Black History Month: Dreams and Legacies

Principal Investigator(s): Dr Niall Munro

Contact: niall.munro@brookes.ac.uk

Project start: October 2017

Project finish: October 2017

About us

In 2017, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre commissioned poets and photographers to produce new work inspired by interviews with students and staff of colour at Oxford Brookes University. In these interviews, conducted by Kanja Sesay (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser), the participants discussed mental health, spirituality, family, and definitions of success. The responses from these students and members of staff touch on issues that concern our wider society in Oxford and beyond.

By setting the creative responses alongside text from the interviews, we hope to inspire people to think more deeply and in different ways about the experiences. The pieces in this exhibition allow us to reflect on our role in creating environments that promote equality and inclusion.

On this website you can read and hear reflections on their work by the poets and photographers, and listen to the poets read their poems. The exhibition runs in The Lab (Abercrombie Building) at Oxford Brookes's Headington Campus from 1-21 October and then at the University Church on the High Street in Oxford from 22-31 October.

Find out more about Oxford Brookes’s Black History Month programme for October 2018 on the University’s website.

Your thoughts and feedback are most welcome. E-mail: niall.munro@brookes.ac.uk

Confessions of a Minority Student

I have forgotten how it all started, success
this tightening of my throat grows success
I cannot breathe. Suddenly success
college dorms and students’ smiles success
nauseate me. Here where I used to success
imagine a promising life, a new circle success
away from family, honest folks success
who worked and worked, and never lived. success
Choices they never made in their sagging skin success
the fine lines around their eyes. success
for those who could afford it, my dear. success
So who am I to believe in it? success
But I must prove that I too success
am good enough for this game success
Don’t be so sensitive, you say. success
But even racism in its simplest form success

is brutal, a day-to-day butchering.

success

They say make yourself at home here success
though today, just like yesterday or success
the day before, no one joins me success
at the canteen as I eat my meal. success
Who wishes to know my thoughts success
as I cube the potatoes in silence? success

It is not alright to be lonely.

success

Jennifer Wong

“I don’t think I’ve ever had to really articulate what racism feels like until coming here. So when I am here I get excluded from things, you get spoken over, you get checked for your ID several times by security; it’s frustrating. You’re the last table anybody ever wants to sit on when you’re the black girls. People look everywhere everywhere for a space and then eventually they’ll come and sit near you, and it’s like: OK, I see you there. You’re in a lecture and you’re like excited because you’ve spent six grand, you’ve given up your job to come and be here, you’ve worked hard to get your Masters, and then the whole curriculum is telling you about people who have enslaved your people and you’re asked to applaud their work.”

An interview with a Brookes student

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Jennifer is the author of two collections including Goldfish (Chameleon Press). Her work has been published appeared in The Rialto, Stand, Oxford Poetry, Asian Cha and others, while her poetry translation and reviews have also appeared in Poetry London and Poetry Review. She has recently completed a PhD on notions of place and identity in contemporary diasporic poetry in Oxford Brookes where she teaches as an Associate Lecturer. 

Listen to the poem

Jennifer Wong talks about her poem

Forgiveness

walking the streets tonight was a feat
waking up to eat, and shower, and exist
was the bravest i could do today.

mid-storm. with a hollow purpose,
a fruitless love, empty words,
it's disgraceful feeling like a traitor.

My Family Will Never Be As Disappointed Of Me
As I Am Of Myself. I Cannot Become
The Person They Wish. Indestructible.

the weight of our history falls heaviest on
the eldest       the one        the hope of
those who couldn't make it out,
those who watch the clock run and the calendars yellow,
those who make their dreams and their hopes mine.

the seed i carry in me rots      with a depression,
a tree watered with poison through a thousand seasons,
in the mirror i see rows of hurting men and women
who wear my face (and my father's and my mother's).

hush was our daily bread feeling sadness,
no tear was ever understood unwrapping
generations of pain in foreign countries.

Learning to Love Myself And Making A Home Of A Brain
Prone To Hurricanes,
I Forgive Them Like I'd Like To Forgive Myself.

Abigail J. Villarroel

“I watched a lot of YouTubers, especially black women, who went through depression and it made me not feel alone, like I wasn’t crazy, like I wasn’t manifesting these feelings inside of me. Because one of the things my parents would say like: well you shouldn’t feel these things, you shouldn’t be saying this, you say things, they will happen, you know. So I was happy, I was like: you know what? I’m not crazy! These girls are going through it too and these girls are beautiful, and they’re thinking of things about themselves, like let alone little old me. Someone was saying it was OK, I felt them as well. You’re not a bad person because you feel these things, you’re not less than because you feel these things, you’re just human.”

