NUS Black Students Winter Conference Report 2019.
Over the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of November, the NUS Black Students Winter Conference was held. It offered a place for black students and Community Officers alike to get together and engage in fruitful conversation during informative workshops and talks from key members in the BAME community including Laila Howe, Jesse Bernard and Lola Olufemi to name a few.
The conference commenced with a welcome plenary from Leila Howe, a keynote speaker who offered some inspiring yet emotional words about her experience as a biracial woman growing up in a racially sensitive community. Ms Howe also highlighted topics from her book ‘Here To Stay, Here To Fight’ which is anthology of ‘Race Today’. Race Today was a revolutionary journal that included articles from racial activists of the 20th century from Maya Angelou to Bobby Sands and more whilst focusing on controversial topics such as race, sex and social class. This book is highly recommended for any black activist of today. The great thing about Laila Howe’s lecture was that as well as discussing the struggles of the black community she also discussed and emphasised the greatness that could come from celebration of culture through events such as Notting Hill Carnival. Whilst discussing the origins of the biggest annual street party in the UK, Ms Howe noted how Carnival should be seen as an art form and way of expression despite police attempts (both past and present) to control and subdue the celebration of culture. In addition, in order to provide for over a million people in attendance of the event every year, Notting Hill Carnival now receives over £100,000 of funding from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who now take pride in the event showing a vivid contrast from its humble beginnings in 1966 with only 500 attendees and no support whatsoever from the local government.
Leila Howe gave a great plenary and certainly solidified her status as the highlight of the conference when she gave the simple response of “Fight them!” when asked by a student about how to deal with hate groups such as white supremacists.
Other plenaries offered insight on how race affects many sectors of life from sexuality to religion to music. Interestingly, Edgar Ndazi, a black DJ and producer on the panel discussing the Politicisation of Black Music, pointed out that BBC 1Xtra had once produced a ‘power list’ on the most important UK artists in the black and urban music scene of which Ed Sheeran came 1st. And, if this wasn’t surprising enough, just about squeezing into the bottom 5 of the top 20 list was Wiley (an MBE recipient of Caribbean descent) and Giggs (a legend who has revolutionised the music genre of grime) along with UK urban classics Laura Mvula, Wretch 32 and Dizzee Rascal.
Mirroring Laila Howe, the panel, as well as focussing on the negatives, also focused on the positives such as the inclusion of music from the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Labyrinth and DDoubleE in recent Christmas adverts as a way of painting black music in the media in brighter, more positive colours. Music, as Jesse Bernard who is a music and culture writer described, is an industry based on white, christian and patriarchal ideologies - hence why urban art forms such as grime and drill not being given the same respect as other music genres. In order to tackle this, Mr Bernard believes that people should not let its portrayal as ‘gang music’ in the media hinder enjoyment of this type of music and black youths should keep using this as a form of expression for real experiences.
Although the plenaries were great, the seminars offered more in depth discussion on activism and action towards progressing in the BAME community. One workshop in particular which could be of great benefit to the community was one orientated around self-care. Discussions held in this workshop could benefit university students greatly because, whilst in university, it is easy to forget everything taught at home including values and personal goals. This, paired with hanging around the wrong people and drinking too much whilst not sleeping enough among other things could make it easy for any self care routine developed prior to uni disappear. Self care is something that has been ruthlessly monetised by beauty and hygiene companies so it therefore becomes harder to define its true meaning beyond just wearing skin cream and spraying deodorant. Although this is all important for external self care, it is somewhat superficial and not always beneficial or effective for internal self care.
A few self care tips were shared among the different Officers that could help students become their best selves - especially during this cold exam season. This is important as an effective self care routine leads to a healthy mind and a healthy mind is paramount for revision.
Self care could include:
- Being kind to yourself (self discipline is vital in uni but know when to stop and go and buy yourself a doughnut as a treat)
- Finding an activity to express yourself (skydiving, exercising, writing poetry or creating art could act as an outlet)
- Finding a safe space (this could be at home with family or the kitchen in your flat - anywhere you can go to feel calm)
- Religious outlet (prayer and gospel music or reading a holy book)
- Musical outlet (listening or making music may help to relieve tension or stress)
- Utilising the university (there are many services available on campus through accommodation services, CUSU or the main university that can help if you don’t feel you are taking care of yourself as you should and you need support.)
It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive and progress isn’t linear but in fact cyclical so you should keep practicing your self care routine once you have trialled enough and found a routine that works for you. Self Care equals self preservation so could help with major issues such as mental health which is an important topic in the BAME Community.
To conclude, the NUS Winter Conference for Black Students was a great experience as it was informative, interactive and generally interesting. There aren’t many spaces where racial issues can be discussed in depth in such a structured manner so many thanks go to Fope Olaleye, the NUS Black Students Conference Officer, and all of the key speakers and volunteer staff that gathered together that weekend to hold a much needed event.