Bristol Old Vic hosts a series of talks from leading figures in the city for Black History Month

8 Oct 2020

Black History: Black Present: Black Future, is a series of five conversations that focus on the momentous events of 2020, Bristol’s relationship with its past and some of the individuals and organisations who are committed to changing the city now and in the future.

Curated by award-winning Bristol playwright and Bristol Old Vic Trustee, Chinonyerem Odimba (Princess and the Hustler, Unknown Rivers), these conversations will reflect on aspects of Black British history, and ask whether we are ready to rise to the challenge of Black Lives Matter to create a fairer and more representative city after the pandemic. How can a better understanding of our past help this?  What is the direct and indirect impact of Bristol’s history on the racial injustice we witness in the present day?  How can we use stories of the past to help us build a better city for the future?

Speaking about the series, Chinonyerem Odimba said: “I am thrilled to be co-curating this series with the wonderful team at Bristol Old Vic. It has never felt more urgent, or more important, that we no longer just look at celebrating Black presence as a past event. We have to look forward. From tomorrow to the unknowable future, we have to keep actively working to build an arts ecology, a city, a country that speaks to and for all of us. There has to be a real commitment to doing that. This series of events is about bringing together some brilliant minds, activists and artists in the city in order to ask the big questions needed to bring about change in all aspects of our public and private lives. I am so excited to hear some of these voices speak to us and to each other.”  

The series of talks were inspired through conversations with Bristol historian David Olusoga, who said: “This series of talks looks at the black British experience in the context of British and European history and addresses a unique opportunity for change. This summer we have seen a powerful idea turning into a widespread movement; an idea that we could possibly create a society that isn’t racist: a society that is anti-racist. This is a generation whose attitude towards racism is very different to the attitudes of their parents and grandparents. They are intolerant of the idea of racism. What we saw this summer is a new generation come of age and find its voice and this matters to them deeply. Inspired by their leadership, we have the chance to learn from the injustices of the past and the present and to build a better future."

Wed 14 Oct
Colston – What Just Happened? 
6pm Theatre
A panel of Bristolian change-makers reflect on the momentous events of 2020 to look at Bristol’s history, examine its present and talk about its future. Chaired by Desmond Brown, campaigner and Chair of the Lammy Review Group for Avon and Somerset, the panel includes; Filmmaker Michael Jenkins (Blak Wave Productions), sharing the first trailer of his film “Colston: A Bristol Story” and Cllr Cleo Lake who will be discussing the politics of change in Bristol. Featuring Vanessa Kisuule’s poem “Hollow”.

Sun 18 Oct
Carnival, Education and Resistance
6pm Theatre
Curated for St. Pauls Carnival by Edson Burton
The recent campaign ‘Why is My Curriculum So White?’ is the latest manifestation of a long battle to transform education. Access is key to the struggle against racism; from slavery through to segregation, denying access to education was a key weapon in the oppression of African people. Furthermore, it led to a fake news ‘fairy tale’ version of British history that excluded or diminished the Black contribution in all its forms. Recognising its importance to challenging oppression, Black resistance has always placed the acquisition of education as a priority in the struggle for equality. 

Our panellists Aisha Thomas and Cathy Waithe (MBE) are part of a long line of Black activists who have, for centuries, sought to reinstate the real contribution of African people and reform the curriculum. The discussion will also explore the ways in which, locally and globally, Carnival has offered an informal curriculum and a living school, celebrating Black culture and history. 

Wed 21 Oct
Olivette Otele: African Europeans
6.30pm (This is an exclusively online event)
Co-produced with Festival of Ideas

Professor Otele’s April lecture at Bristol Old Vic “The Past is the Present” was scheduled to launch Unfinished Business, a week of events commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the St Pauls Uprising.  This presentation picks up that thread in celebration of the launch of her book African Europeans: An Untold History.

Professor Olivette Otele traces a long African European heritage through the lives of individuals both ordinary and extraordinary. She uncovers a forgotten past, from Emperor Septimius Severus, to enslaved Africans living in Europe during the Renaissance, and all the way to present-day migrants moving to Europe’s cities. By exploring a history that has been long overlooked, she sheds light on questions very much alive today—on racism, identity, citizenship, power and resilience.

African Europeans is a landmark account of a crucial thread in Europe’s complex history. It is published by Hurst and is available to buy from our friends at Waterstones. “European History is not complete without this book” (Bonnie Greer). Hosted as an online event on the Crowdcast platform and also live-streamed to Facebook.

Sun 25 Oct
Role Models, Creativity and Change: Marvin Rees in conversation with Chinonyerem Odimba
6pm Theatre 

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees is a passionate believer in the value of creativity and potential in everyone. In conversation with Bristol playwright and Bristol Old Vic Trustee Chinonyerem Odimba, he will reflect on one of his role models, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the importance of harnessing the creative potential of all Bristolians on the path to change.

The talk will be illustrated with footage from Frederick Douglass: An Abolitionist Returns in which Marvin appeared as Frederick Douglass in 2018. 

 Wed 28 Oct
The Future: Can Bristol Really Change? 
6pm Theatre 
In this pivotal year of 2020, will the opportunity for change be seized or will it once again pass Bristol by? This final conversation will  invite some of those making real change happen to share their vision, describe the obstacles they are confronting, and set out what they need if Bristol’s potential is to be reached.  

This final conversation will invite some of those making real change happen to share their vision, describe the obstacles they are confronting, and set out what they need if Bristol’s potential is to be reached. Participants will include Aisha Thomas on her new company “Representation Matters”, Dr Mena Fombo on the launch of Bristol African Caribbean Culture Centre - the first black-led creative organisation in the city centre and poet Solomon OB.

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.

They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.

On 24 Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its 2-year multi-million pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.

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