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Finding our heroes

INSPIRED: Marlo Savin at the Schomburg Center

STUDENTS FROM De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester were issued with a rallying call not to “accept the existing history that silences black and ethnic minority people” during a recent trip to the United States.

During a talk, they were told that “history needs to be fought for so, go find the unsung heroes and sheroes”.

The inspiring words came from Mary Year- wood, director of collections and information services at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which students visited during a #DMUglobal Freedom to Achieve trip to New York earlier this year.

More than 40 DMU students representing four faculties at the university explored black and ethnic minority history, identity and community in New York during a tour of the centre.

As one of the world’s leading cultural institution devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African-American experiences, students got the chance to see some of the 11 million-plus items that illuminate the richness of Harlem (and New York’s) black history, arts and culture.

One of the students on the trip, Marlo Savin, a second-year history and politics student, said he was moved by the collection and motivated to write the hidden stories of people that share his ethnic background.

He said: “This centre is so important, because being black and Asian in Britain, you don’t get to hear your history, but here it is so on display and at the forefront.

“It makes you realise that you can find it and it’s there, and that your heroes exist and that your history is important.”

A story of the renowned 20th Century US historian, writer and activist Arturo Schomburg being told that “black history and people did not matter” as a child in school in Puerto Rico, leading him to document black history, resonated strongly with Savin’s own passion for history.

He said: “I’ve spent my whole life from when I was a little kid trying to find my own heroes
and bring up my culture.”

Rosie Vacciana-Browne, a second-year journalism student, also said the visit was a powerful reminder that there is more “history than what we see around black culture”. She said: “In the UK, we don’t cover it as much as we seem so focused on covering wars and the monarchy.

“It was good for me to get in touch with something that re- lates personally as a black female and to hear a rich history of Harlem, rather than an area that is just seen as run down.”

This perspective connects strongly with the aims of DMU’s Freedom to Achieve project, which seeks to close the black and minority ethnic (BAME) attainment gap by making the curriculum students learn more diverse and inclusive.

Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, a Freedom to Achieve “fair outcomes champion” and senior lecturer in journalism at DMU, said the trip was invaluable for understanding “that the US also doesn’t have enough of black history and culture in their curriculums.''

“At DMU, we’re trying to change that situation and make our curriculum more diverse,” she said. “It’s really important for me as a lecturer. So, I think this is really important for me as a lecturer to understand what other ideas I can bring back and implement and how I can inspire other staff.”

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