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‘We are a wonderful community and there is such diversity within that’

More than 160 students attended the Black History Month formal hall at Downing, with speakers Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, of Cape Town University, and Ovie Soko, basketball player and Love Island star.

In the run up to the event, the Trinity Law student and BME Officer of TCSU had been busy. Wanipa Ndhlovu is President of the University African Caribbean Society (ACS) and fellow Trinity student, Nathania Williams, is Vice President.

The ACS Committee and Surer Mohamed, Black Cantabs Research Society President (centre right)

Jointly organised by ACS and Black Cantabs Research Society, Wanipa said the formal hall perfectly combined the Society’s three key aims: educate, empower and entertain.

‘We had a very empowering and educational speech from Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, who spoke about the homogenisation of the African experience and touched on the need for us to really carve out our own identities,’ she said.

‘We also had a brilliant Q&A with Love Island star and Professional Basketball player, Ovie Soko, who talked about his experiences on Love Island and the perceptions of young black men.’

Ovie Soko and Wanipa Ndhlovu

At the event, Ovie spoke of his Nigerian heritage and how it had taught him the values of love and respect.

One thing I should say we should all do moving forward as young black ladies and young black men is to take time to be in a quiet place, on a regular basis if you can,  take time to really search yourself to figure out who you are.

Before you can make a positive impact on the world, before you can go out there and do great things, you have to know who you are first, you have to be confident in who you are.

Ovie said that from young age, more black students – especially males – needed to be exposed to the prospect of studying at leading universities like Cambridge. What is lacking is self-belief and exposure to opportunities, not ability, he said.

Wanipa said Black History Month was vital in transforming negative narratives into positive associations.

‘Usually the narratives we are told about our histories are not powerful or encouraging. We are taught in the mainstream about slavery and colonialism and all the negative things.’

October is a time when we can bask – with full acknowledgement – in the real glory of our proud histories. Every day this month, ACS has highlighted a ‘hidden’ black historical figure – including some Cambridge alumni,’ she said.

‘While it would be preferable for our proud histories to be told every day, we are happy that in October, the eyes on the world are on the great strides we have made as a community and the legacy of our achievements.’

Wanipa, President of ACS

Wanipa herself has been on a journey since she left York to come to Trinity and Cambridge. ‘While I was in York, the black community was very small and so I was more concerned with just understanding how I fit in as a black person in a predominantly white society,’ she said.

Since coming to Cambridge, I have found a wider family in ACS and have been better able to start thinking about my Zambian heritage within that. The African Caribbean Society has allowed me to be more comfortable in my identity, and the discussions and events we hold give me even more room to delve into my heritage in a very refreshing and self-reflective way!

Conscious that others are also exploring their identities, Wanipa is keen for ACS to highlight the diversity of black students’ backgrounds and experiences ‘rather than homogenising that.’ ‘We are a wonderful community and there is such diversity within that.’

When we do more to highlight the individual narratives and backgrounds – East African, Southern African, Caribbean, Northerners, Southerners, people from the Midlands – this will show more black students looking at Cambridge that you don’t need to be any one ‘type’ of black person to study here. You are more than welcome to explore and celebrate the layers of your identity here!

Identities were expressed on the night through clothes and jewellery. ‘It was amazing to see everyone in their traditional wear, adorned in jewellery, headwraps and beautiful colours,’ said Wanipa. ‘We were able to bring our traditions to a Cambridge tradition and the result was honestly magical.’

Photos: Hassan Raja 

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