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Zephrynus Okechi Ikeh (second from right) at an AIDI event.

Ireland becomes fourth country in world to celebrate Black History Month

A number of events are taking place in October to honour black culture and heritage.

IRELAND HAS BECOME the fourth country in the world to celebrate an annual Black History Month, following in the footsteps of the US, UK and Canada.

A network of groups have come together through Africa Irish Development Initiatives (AIDI) to organise a series of events that will take place throughout the month of October.

What began as a pilot initiative in Cork in 2010 has grown into a national programme.

Zephrynus Okechi Ikeh, Project Coordinator of Black History Month Ireland (BHMI), said that the initiative will tackle racism and discrimination through helping people understand different cultures.

The theme of BHMI 2014 is ‘Civil Rights, Ethnic Diversity, Intercultural Education and Development’.

Ikeh, who is orignially from Nigeria but has lived in Ireland for over seven years, said the month will “honour the men, women and children at the heart of this celebration – from doctors to professionals to educators to school children to asylum seekers”.

“Everyone in Ireland can draw strength from the story of hard-won progress, which not only defines the African-Irish experience, but also lies at the heart of the Irish nation as a whole,” Ikeh said at the launch of Black History Month this week.

He believes that now is the right time for BHMI as the Irish community has evolved greatly in recent years due to immigration.

In the 2011 Census, African people represented 1.3% of the population. One in three of those with African ethnicity were born in Ireland (19,694 people), as were 36.6% (2,337) of those with other black backgrounds.

The remaining Africans were born primarily in Nigeria (32.1%). Those from other black backgrounds were born in a range of countries including England and Wales (8.7%), Brazil (11.2%) and Mauritius (4.5%).

Ikeh has called on the Government to officially recognise BHMI and so that more organisations, schools and libraries will participate.

This year’s programme includes musical and cultural performances, lectures at several universities, religious services and the Dublin African Film Festival.

What it means to be Irish

Raven Aflakete is from San Francisco but has lived in Dublin for several years. He is a spoken word poet and performed at the BHMI launch.

Aflakete recalled how BHM was “always a big deal” when he was growing up in America.

Black History Month was one of the few times we got to see ourselves writ large and cast in a positive light on the national scene and that cannot be underestimated in the United States.

He wants people to think about the significance of celebrating BHM in Ireland, noting how much multiculturalism has developed in recent years.

20141002_124910a Raven Aflakete Órla Ryan / Órla Ryan / /

The first time I was here was probably about 15 years ago and there were honestly places where I would go where people had never seen a black person in the flesh – from Africa, from the United States, from anywhere. Take us from that point to now.

“What it means to be Irish is going to completely change, it’s already started … it will have completely transformed within two generations.”

Outlawed heroes

Aflakete volunteered at a homeless shelter in Dublin for five years. During this time he became aware of the impact black culture from the United States had on certain people.

One of the things that struck me was that amongst all of these young men coming in off the streets almost every single one of them had posters of American gangster rappers on their walls … That got me thinking: ‘What’s it all about?’

… It’s about outlawed heroes. We have an underclass that feels as if it has been let down. Those outlawed heroes are the ones that we turn to when we feel like the system has let us down.

Clara Rose Thorntorn is also a spoken word performer. She moved from the US to Dublin 18 months ago.

BHM started in Thorntorn’s birthplace, Chicago. Carter G Woodson conceived the idea of ‘Negro Week’ in 1926 – a seven-day event designed to put forward positive portrayals of the African community and celebrate its history and contributions to America.

It was officially celebrated as national Black History Month in February 1976. The UK first celebrated its own BHM in 1978, while Canada officially recognised BHM in 1995.

Clara Rose Thornton / Vimeo

I’m so proud that my adopted country, my new land, is following in the footsteps of honouring the cornerstones of a successful community, ethnic diversity, community inclusion, cultural education, cultural tolerance.

“Now when these things don’t occur, divisions form and divisions continue when there is not diversity – when there is not education about diversity, when there is not inclusion,” Thornton said at the launch.

More information about the events happening during BHMI can be found here.

Read: This word cloud shows how racism in Ireland makes victims feel

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