Black History Month has been celebrated nationally for over 30 years, but it is also important to recognise local black history and culture. In this article, we will explore some of the events, people and stories associated with Sheffield’s black history.
Although Sheffield may be known for Barry Kine’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, its literary scene has created a wealth of talented black poets and authors.
Award winning author, poet, musician and photographer, Johnny Pitts’ successful career started in Firth Park, Sheffield. Pitts is best known for his BBC History Best Book winning ‘Afropeans’. The book documents the struggle of Europeans of African descent to find their community and identity and was an instant success.
Yassin is a British born Somali poet who juggles teaching and poetry whilst winning multiple awards along the way. She is featured in many different publications and her collection ‘Tea with Cardamom’, won her the New Poets Prize in 2018. She even contributed to National Poetry Day with her poem, Sheffield, which celebrates Sheffield’s different areas and their multiculturalism.
Otis Mensah is a Sheffield native rap-poet with a contemporary twist on alternative hip-hop and spoken word poetry. Otis’ stream of consciousness style can be heard across multiple albums and performances, citing inspirations as Common and Aesop Rock. He was also appointed the first poet laureate for Sheffield by former mayor Magid Magid, who described him as ‘dynamic, skillful and radical’. Touring schools and delivering workshops, Otis is an advocate for rap as a tool for emotional expression in Sheffield’s youth.
Spoken word poet and rapper, Heslop is a champion for Sheffield’s young poets and rappers. He is the founder of Slam Barz, where budding young lyricists can develop their skills by competing in Slam Barz competitions or open mic events. Heslop is passionate about creativity and self-expression and Slam Barz reflects this, providing a space for young people to express themselves creatively.
The Library of Life
The Sheffield And District African Caribbean Community Association library, or The Library of Life, is a great place for anyone to educate themselves on black history and culture. The library holds regular events and is a meeting point for the local community in the Wicker. Recognising the emphasis on american experiences in black history and the lack of education on black british experiences in schools, the library aims to preserve and promote black british history and culture.
The Lit Collective
Sheffield’s book club for young women of colour, the collective celebrates the ‘love, joy, friendship, family, self-care, community and imagination’ of women of colour. The group aims to include LGBTQ+ writers as well as focussing on the writing of women of colour. In July, they hosted an online literary festival with an array of workshops to choose from including creative writing, discussion groups and performances.
The pandemic has not stopped many organisations celebrating Black History Month with online talks, workshops and events for any taste.
Off the Shelf
Run by the University of Sheffield, this literary festival is hosting loads of online events celebrating black British literature and history. Historian David Olusoga, author of the highly rated ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’, will give a free online talk entitled ‘Black British in the Age of Black Lives Matter’. Meanwhile, watch celebrated poet Roger Robinson perform his new collection, ‘A Portable Paradise’. To see full listings click here: https://www.offtheshelf.org.uk
Sheffield Hallam’s Black History Month Programme
During the last week of October, Sheffield Hallam University is hosting a wide range of events championing black British culture and history. With watch parties, a cultural night hosted by Hallam’s student societies and talks, there’s something for everyone. Check out the full list here: https://www.hallamstudentsunion.com/blackhistorymonth/
Sheffield’s African Theatre company, Utopia Theatre, runs workshops throughout the year for young people of African descent interested in theatre. Together with over 40 African theatre professionals at the top of their field, the company aims to lead the next generation of African performers. The company is also currently performing ‘Here’s What She Said to Me’, available online and at the Crucible, this play encapsulates the experiences of three African women across generations and continents.
Learn more about Sheffield’s black history this October with the many events, resources and stories to be shared. For more information and nationwide events this Black History Month, check out: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/listings/.