Organizations and institutions in Kingston have announced a range of events and activities as the borough looks to mark Black History Month, which runs throughout October.

Kingston Council (RBK), Kingston University (KU) and Kingston Race Equalities Council (KREC) have all announced events to observe the month, at a time when renewed cries for racial justice are being heard in Kingston and around the world amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.

KREC’s CEO John Azah spoke with KU about why marking Black History Month was so important in the borough.

“People of colour have contributed culture and music and knowledge to the development of this borough. When I arrived in Kingston in the late 80s everybody said there were no Black people living or working here, and I was kindly reminded to look up Cesar Picton’s history,” Azah said, referencing one of Kingston’s most famous Black residents.

Picton, a former slave from Senegal, was born in the mid 1700s when slavery was still practised throughout the expanding British Empire, and arrived in Kingston as a “gift” for wealthy landowner John Phillips.

After serving for years as Phillips’ servant, Picton eventually gained his independence and rose to prominence by investing in the coal market that exploded with the advent of the industrial revolution in the 1780s.

He’s one of many prominent Black people the borough will be celebrating as their own during October, with other figures like Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée and RBK’s current CEO Ian Thomas also among their number.

“He is responsible for most of the key policy development in the borough. People can say that ‘if he is chief executive, then anything is possible’ and we can always say to young people: ‘if you put your mind to everything you want to acheive you can get there’,” Azah added.

“We celebrate Black History Month as a result of what Black people have given to the town and realize the evidence of how they contributed to the progressive development of this place.”

KREC are joining with Kingston Council for a special online event on October 14 titled ‘Let’s Talk about Race (equality)’, to feature a panel discussion, and are asking the public to submit questions for the talk.

Meanwhile, KU are hosting a range of events examining Black History in greater detail including film screenings, debates and examinations of the Black Lives Matter movement, online and at the university’s student union.

“Black History Month is a time for us to recognise the importance of Black history in the UK, a history that is too often inaccessible, undervalued and overlooked. It is also an opportunity to continue important discussions about race and the lived experiences of Black people in society today.

“The exploration of British Black history raises important questions about who we are, what we can learn from our past and what we want from our future,” KU’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier said.