An interview with a Brookes student

Listen to the poem

Abigail talks about his poem

Positive: Chairs and Ladders Game

by Hannah Wilmshurst

Positive: Chairs and Ladders Game

There have been ups and downs, good and bad.

A photogram has the complex beauty of capturing 3D objects on a 2D surface. For me, photography has the technical skill to capture depths and intricacies on all levels. I hope this image displays a balance of playfulness but also the serious message behind it also. When approached to participate in this project it was a privilege to use the medium of photography to assist in this visual translation of communication, or in some instances, lack of communication. In the interview I heard, the member of staff says: “I’ve sat with members of staff who don’t even give you eye contact at all”.

Family life is clearly at the core of 'success' (however we define it) and ultimately self-employment would be the ideal. Controlling and elevating the time under your own mind and intentions; in this instance: with his wife and child.

Amongst the shadows captured here are items from a Chairs and Ladders Game. Ladders represent the opportunities: “I’ve had opportunities to go from point A to point B” and the chairs, for me, represent the interviewee's experience of unsuccessful applications for other roles. A chair can be symbolic of various roles, opportunities and interviews, and for me, certainly correspond with the interviewee's negative experience with his application to the Board of Governors: “So where does this stem from? That just stems from the top, and if the top doesn’t believe in it, then the other people down the structures will do the same and then they’re not going to be interested. So, it has to come from the top."

Additionally, there are multiple references to struggles in the interview, which for me reside as a sensation of being caught up in a net: “For me personally..I believe it has been a struggle getting to where I have got to...Underneath all that is a genuine struggle”.

I have chosen the positive print over the initial negative; to encourage the growth and changes that will, hopefully, be made in the future.

“There have been ups and downs, good and bad. The people do make a difference, but you can always tell. I’ve come across scenarios whereby you believe you have the potential to carry on something; everyone else seems to demean that potential in you, and even if you wanted to go ahead and still prove beyond that point, you’d still find some difficulties in doing so. I think I should be somewhere above where I am today and I don’t think I’ve got the opportunity within this organization to get there. [...] For me, it’s the understanding that one day one time I’ll be out of here, and the patience for me comes from my wife really, because I think overall she is the only reason why I’m still here.”

An interview with a Brookes member of staff

Hannah Wilmshurst is an artist working in Oxford. She is on the Board of Trustees at OVADA (Oxfordshire Visual Arts Development Agency); a not-for-profit, artist led organisation. Hannah is currently working as a Photographic Technician at Oxford Brookes University.

Success

by Saskia Ragavelas

Success

“For me success is that when I close my eyes, that path that I trod is now a road and people are coming up it and it’s natural, and all sorts of people are going up it and they’re actually flowing the other way as well. So people who are indigenously from the Cotswolds in Oxfordshire feel that to go and live in Hackney is a good thing and not just to go and live in Hackney and change Hackney from what it was, but go and live in Hackney, and people from Hackney go and live in the Cotswolds, and be comfortable there. What would be a real crusher for me would be if I end up at the end of my journey in work life and there has been no difference.”

An interview with a Brookes member of staff

Saskia is starting her second year at Oxford Brookes University. She has a creative interest in Photography and her end of first year show was about perceptions of race.

The Calling

Dreams call a body home.
Doubt is only a next door neighbour–
the kind that visits once to change the locks
and claim everything as its own.

Eyes that once were telescopes,
mapping constellations between cloudbursts and rays of sun,
are tricked into believing the room for possibility shrinks
once strife makes terrifying all that’s not yet clear.  

The body stands still, afraid
to fall on either side of the standstill
between whispers parading as symphonies of others’ ideals,
and the dream crying out that it will never have another life to live in.

But will is lightning,
striking as many times as fits its need,
to set the mind afire with the tinder of what it means to achieve.
Prayers interlace with fingers,
embolden knuckles, re-teaches how to stretch and reach.
The call rings out, fanfares the future
with a song that cartwheels in the ear,
tumbling every cog in the body into one determined motion– Onward.

True success is a skeleton key.
Doubt can only be evicted
by the desire of conviction of a dream calling a body home,
To summon the strength of stance to stand the ground of destiny.

Christina Raisea Murphy

“I think faith is a large barrier to success. It’s a barrier but it’s also a door. The door’s always going to be a closed door and you’re not going to be able to envision what’s on the other side of it if you have no faith. If you do, and if you have strong faith in yourself and what you’re capable of, then really you have the key.”

An interview with a Brookes student

Christina Raisea Murphy is a poet and screenwriter from the Republic of Ireland. Her work has been published in seven countries to date. She has recently completed the MA Creative Writing programme at Oxford Brookes University. She is currently in process of completing her debut novel, In the Wake of Dreams.

Listen to the poem

Christina talks about her poem

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