‘Saluting our Sisters’ to celebrate Black History Month’s female icons
Staff and students at the University of Bradford have revealed their icons as part of a celebration of women to mark Black History Month.
The annual event, held throughout October, recognises and celebrates the invaluable contributions of black people to British society.
This year’s Black History Month’s theme of ‘Saluting our Sisters’ spotlights the role that black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change, and building communities across the globe.
It aims to highlight the work of pioneering black women who have made contributions in areas of society including music, fashion, sport, business, literature, politics, academia, social and health care.
Professor Udy Archibong, pictured above, Pro Vice-Chancellor Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, who directs the University of Bradford’s Centre for Inclusion and Diversity, revealed her female icon is Rosa Parks.
The American activist in the civil rights movement was best known for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott.
Mrs Parks, pictured below, rejected a bus driver’s instruction to leave a row of four seats in the vehicle’s black section for a white passenger, once the white section was filled. The incident took place on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama.
She then faced a court challenge following her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws. Her actions on the bus that day helped inspire black people to boycott the Montgomery buses for more than a year.
She was later honoured as ‘the first lady of civil rights’ and ‘the mother of the freedom movement’ by the United States Congress. She died aged 92 in 2005.
Professor Archibong said: “My female icon must be Rosa Parks. She means a lot. I think the fact that she went where not many people would.
“She sat down to give freedom out of a segregation that was experienced in her time in the US. She demonstrates what I usually think about that there has to be a point where you are so mentally, psychologically fatigued of the oppression that is stamped on her.
“Rosa Parks was not physically tired; she was tired of the segregation and oppression and the dehumanisation of people in the US at the time.
“Black History Month means a great deal.
“I am a strong believer that we should have Black History Year. It should be an all year-round celebration, but it is also important to pause, celebrate and reflect and look at the good work that people from black communities have done; individuals and groups.”
Meanwhile, Cynthia Akinyemi, a host on the University’s Students Union-run radio station RamAir, says her female icon is TV host and actor Oprah Winfrey.
Cynthia, main image, said: “She has done so much in the TV world. Being a TV host myself, I am inspired by black women who have broken glass ceilings regardless of not being supported.
“She mentioned her show is the biggest show in America. I am so inspired as a black woman, and I know I can be anything I want to be anywhere in the world.
Student Elsa Marima, pictured above, completed her MSc in Sustainable Development course at the University of Bradford in September 2023.
Her Black History Month female hero is Wangari Maathai, who was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist.
She founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organisation focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights.
She became the first African woman to win the Noble Peace Prize for her ‘contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace’ in 2004. Maathai died aged 71 in 2011.
Elsa said: “Wangari Maathai is the reason today Narobi enjoys green spaces.
“She was the first Doctor of Philosophy in Eastern Central Africa.
“Her belief in education as a catalyst for change is really an inspiring feat.
“Young black people like me look up to her in so many ways and hope that many more people get to know about her contribution, her sacrifice, so that we can be able to make a change in the best way we can.
Black History Month is a really special month. We get to celebrate and reflect, remember black icons who have gone before us.
“Those that are still among us that are leading the way in various capacities to ensure that Africans, black people, can be able to be the best they can be.”
Professor Engobo Emeseh, pictured below, the University’s Head of Law School, has chosen Harriet Tubman, who, after escaping slavery in Maryland, USA in 1849, made 13 missions herself to rescue 70 enslaved people. Her life was made into a film, Harriet, which was released in 2019.
She said: “Harriet Tubman just epitomises that extraordinariness in ordinary black women.
“She was born a slave, managed to escape slavery and thereafter committed to 13 different missions to go back under what was known as the underground railroad.
“That epitomises the grit of black women, the firm backbone and the fact that whenever they commit to something they succeed at it.”
Onyinye Nwachukwu, pictured below, president of the Nigerian Students Society at the University who has completed a MSc in Sustainable Development, picked Maya Angelou, an American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist, who was seen as a spokesperson for black people and women. She died aged 86 in 2014.
Onyinye said: “Maya Angelou has been the one who has talked about equality, gender empowerment and all of this in marginalised communities and she did it with poetry and it struck a chord with me every time.”
A series of events will take place at the University of Bradford to mark Black History Month.
These begin with an opening ceremony in the Richmond Building Atrium at 11am on 2 October. On the same day, at 2pm, a flag raising ceremony will be at the University’s Peace Garden in celebration of Nigerian Independence Day.
Hate crime awareness pop-up events will be held, giving advice on reporting hate crime and increasing awareness of the impacts of hate crime. The pop-up stands will be at Richmond Atrium on 17 October and Student Central on 18 October for this event.
Pictures from clockwise: Wangari Maathai, Oprah Winfrey, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks
Go to bradford.ac.uk/events/black-history-month for more information on events held at the University of Bradford.