On Sunday 7th October, Bristol Women’s Voice put on a fabulous event to celebrate the contributions of Black women to Suffrage, hosted at the Arnolfini. Black Women 100 had a fantastic line-up of inspirational performances and thought-provoking talks, which sought to shine a light on the stories of Black women’s activism, that have often not received the recognition and acknowledgement that their involvement deserves.
The event was opened by Tan Teddy, the only Jamaican Folk Culture group in the UK – their performances immersed the audience into a celebration of Jamaican folk music and heritage. Following this was a talk given by the historian Silu Pascoe on her research into the stories of Black and Asian contributions to the suffrage movements in the UK and USA. Her knowledge and expertise set the historical context for the rest of the event, and many audience members commented that they learned about the hidden stories of many activists they had not previously heard of.
Next came a discussion from four young women of colour from Rising Arts, a Bristol-based agency that supports 16-25 year olds wanting to work in the creative industries. The speakers (Euella Jackson, Stacey Olika, Roseanna Dias, and Anika Deb) talked about their involvement with Rising Arts, and the role of cultural engagement and representation across the city. For example, they have been pushing for the inclusion of young people on the boards of Bristol’s biggest arts and creative organisations, with their OnBoard initiative. Their talks were described as “a breath of fresh air” and “forward thinking” by audience members, and highlighted the ongoing activism via the arts of young people of colour in Bristol.
Jenny Davis then performed an extract of her new theatre piece, which portrays a conversation between Princess Campbell and Mary Seacole. Princess Campbell was a mental health nurse, who faced many barriers before finally being promoted to be Bristol’s first Black ward sister. The performance was captivating, moving, and creative, and was commissioned by Bristol Women’s Voice to acknowledge the contributions of the Windrush generation.
A panel discussion followed, exploring the meaning of suffrage to Black Women, and the contributions that Black women have made to women’s rights. The panel members (Deputy Mayor Asher Craig, Dr Foluke Adebisi, Jendayi Sewah, Dionne Draper, and Euella Jackson) provided fascinating perspectives on key themes such as the importance of agency, self-determination, the meaning of freedom, and self-care. The discussion was expertly chaired by Peninah Achieng-Kindberg (African Voices Forum), and highlighted the importance of keeping the conversation going around race, representation, and the significance of the vote.
The final part of the event showcased more creative and inspiring performances, starting with the theatre company Breathing Fire, that brought their unique story-telling approach to the stage. Their performances are interactive – audience members were invited to share their thoughts and stories on the event’s theme, which were then dramatically recreated by the group. Through poetry, dance and song, Breathing Fire brought to life audience members’ experiences of learning about Black women’s contribution to suffrage, the different roles that women take, and the power of women.
The “Sing With Soul” choir (led by Dionne Draper) closed the event with an energetic and vibrant performance, including a tribute to Aretha Franklin and a rendition of “We Rise”. The song was written by Dionne (following a commission from Bristol Women’s Voice) to celebrate the centenary of the first women gaining the right to vote, and honours the women “on whose shoulders we stand”.
The response to the event by attendees was incredibly positive and encouraging, with the event described as “fascinating” and “informative” – many audience members fed back that they had learned a great deal about Black women, suffrage, and the importance of having an ongoing conversation about the key issues in Bristol today. Overall, the event was dynamic, and motivating, with all speakers and performers doing an excellent job in exhibiting the powerful contributions made by Black women to women’s rights.
Article by BWV Reporter Laura Hillier