Nigerian-born Zephrynus Okechi Ikeh (known as Zeph) established Black History Month Ireland in 2010. Celebrations were held in Cork, where Zeph lived at the time.
“Before this, around 2008, I started researching about Africans’ contributions and participation in Irish cultural development, hence the Black History Month in Ireland.” He had a little experience in community initiatives. He had previously held an African fashion show in aid of childhood leukemia treatments for Mercy Hospital Cork, raising about €2,800. A second fundraiser, for the ISPCC, was held in 2009. According to Zeph, this background alongside his research helped to give birth to “Africa Irish Initiative” in a small local community of Rathcormac in County Cork.
On 30th October 2010, Cork Africa Connect, established by Zeph, showcased the first Black History Month event, as a pilot project, at the prestigious Gresham Metropole Hotel in Cork City with a Symposium, Dinner and a speech on “Africa Empowerment– Working Towards African Unity”. Rev. Fr. James Good’s keynote address was attended by African envoys and high profile Irish personalities, and supported by Cork City Council, University College Cork (UCC), and local media such as Red FM and the Cork Independent. UCC’s History Department took a supportive interest in Zeph’s work, helping to organise events. Cork City Council supplied some funding.
A talk on the travels and works of social reformer Fredrick Douglass [who met with Daniel O’Connell of Ireland’s Catholic Emancipation movement in 1845] took place in University College Cork, alongside lectures on African-American Slave Trade Emancipation. Zeph explained in 2014 how BHMI was moving to the capital: “This year there are official events in Dublin, Cork and Waterford throughout the month.”
The theme of the first national year, 2014, for Black & African History Month celebrations was civil rights, intercultural education and development.
You can follow the Irish celebrations via Twitter @BHM_IRE, via Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Black-History-Month-Ireland/150546811813778.
The official national launch of the Black History Month Ireland (BHMI) project took place on Thursday 2nd October 2014 at the European Commission Representation in Ireland, European Union House, on Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Other events during the month included a Black & African Culture Night, a YEPS Photographic Exhibition Launch, and a Film Screening & Display at the ECO-UNESCO, Green House, at St. Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2 on Friday 3rd October, a series of educational lectures, speeches, seminars and exhibitions on African Troops in World War 1 in partnerships with University College Cork and Cork City Council/Libraries between Wednesday 8th and Friday 10th October, and an African Music Entertainment Nights in Cork and Dublin on Saturday 11th and 25th October 2014 respectively.
“I came to Ireland in 2007. It’s an innovative country whereby everything is possible if you do a little hard work. Africans need more identity here. Many Irish people don’t appreciate how Africa is structured because they look at Africa as a nation rather than a continent. There is no proper means of communicating the cultures, traditions and histories of Africa to Irish society. I see the Black History events as a means of intercultural communication and dialogue for the minority ethnic groups in Ireland, and for the host communities to understand themselves better in a cultural perspective,” Zeph said. “The essence of the Black History events are for you to look at your present from the past. I believe that to function effectively in your present state, you must know your history. The wise man is the one who has made a careful study of the past (ancient) and modern history, and adjudged the knowledge of the future by the knowledge of the past.”
Zeph hopes during BHM that people from all communities attend the cultural events. “Black History Month is a community educational project that requires the entire community’s participation and involvement, including the Irish of European descent, who are more than welcome to attend all of the events.”
In the coming years, Zephrynus hopes that Black History Month will become a joint project among the indigenous and immigrant communities of Ireland, celebrating difference and diversity, and will also be known for celebrating Ireland’s links to Africa.