Coming out of the blue… remix…

This is a short excerpt from a talk I wrote for Anita Shervington’s fabulous BlackSteam event in Birmingham and subsequently remixed a snippet at the STEM National Forum (I am an 80s kid after all – and with 5 minutes and the floor on a diversity and inclusion session, Beresford’s story rang true and found its way through my heart into the room). The original talk was titled ‘Coming out of the Blue’ after a residency I did with Squirrel Nation in the Stuart Hall Library. It reminds me of black brilliance and how its all around us, you just have to know where to look or, go looking… some folks like what I said and wanted to share it, which is great, so I’d like to share it in my own words, edited slightly, to ensure it works for a public rather than private audience.

Beresford Edwards outside The West Indian Community Centre

I’m Erinma, a lecturer in Open Science and Storytelling at The University of Salford. As a teenager, I was incredibly privileged to be educated in Manchester by local African and Caribbean communities, alongside my University education. I had no idea at the time, but the pioneer, Beresford Edwards, who came to settle in Moss Side from Guyana, was a key figure in striving towards racial equality in the UK. A printer by trade, Beresford had to fight the printers union after being ousted in the UK due to racism, but he won his case. A landmark case, look it up! But, again, because of racism, although he got back his union card, he was ostracised by rumours and couldn’t get work.

This didn’t deter Beresford – instead, he set up the West Indian Community centre on Carmoor road, just round the corner from where I lived in Longsight. He also set up a black book shop there. One Saturday morning, I went out, curious about my new neighbourhood – I am a geek by nature, and would happily stay in the house, but my mum always encouraged us to go out, ‘meet your neighbours, go do ‘cultural activities” – so i went out and I came across the community centre. I popped my head in, the door was open and a record tape was playing. Beresford invited me in – he said ‘come in, what do you do?‘ I told him I was studying science around the corner at The University.

He told me to come back next week to teach… science and maths and english to young black kids who weren’t doing as well at school, or were excluded for ‘unknown‘ reasons. So I went along on Saturdays to teach maths, english, science and a bit of playfulness too, as it was a Saturday after all. I taught the kids and we learned from the bookshop about black scientists, mathematicians, medics and inventors, George Latimer, Katharine Johnson, Lewis Latimer and Rebecca Crumpler as well as philosophers, activists and revolutionaries like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Angela Davis – writers like James Baldwin and poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.

Angela Davis giving first lecture at UCLA

I only just discovered recently that Beresford was secretary of the national Campaign Against Racial Discrimination and a key player in making the Race Relations Act (1976) happen – which paved the way for the Equality Act. He did a lot more besides – Culture Week and much much more. I took part in a very small part of what he and his wife, Elouise Edwards, created.

For me, at the University of Salford, in terms of inclusion in STEM, I can change the bit that I am in control of and that is through my research, my teaching and my public engagement.

I have decolonised the MSc curriculum that I teach, I was involved in designing it – so that’s just what you do. I offer texts and approaches on different pathways to create a sense of belonging and inclusion. For many students, we are the institution that cares. It’s an absolute privilege to teach them.

I had one student last year who wanted to decolonise nature documentaries by examining the language in the documentaries used around heterosexuality, race and gender – he designed an social media scientific experiment to do that, he went on to get a first for this final year project. This is a form of what Patricia Hill Collins calls intellectual activism or…

“The myriad ways that people place the power of their ideas in service to social justice.”

And, its much needed, students and academics can do this work together, and its important to remember, the younger generation don’t see race or sex or sexuality as older generations perhaps still do. (Breathes… lucky me)

I also learn from and partner with lots of community organisations – they inspire me – we give one another energy – I often do public engagement and impact work through social enterprise, which makes things faster, more agile, more like ‘community’ work.

There are alternative models – I am fortunate at Salford that we have what we call the industrial collaboration zone – the ‘industry’ bit can also be ‘societal’ – its strategic partnering with external organisations on everything we do – which just makes my life easier.

My provocation is, what are the things that you do outside your work, to create the kind of society that we want to be part of, how can that become part of your passion for inclusive STEM?

Beresford’s story is archived by the community for the community here. Beresford’s contributions are covered by the Guardian and The Voice. Read up on Salford’s ICZ partnership type arrangements here.

I am incredibly grateful for a Stuart Hall residency, which I shared with artist, Caroline Ward and curator, Bianca Manu.  We’ll be sharing more from the residency at an event on December 12th 2018 at The Library’s new home. Thanks also to Wellcome Engagement Fellow, Anita Shervington, who invited me to share a story of black brilliance as part of her platform, BLACKSTEAM along with Natty Mark Samuels, Stevie Brown, Denise MacLean, Juice Aleem and Chloe Selvwright.

Cheers to NCCPE, BSA, Science Museum and Wellcome folks for making space in their platform.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Erinma, Thank you for sharing the above. I feel much inspired and I am grateful to learn that so much effort on the part of Berisford Edwards and his wife has inspired a new generation. I remember well how things were, when in 1966 I joined your father in London.

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