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Black History Month @ WoW from the Co-Directors

Writing on the Wall celebrates Black History Month every year but this year, which witnessed the biggest resurgence in black struggle since the 1960s, it felt even more vital. Writing on the Wall and our partners in COoL and across the cultural sector, felt it was important to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement in BHM2020.

BHM @ WoW aimed to continue some of the long-standing debates amplified by the BLM movement and to play a part in keeping up the moment for change. The global protest in which thousands upon thousands of mostly young people took to the streets in anger at the murder of George Floyd by US Police was truly inspirational to watch and to be part of here in Liverpool. BHM @ WoW combined that youthful energy with the experience of veteran activists in our first event where perhaps the most crucial question was posed – What Next? That question was broken down over the course of the month when we considered how to decolonise curricula and re-tell history more accurately to include black experience and the harsh realities of Empire. The Re-Righting History event, featuring local heritage projects; The Liverpool Black History Research Group,  Mandela8’s Liverpool Anti-Apartheid Activists and WoW’s Great War to Race Riots and L8 Archive projects proved to be one of the most popular with over 1000 Facebook viewers. Audience feedback included:

These stories are so important, not only as a reminder of historical political strength, but also for strengthening foundations to build on for the future.
Thank you all, great panel and discussion such a wealth of knowledge and activism.

Activism was a theme which ran through the month and via the technology of Zoom we connected with those at the forefront of the struggle in the USA; Krip Hop and disability activists, Keith Jones, Leroy Moore and Toni Hickman, receiving great response from our audience,

Thank you so much another high-quality event. It was amazing to find out about the talent and careers of disabled artists. Not to mention how positive and engaging Toni, Keith and Leroy were. Fantastic event and Lauren was a brilliant host, as always!

Former Liverpool footballer John Barnes connected with Dr Harry Edwards, the founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the legendary Black Power Salute protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Danièle Obono, member of the French Parliament,  gave us insights into France’s colonial past and racist present, describing the hurt and anger that she felt at being caricatured as an enslaved African by a right-wing magazine earlier this year, as part of the backlash against BLM.

The backlash from the far right, and most importantly, how to resist, was considered in depth by human rights lawyer and campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, as she gave an in-depth keynote speech about racial profiling and the disproportionate use of Stop and Search powers on young black men. Former Detective Kevin Maxwell gave us an inside view of racism in the Police as he discussed his moving memoir, Forced Out.

Over the month we were privileged  to host an array of incredibly talented writers: Booker Prize winner Marlon James, Yvonne Battle-Felton, Patrick Graham, Cheryl Martin, Claire Heuchan, Patience Agbabi, Claire Heuchan and Magid Magid,  who came from Somalia aged five and become the youngest and first refugee and first Green Party Lord Mayor of Sheffield. Chicago based award-winning Afrofuturist writer Ytasha Womack was in residency on our Writer’s Bloc for three weeks, sharing her art and advice through workshops, one to one sessions and open access Bloc Socials.  A series of short films were premiered from our writing project Time to Breathe, where black and Asian writers had the opportunity to share experience and to draw strength from each other and the act of writing. W celebrated the end of the festival with Mykael Riley, academic and founder member of Steel Pulse as we showcased new writing from WoW’s Windrush project with the launch of our new book, Music of the People, from SS Orbita to Orbital (available from News from Nowhere).  

Across BHM we delivered over 20 events and series of films, over 10,000 people have viewed the events and feedback from audiences has been phenomenal.  

Love your events and the chance to participate. Thank you
A rich programme of events.
Well done all of you. So refreshing to hear black Liverpool history discussed. Keep on keeping on. Good programme everyone needs more of these coming together discussions 

As black history month ends we are days away from a US election in which Race has been the central battle ground; federal troops and armed vigilantes attack peaceful protesters; Republicans step up their efforts to disenfranchise black voters, and  Donald Trump rallies the support of the far right, who would happily see a return to the Jim Crow segregation laws that were still in place in my lifetime.

Here in the UK the political terrain is in danger of becoming as dystopian and surreal. In parliament a conservative MP used a commemoration of Black History Month to attack the Black Lives Matter movement and to warn teachers that is illegal to not be “balanced” in discussions on racism. This came shortly after directives to schools not to use materials which may suggest that capitalism is not a good thing.  The implications of this for teaching black history and black struggles are infinite and very, very worrying.

Writing on the Wall believes the Arts have a duty to stand with the oppressed and to speak truth to power when power lacks compassion and governs at the expense of human rights, equality and justice.  

Black history is not just for October – the anti-racist struggle continues. The outrage that was expressed over the summer must translate into real structural change. Writing on the Wall will, as we have always done, will continue to promote our black heritage projects, to integrate black experience, black art and black writers into our projects and festivals and in our online writing centre, The Writer’s Bloc, and most importantly of all, to support and engage black communities in the work that we do.

 - Madeline Heneghan and Mike Morris, Co-Directors, Writing on the Wall.