Elma Glasgow is project manager of Aspire Black Suffolk, a new cultural programme which launched yesterday, to celebrate the African-Caribbean community across the county. Here she explains why it’s such an important milestone
The Aspire Black Suffolk programme came about when Colchester and Ipswich Museums decided to produce the Power of Stories, which features three costumes from Black Panther. As part of their role within the local communities, they invited the Black community in to help create a community-led events programme. I became the volunteer coordinator which, after eight months, became a paid role when funding was secured (Covid caused huge delays to available funding streams). I am also the PR for Aspire Black Suffolk.
This is an important milestone in Suffolk’s cultural history because the Black community has historically been overlooked and severely underrepresented. I first noticed this after moving here from London, where I lived for 20 years, although I grew up in Cambridgeshire and have family links to Suffolk. I noticed a huge lack of diversity in businesses, at cultural events and elsewhere where, I knew in my gut, more Black people should be present.
I’d never come across this before in the UK and was really shocked and disheartened. I would see lots of diversity out and about in Ipswich during the daytime, but in the evenings, it just wasn’t there. It felt very unsettling.
So, when this opportunity came about, I knew it was a brilliant reason to inject some fresh energy into elevating the community’s profile and celebrating its long-standing contributions to Suffolk – not just Ipswich – culturally and economically.
Young Black people need to hear and see a different narrative too – they need to know that they can aspire to be great, do great things, become skilled, use their talent and feel that they belong.
Exclusion is incredibly damaging to the whole of society, let alone local communities, so Aspire Black Suffolk aims to support the younger generations, so they expect to be treated with respect and to be valued, and not to be discriminated against and judged by those who refuse to see them as individuals with immense potential.
Oh my gosh, we’re delighted to have received more than £25k in funding! Securing funding, at the moment, is really challenging as there is so much demand created by Covid. So, I believe that our funders, including Arts Council England, recognise the importance of Aspire Black Suffolk.
The programme is for the whole of Suffolk. Although most activities are taking place in Ipswich, we have a few events in Woodbridge and Bury St Edmunds.
There will also be a Black Suffolk photographic exhibition, which will display a unique collection of new portraits by Ipswich resident and award-winning national press and documentary photographer, John Ferguson. The theme of the exhibition is based on everyday heroes of Suffolk’s Black community. Although inspired by the Black Panther film – and the Christchurch Mansion exhibition of three original costumers from the movie – the concept aims to make the idea of Black heroes more accessible and relatable, and, therefore, empowering. The images will pay homage to people of African heritage across various areas of life: work, education, the Windrush generation, volunteers, arts, culture, etc.
It is too soon to say if this could become an annual event, as it is currently reliant on funding. Securing money is very time consuming and requires lots of advanced planning and we would need a team of people to further develop the programme. However, another aim of Aspire Black Suffolk is to create a long-lasting legacy in Suffolk; an ideal outcome would be to see younger people feeling more confident and perhaps go on to create their own opportunities.
Aspire Black Suffolk, the new six-month, Black-led cultural programme celebrates the African-Caribbean community’s contribution to the county’s economy and culture, while elevating the expectations of young Black people. From education and the arts to heritage and personal development, the initiative is the community’s response to Power of Stories, an exciting exhibition featuring three original costumes from Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, opening on Saturday June 26 at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. The outfits of T’challa, Shuri and Okoye featured in the ground-breaking film will sit alongside Marvel comics, historic museum objects and local stories. Free tickets are available: powerofstories.co.uk The exhibition runs until October 24. For the list of events visit: www.powerofstories.co.uk/events. Tomorrow (Thursday June 24), there will be a screening of Mandabi at Ipswich Film Theatre.