Carnival champions community as cultural 'melting pot'
- Credit: DANNY LOO
Letchworth's Bank Holiday carnival event has given momentum to a fundraising campaign for a new platform celebrating black voices, heritage and culture in North Herts and beyond.
The outdoor 'Soca Mash-up!' class, put on by Black Voice Letchworth, was an extension of the group's weekly free dance class, which is held at Mrs Howard Memorial Hall every Sunday.
The Leys Square session invited more local youngsters to come along to the weekly class and try something new.
The hour-long open air session on Saturday encouraged residents of all ages to engage with the rhythms, colours and traditions of carnival - something many haven't had the opportunity to experience up close before.
Explaining the importance of celebrating the history and significance of carnival, Black Voice Letchworth's Micaelia Clarke said that public events showcasing black culture encourages people of all ages to be inquisitive and open-minded to traditions different to one's own, which, in turn, brings it into the mainstream.
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"I was surprised at how many little kids got involved," she told the Comet. "They were the most carnival-spirited people there!
"It was nice to have something joyous and positive after Black Lives Matter. It had important points to push forward that we are all still working on in our organisations, but it was nice to show that fun and wonderful part of our contribution to British culture."
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Clad in traditional carnival attire for the event, Micaelia also hoped to bring a sprinkle of magic to those passing through the heart of Letchworth.
An ex-West End star and singer, dancer and teacher, she has dedicated her time to sharing the black experience in Letchworth and the wider North Herts area, as well as highlighting pivotal moments in black history that may be overlooked in conventional education streams.
She said of the impact of sharing black stories with people of other communities: "They feel more connected with something that's a positive contribution to their culture. This is all of our culture.
"Britain's always been a melting pot, there's just a realisation now of it. I think our culture has always been mixed, and it's nothing to be scared of, but to celebrate that we're able to do that in a healthy way."
Ahead of Black History Month in October, Micaelia detailed the vital work Black Voice Letchworth is doing to provide a platform for the black community, including putting together a dossier with contributions from their Black Voice Hertfordshire meetings.
She continued: "The contributions will be put into a book to make available to institutions and organisations so that they can hear the black voice in its raw state, and start basing their policies on our contributions."
Black Voice Letchworth's biggest challenge, however, is to raise £5 million for the UK's first Black History Museum, Library and School of Cultural and Creative Arts - a further way of celebrating, uplifting and protecting the black voice.
"I've learnt so much about being in community, and learnt how much I can give back. I want to still be creative, but I want my creativity to bless others. That's where Black Voice Letchworth came about.
"I can still be creative, and a percentage of my earnings goes towards the community group, to fundraise for all the free stuff.
She added: "I want them to have the opportunities that I had. I went to Mountview on a full scholarship - and that's practically unheard of now. So I would like to offer the same thing that someone offered me.
"I feel with having this space of a museum, library and school, our history, our culture and our creativity will be permanently celebrated and respected, and people can come and see a celebratory space of the contribution of black culture to the UK and Europe.
"It will be a continuation of that - not just for the past, but of what we're also going to contribute to the future."