Written by Lacey Baker, Monica Casale and Sara Ashbourne on behalf of Paddington Library
Diversity, Inclusiveness and Libraries
What does Diversity mean? What does Inclusiveness mean?
These are rhetorical questions to ponder over but at the library, Diversity to us means, “Creating an environment within our society where everyone feels welcomed, accepted and recognised for the uniqueness, skills, traits, creativity and personalities; therefore, reaching their full potential not matter their physical or mental disabilities, beliefs or ideologies, age, ethnicity or gender” and Inclusiveness to us means, “A community hub enriching everyone’s connection, knowledge and understanding on multiculturalism, background and personal history, interests and languages by learning, talking, sharing, listening and reading in spaces such as Libraries, schools, clubs and centres.”
Westminster City Council embraces everyone’s differences, to bring new perspectives to the present and future challenges within our city; our communities and to play our part in this, we celebrated National Inclusion Week Monday 28 September- Sunday 4 October and Black History Month exhibiting photography by Youmanity. Our colleague Paulo was the creative mind that put together the photographic display and in addition, we showcased a variety of topical books such as The Book of Pride by Mason Funk, They Don’t Teach This by Eniola Aluko, Open: Why asking for help can save your life by Franki Bridge and many more.
Who is Youmanity?
Youmanity are a charity registered in England and Wales; based in London. They are run entirely by volunteers and an unpaid Board of Directors. Their efforts celebrate equality, cultural diversity, supports social inclusion and promotes human rights. Youmanity devise and deliver cultural projects throughout the year and their Annual Photography Award is designed to raise awareness of important social issues. Participants from all over the world submit photographs that tell important human stories. The most outstanding photographs are selected and showcased in exhibitions open to the public. Themes explored have included: human trafficking, social identity, gender discrimination, age discrimination and disability.
Over the past ten years Youmanity has produced and directed several educational short films, which convey powerful and positive content to a wide audience. Celebrating the importance of cultural diversity and social inclusion, The Windrush Generation is a film that traces the arrival of the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK. All films are made available to the public, charities and NGOs via Youmanity’s social media channels- Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
With education at the forefront, Youmanity is championing a pioneering project to develop a more inclusive student-centred teaching approach. Funded by the European Commission, the 2Smile Project aims to care for youths at risk of abandoning education. To date, Youmanity’s projects have received the patronage of Amnesty International, the European Commission, the British Council, the International Organisation for Migration, the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Photographic Society.
Black History Month with the Paddington Staff
Black History Month has been celebrated for over 30 years. Yet, it took the death of American civilian-George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and for a 17th Century statue of a slave trader for many people to acknowledge the depths of racism and the legacy the slave trade has had on our country- from our banks, businesses and our cities. Black history in Britain didn’t start with the Windrush generation, it goes far back as to the Romans, the Elizabethan times; to Black immigration to cities such as Bristol and Liverpool circa the 19th century.
For Lacey, the words that come to mind on Black History Month are “Achievement. Empowerment. And uplift through Education.” And she also said, “Black history should not be relegated to one month in the calendar, we should constantly be celebrating, understanding and learning about black history as we do any other history. We learn about black artists, musicians, educators, lawyers, inventors, politicians and authors. And as a library service we can be enablers of this, through narrative and history e.g. Mansa Musa, Nanny of the Maroons, Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Mary Seacole, Black WW1 and WW2 soldiers, Marcus Garvey, Harold Moody and Mangrove Nine.”
Monica, on behalf of the library, created a vibrant and inspiring display with a collection of books and DVDs to celebrate Black History Month throughout October and she said, “With our Read, Learn, and Connect ethos in mind we focused on celebrating British history with a selection of modern, captivating authors for adults and children. Together, with the latest fiction titles, we had a selection of classics; biographies, cooking books, lifestyle and travel books that we hoped would interest and excite all readers. It’s the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the commitment and support to the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion agenda of all Westminster libraries and the precious contribution Black Britons have made to our dynamic multicultural city”.
Our colleague, Ann, suggested sharing stories and experiences for Black History Month which delighted staff- of which Sara did a piece on her family and recorded a reading of a childhood story called My Skin is Brown by Paula Dejoie, alongside her caption on why she chose to read the book for Black History Month. The Storytime video can be viewed on our Westminster Libraries & Archives Facebook page.
As our team discussions continued, it led to Annette and Sara making an advert for our community notice board because we wanted not only staff to contribute but the public to participate in this month’s celebration. Annette also felt we should focus on the positives towards the Caribbean Islands and African countries by producing a wall display full of geographical information. Our colleague Charles wrote a piece on a Ugandan game called Omweso (also known as Mweso)- a traditional mancala -2 player turn-based strategy board game- of the Ugandan people.
Notably, we must remember that History is not just about the past, with rooted connections between all ethnicities from our ancestral lineages. More and more, it is also about the present and what we as a community and society want to achieve for ourselves and the next generation’s potential to truly flourish brightly and proudly. Fundamentally, our skin is a diverse range of colours and our souls carry our own individual uniqueness, but as American educator Jane Elliot said, “We all one race: The Human Race”.
Recommendations- We encourage you to watch!
There is a Netflix documentary series called Journey of an African Colony, the Making of Nigeria; produced and narrated by Olasupo Shasore, the former attorney general and commissioner for justice in Lagos State, historian and writer. Shasore’s books, A Platter of Gold and Possessed: A History of Law & Justice in the Crown Colony of Lagos 1861-1906, form the basis of the documentary. The series which had it world premiere earlier this month, traces Nigeria’s history of slave trade and colonial occupation- and then independence. To read more about it, visit the NPR website.
On BCC iPlayer, you can catch up with the four-part documentary programme- Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson. In this series, Samuel L Jackson alongside a group of journalists and drivers explore 400 years of slavery, hot the trans-Atlantic slave trade become the world’s greatest money-generating machine and to tell the stories of the many enslaved Africans who resisted.
Yinka- an ex-colleague who worked at Queen’s Park Library- her father was a member of Mangrove Nine and BBC1 will be airing a film about Mangrove as part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe collections of films which are set between the 1960s to 1980s telling stories involving London’s West Indian community. Read more about it on what’sontv website for details about the film. Also, there is an obituary in the Independent newspaper about Frank Critchlow who played a central role in Notting Hill black community; setting up the Mangrove Restaurant.
Showing at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre next year Thursday 25February- Saturday 20 March 2021; in front of a socially distanced audience, will be the restaged production of Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. In the solo play he wrote, the actor Paterson Joseph, will reprise his role of Ignatius Sancho – an 18th century Black British writer and composer. Head over to Timeout to read the review the review from Wilton Music Hall.
Lastly, there is a video on AJ+ Facebook page where you can find out more about Theodor Michael Wonja, one of the last Black survivors of the forced labour camps in Germany during the Second World War. Theodor sadly passed away 19 October 2019 at the age of 94.
Food for thought- some last words
In Season 2 Episode 4: A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time of a 90s kids show -Gargoyles- that Sara watched alongside her brother, the writers- Brynne Stevens and Lydia Marano- gave one of the fictional characters- a blind black veteran-turned-author, an aspirational and inspirational monologue about the importance of books and I believe you’ll agree with that it is true:
“The written word is all that stands,
Between memory and oblivion.
Without books as our anchors,
We’re cast adrift, neither teaching nor learning.
They are the windows on the past,
Mirrors on the present,
And prisms reflecting all possible futures.
Books are lighthouses erected in the dark sea of time.”