‘As a white man, being involved with Black History Month means a hell of a lot’

Paul Chambers has shared why he wanted to be involved in the planning of Hitchin Diversity and Culture's events for Black...

Paul Chambers has shared why he wanted to be involved in the planning of Hitchin Diversity and Culture's events for Black History Month. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

The co-founder of a mental health charity that focuses on the rehabilitative powers of writing has shared why he felt “determined” to be involved in the planning of Hitchin’s Black History Month events.

To mark this year’s Black History Month, a new collective of North Hertfordshire residents came together to celebrate diversity in their local communities, with educational events and workshops planned to inform others of Black culture and history.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of the events that North Herts Diversity and Culture had planned were forced to be postponed.

We spoke with one the people behind the organisation of some of the group’s workshops, Paul Chambers, author and co-founder of mental health charity PoetsIN.

Although he says he was “determined” to take part in North Herts’ Black History Month, Paul openly admits to his identity being an “elephant in the room”.

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“I’m white, middle aged and, as recent times would suggest, a prime candidate for being casually racist,” Paul explains.

“As a white man with white privilege, being involved with Black History Month means a hell of a lot to me.

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“In my recent experience, it’s people my age that seem to find it difficult to either change their ways or comprehend that what they previously thought was acceptable, is, in fact, very much not.

“It’s mostly friends my age I’ve found myself blocking over the last couple of years after being horrified at their increasingly divisive posts.”

Growing up in the 70s, Paul says he was exposed to “casual and not-so-casual racism” from a very early age.

“Even with that constant onslaught, I have never been racist; and count myself lucky enough to have lived in multicultural areas with people of all creeds and colours.

“I was happy with being ‘not racist’. Being colour blind, I thought, was enough. It was not.”

Paul says he discovered a lot about himself following the death of George Floyd in America, with Black Lives Matter events reaching as far as Hitchin and Stevenage as a result.

“I always thought I was morally sound when it came to being against racism. I would always stand up for people in reactive ways. However, I have realised that I was clearly muted in proactive ways and therefore, to a degree, complicit.

“I’m honoured that I and my charity are involved with the workshops we are delivering throughout October. We, as a charity that actively strives to be inclusive, vowed to try to harder – and this is the start.”

PoetsIN have teamed up with legendary MC Mr Malise to deliver Civil Writes - creative writing workshops for mental health and expressing oneself; throughout October via Zoom.

There will also be virtual talks from prominent people within Black history, including Stuart Lawrence, whose brother Stephen was murdered in a racially motivated attack while waiting for a bus in Eltham in 1993.

Find out more about PoetsIN at www.poetsin.com

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