Local artist Michele Curtis shares her thoughts on the annual celebration and tells us about some of the great events she's taking part in...

Image - Michele Curtis 

I am always amazed to see the evolution of Black History Month each year and 2016 is no exception. Yes there are obvious arguments around whether Black History and the contributions and histories of other BME groups should be celebrated and recognised throughout the year, however one whole month is a huge step forward from the days when I was a youth at primary and secondary school, when the whole focus of black history was the slave trade and nothing more.

Back then we relied on the social and political movements in the US to help shape and carve a history for ourselves, there was no internet then. I remember watching the Cosby Show and being educated about the Harlem Renaissance and my mother ordering books on US and Caribbean Black History from black magazines and newspapers so that my siblings and I, as second generation West Indians, were able to read and have a point of reference about who we are beyond being 'just slaves'.

I remember challenging my secondary school history teacher about the soldiers that fought in the first and second world wars, asking why he failed to include all the black soldiers from the Caribbean and America that also fought that were never acknowledged, honoured or remembered in his so-called history class. I remember being ridiculed by him and my peers as if I was a conspiracy theorist and my knowledge was based on an outlandish attempt to feel included in a European history that did not include 'us'. Little did they know, my grandfather fought in both world wars and in protest I refused to wear a poppy and have never worn one since.

So yes it is only a month, and yes I am in no doubt that more work needs to be done, but for now at least there is a national educational system in place that includes us in history other than being slaves - it is a positive start.

I was delighted to be invited to the BHM planning events at M Shed this year amongst many others from the Black community to help plan and shape the events for this month. Whilst I was involved very little in the planning process due to other commitments, I was pleased to receive a copy of the newly designed programme.

The brochure is filled with fun, exciting and informative events for everyone. Such as the One day of Freedom, which celebrates the rich musical heritage of Africa and the Caribbean with a feast of local musical talent, the Bristol Somali Festival and the Kwanzaa (African harvest festival) family fun day events.

I have no scheduled solo exhibitions for BHM following my Iconic Black Bristolians, ARTival | Bristol Beats & Bass exhibition I held in July this year, but I am honoured to have been invited to participate in other events.

On Wednesday 5 October, I shall be joining a host of extremely talented women for the Sisters With Voices event at St George's Bristol from 7pm - 11pm, where I will be exhibiting six portraits of black women in Bristol who have positively contributed to the social change and history of the city. The event will also include performances from women such as Dionne Draper, Sophia May and Celestine. This event is in honour of the late Leo 'Queen of St Pauls' Goodridge, the late Carmen Beckford MBE, one of the Seven Saints of St Pauls, and Barbara Dettering, also one of the Seven Saints.

I will also be a guest speaker with perfect gentlemen, Mr Roy Hackett and Dr Paul Stephenson OBE, on Saturday 15 October, for the Back to Our Roots event at the M Shed.

I love working with children as they are so pure and the greatest teachers, so of course for me it always has to be about them. Following the above events I will be running a workshop at St Barnabas Primary School in St Pauls.

As a creative response to the work I have done through my Iconic Black Bristolians project and to the Seven Saints of St Pauls, I will be working with some of their children to help interview and create portraits of their heroes and heroines, which they will exhibit at their school.

On 29 October, I will be putting on my glad rags and attending the second annual R.I.S.E Awards Dinner & Dance with my dear mother. Last year’s event was fantastic and I cannot wait for this year's!

I shall end Black History Month 2016 with the erection of the first Seven Saints of St Paul's mural in partnership with United Communities Housing Association, supported by Arts Council England and sponsorship from Ujima Radio.

This wall will also commemorate 30 years of United Housing Association, which was founded by the Seven Saints of St Pauls and is in honour of the Bristol West Indian Parents & Friends Association.

To follow Michele's work visit www.iconicblackbristolians.uk and for more on Black History Month events throughout October, go to www.bristol.gov.uk.

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