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24 October 2003 1826 BST
Black History Month: A first for Norfolk
Pic: Bernadine Evaristo.
Award-winning novelist and 2002 UEA Writing Fellow, Bernadine Evaristo performed a reading at the Forum library in Norwich.
October is Black History Month and for the first time since its launch in 1987, a range of activities is being held in Norfolk to mark the event.

Tonia Mihill, from Norfolk Education and Action for Development, explains why the celebration is relevant to everyone.

NEAD: Black History Month
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bullet point. Full details of the Norfolk Black History Month programme are available from Tonia at NEAD.
E-mail: Tel: 01603 61099.
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Tel: 01603 611644
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Did you know that the first recorded black presence in Britain was during Roman times?

Black History Month was first celebrated in Britain in 1987. It aims to enable all people to be aware of and enjoy the achievements and contributions that black people have made.

If you haven't heard of it before that's because celebrations have often been confined to areas with larger black and minority ethnic populations.

For the first time, Norfolk Education and Action for Development, an educational charity working locally for global justice and equality, and Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council have joined forces to promote a programme of events.

So why celebrate Black History Month in white Norfolk? As the Nigerian author Ben Okri has written, "Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves and you change the individuals and nations."

If the world we live in - from the history books to the neighbouring houses - is overwhelmingly populated by white people and dominated by white culture, the consequence is that black people and black culture are marginalised, or perhaps, simply rendered invisible.

This provides a fertile context for the perpetuation of the ignorance, exclusions, divisions, misunderstandings, stereotyping and discrimination of racism.

In contrast, there are other realities, other stories, that racism works to obscure, that can change the way we think of ourselves and our society and that can promote the growth of anti-racist communities.

Stories of our common human ancestry in Africa, of the continuous presence of black people in Britain for at least 500 years; of people such as Mary Seacole, a black nurse in the Crimea at the same time as Florence Nightingale and, in her time, also famous and feted; of the first black British circus owner, Pablo Fanque, born in Norwich in 1798.

All the stories documented in Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council's Norfolk Roots of the Future Exhibition show the presence and contribution of black and minority ethnic groups and individuals to this county.

So where does that leave white Norfolk? And let's not even talk about the myth, all the more powerful for its unspoken presence in our lives and minds, of a country or a world shaped only by white 'civilisations' and achievements, heroes and pioneers.

To create an inclusive, just and non-racial society we need an inclusive story that does justice to all those who are and have been part of it.

This is as true in Norfolk as it is anywhere else in the country or the world.

The task and purpose of Black History Month is to allow us all to discover, reinstate, highlight, discuss, enjoy and celebrate some of the missing chapters.

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