Black History Month has been significant in Kingston this year as each event has been organised by Councillor Afy Afilaka, who in May 2023 became the first Black person to be elected to Kingston Council.
Councillor Afilaka is Portfolio Holder for Culture, Heritage and Governance & Co-Chair of the Corporate & Resources Committee.
She said: “The first thing which came to my mind as a councillor, is that we need to have a safe space to talk and leave a legacy for our children.”
This motivated her to partner with John Azah from the Kingston Race and Equalities Council to organise a range of events during Black History Month.
The Cultural Dress Day was the first of its kind in Kingston. In the opening address, Councillor Afy Afilaka described the purpose of the event as a means to “explore and embrace the diversity and captivating cultures that make up the African and Caribbean continent.”
The program was hosted at Kingston College, where Councillor Afy Afilaka also teaches mathematics.
There was an array of traditional African and Caribbean clothing and accessories, plus books sold by individuals who worked in collaboration with the Kingston Black Network to grow their business and gain exposure.
Tomike Ogunleye was one of the business owners and a guest speaker at the event. “It’s new and it’s something [Kingston Borough] should champion and something they should push. It’s something I believe other local councils would copy and then would see a change in their local council and communities,” she said.
Ogunleye is also a part of the close-knit Black Network, a workforce which she described as “diversely representing the people it serves”.
The event was commended by Councillor Andreas Kirsch and Chief Executive Sarah Ireland who said Councillor Afilaka had “taken control over black history month and made it the best and most profound in terms of efforts”.
Both councillors spoke on the importance of ensuring that Black voices are not lost but highlighted during this month and the years to come.
Voices that will shape the future
Councillor Afilaka had also invited dancers and instrumentalists to highlight the arts and culture of Black History.
University student and trained musician, Anthony Nwachukwu, held a demonstration of non-verbal communication drums – also known as African talking drums – an art he had learnt since the age of six.
Nwachukwu said that the main focus was to teach the audience new things about Black culture, ethnicities and tribes.
The musician said he would be happy to come to another event. Nwachukwu said, “Seeing Black History Month celebrated in the UK has put a big smile on my face as it’s most commonly seen celebrated in the US.”
During Anti-Hate Crime Week, Councillor Afilaka also held a panel discussion of Young Black Achievers on October 20 at the Guildhall aimed at young people.
The panel consisted of local teenagers who reflected on what Black History Month means to them as well as the challenges and opportunities they face as young black people. This event was an opportunity for young and mature audiences to educate and listen to the “voices that will shape the future”.
In a closing statement, when asked what Councillor Afilaka thought of this year’s Black History Month she said, “Black History Month is the start of my Black History Year.
“In a year’s time at the next Black History Month, I will look back at this month to see how much progress we have made for the Black community throughout the rest of the year. This is just the beginning.”