africa Together event, a collaborative effort which not only brings together African groups in Cambridge but engages those in academic, public and private organisations across the UK.
This year’s Black History Month celebrations therefore build on the legacy of inspirational figures within the Gates Cambridge community, driving the socially transformative mission of the scholarship forward.
*Picture credit: Black Cantabs
**The panel discussion and comedy night are open to all members of the university and tickets are being sold on the door. The panel discussion takes place from 7.30-9pm on 24th October in the Gates Room at the University Centre. The Comedy night takes place at Pembroke College, New Cellars from 7.30-9.30pm on 18th October.