Black History Month - Meet Aliya and Henriana

Aliya and Henriana both sat on this year’s Black History Month Organising Committee. Hear what they have to say about their involvement in the committee, what Black History Month means to them and more!

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Black History Month and all other liberation campaigns at the QMSU would not be possible without our wonderful organising committees. Our Black History Month Organising Committee dedicated weeks over their summer holiday to plan and deliver great events and opportunities for the student community.  

Aliya and Henriana both sat on this year’s Black History Month Organising Committee. Hear what they have to say about their involvement in the committee, what Black History Month means to them and more! 

Aliya  

Aliya is a second year Medical Genetics student and serves as the BAME Representative for Mile End this year.

“Beyond my school life, I am a musician - I play piano, violin and electone, and I also have a podcast. My podcast is called LOUD and I started it in October 2020. Young people have voices but aren’t always taken seriously or included in the discussion. I personally have felt underrepresented and unheard most of my life, and I felt like young people, especially young people of colour were not given a seat at the table when it came to important topics. Even when we were, it was less likely for our opinions to be taken seriously because of our age and the assumption that we wouldn’t be as educated and articulate as somebody older than us. Even for topics that directly affect us, like race, it felt like the opinions and feelings of those whose lives weren't directly affected were drowning out the voices of those who were. 

I wanted to make my own table where everyone could feel included, and the world could hear our voices – which were already quite loud. I wanted to make a space where young people could feel empowered and represented, and where we could have conversations that we don’t usually get to have in depth with one another. 

The best thing about this podcast is the connection it has allowed me to have with others. I have had such deep and interesting conversations with both people I am meeting for the first time and also friends that I have known for years. It has helped me and the people that have joined me to gain confidence and feel heard, and allow us to understand each other on a new level. 

I hope that everyone who listens can feel heard and understood and/or gain a new understanding and perspective, even on topics they already know about. The podcast is hybrid, so there is a solo/interview segment and then a group segment - the LOUD Table. The table is constantly changing and evolving, rarely consisting of the same group of people, so there are always new perspectives and new voices. 

As BAME Rep, I feel like it is important for me to be involved in all of the liberation months in whatever way I can, and as a black student I value the opportunity to be involved in making sure that the initiatives and activities run by the Student’s Union during this time will benefit my community. I think that the organising committees are a wonderful way to do this, as it is the students from the community that the month is about, who make up the committee. 

I’m really looking forward to the Book Club on the 18th October and 2nd November. I may be biased as I am helping to lead the event, but I really enjoyed the book we will be looking at and I am looking forward to the discussions it will enable us to have. The book is Poor by Caleb Femi, who is a Queen Mary Alumni, and it has received awards and praise from people like Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum, I May Destroy You). 

I am also looking forward to the Zine Making Workshop with Korantema Anyimadu from Black Hair Stories. I think it will be a fun way to be creative whilst being able to engage with and have a good discussion about natural hair. 

My family are from Guyana, which is a country in South America and is known as the “Land of Many Waters”. Most of the time people confuse Guyana with Ghana, but it is actually on the continent of South America, situated above Brazil and sandwiched between Venezuela and Suriname. However, it is the only English-speaking country on the continent, and is also considered part of the Caribbean. I can also speak English-Creole. 

I love being Guyanese as the population is made up of five main ethnic groups - Indian, African, Amerindian (indigenous), European (mainly Portuguese), and Chinese. Thanks to the mix of cultures, I find it easier to relate to other ethnicities as I find that we share similar cultural traditions, foods and celebrations. 

I am a second-generation immigrant – my parents were both born and raised in Guyana, and I was born in England, so I still have a strong connection to the country and culture. A lot of my family live in Guyana, so it was nice to get to spend time with them again this year. I got to spend time both in the city and in nature and had lots of delicious food. The heat was lovely and for the majority of our stay the weather was bright and sunny. 

Black History Month is a time to recognise and celebrate where we have come from and where we are going. As a Black woman, the theme of this year (‘Saluting our Sisters’) is very important to me and it is uplifting to learn about the incredible Black women in our distant and more recent history. 

It is important to recognise the struggles we have and still face, but also to celebrate the people shaping Black history now. Growing up, the only time I learn about Black history in school was when we were learning about slavery, but our history is so much richer and deeper than that and is constantly evolving. 

Black History Month is important to me as it is an opportunity to connect with and learn more about my history and culture. As a descendent of people who were enslaved and removed from their homeland, I feel empowered when I engage with and learned about Africa and the diaspora.”  

 

Henriana  

Henriana is a third year Psychology student and one of this year’s Welfare Representatives for the School of Science and Engineering. 

“I joined the BHM Organising Committee to share the beauty, creativity, involvement and talents that Black people worldwide have contributed to making the world a better place. 

Being a Congolese girl born in Spain and now living in the UK, I have learned the importance of having a Black community and being proud of my roots no matter where I come from. I am very proud of being a Congolese girl. It hasn’t been the easiest being a Black woman. 

Facing a lot of racial discrimination as a child while I was living in Spain, I struggled for a while to be proud of my skin and culture. When I was young, being Black was seen as negative which impacted me a lot. This feeling of inferiority kept following me until I got to the UK. Coming to London was an astonishment to me as I saw a community that looked like me and different types of people. It changed my view as a Black person as my views shifted from portraying myself negatively to now very positively. As Enny said ‘There’s peng (pretty) Black girls in my area code’, which made me realise how beautiful it is to be a Black woman. My experience gave me character development.  

In the past, I rarely saw representation of people who looked like me. I was once ashamed and felt inferior to others but now I realise that it's a blessing to be Black. I shifted from seeing a negative outlook of myself to a positive and beautiful outlook which transformed my character for the better.

The theme of this year is ‘Saluting Our Sisters’ which is a great way to celebrate, reflect and highlight the achievements of Black women. The woman who I want to salute this year is my mother. She is a woman who has been both a heroine and a role model to me. She has shown me to be proud of my Congolese culture, the blessed skin that I have been given, the versatile hair that can create magic and to be proud to be part of the Black community. Her sacrifices and her unconditional love are the things that allowed me to have so many opportunities and dreams to become better day by day. She is one of the few people who have made me the person I am today.” 

As Maya Angelou said ‘ Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances”. This is a beautiful reminder that no matter where you come from or look like, you are greater than your circumstances and you are capable of doing many great things. I hope this year, we can celebrate and acknowledge Black people especially Black women for their contributions and achievements. Happy Black History Month!” 

 

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