DEBORAH Aribasoye will have multiple roles at the Spotlight On Anti-Racism Summit taking place on Friday 26 at Cork City Hall.
She will not only play host, but will also continue to act as a mentor for the young people performing from the Cork Migrant Centre (CMC). She is unfazed by the juggling act, unsurprising for a young woman who has always risen to a challenge.
“When I was in secondary school, I told my teacher that I wanted to go to college,” she recalls.
Deborah, however, said such a thought was met with disbelief - how would it be possible, as how would her family pay for it?
“I did go to college, and last September I completed my Masters in Public Relations and New Media at Munster Technology University.”
Deborah, who is Irish-born of Nigerian parents, says hurtful treatment of minorities is 100% widespread in Irish society. But her positivity around her own story epitomises the tone of the summit. It is youth-led. It is collaborative. It is action-oriented.
Th summit is about celebrating difference and expressing pain through creativity. Yes, young people will share devastating experiences, but they will do so through song, poetry, music and dance. This is very empowering, highlights Aribasoye.
“It can be very draining to share your pain all the time. As a mentor of young people in Cork’s Migrant Centre, I am very aware of this. I am on the other side of these experiences but for some people who will be on stage, they are still going through something similar. It is more comfortable for them to express themselves through the arts.
“There will be rapping and dancing. Our young people are so into music. It will be very special.”
In fact, she is yet to hear the whole performance as the young people involved are keen to keep it under wraps before the big day.
“They keep telling me to get out while they are practicing, but I’m very exciting to hear and see it all.”
Deborah is really looking forward to the infusion of different cultures.
“We didn’t want the event to solely explore the lives of black and brown people. Plenty of white groups are marginalised in Irish society such as the Traveller and Roma communities. That is something I’m very keen to see and hear, that infusion of different cultures.
“I know that members of the Traveller community are planning to share their songs and stories. It promises to be really wonderful.”
ROOTS OF THE SUMMIT
The summit is a progression of anti-racist conversations opened in 2020 by Cork Migrant Centre Youth Initiative Against Racism (CMCYIAR), in Nano Nagle Place, following the killing of George Floyd.
It is funded by the Government’s International Protection Integration Fund, and part funded by CYPSC, Cork City Council Social Inclusion Office, and the National Youth Council.
Attendees will step into the world of Black, Brown, Traveller, and Roma youth as they express their experiences with racism through creativity, music, spoken word, dance and theatre. The event, which is the first ever youth-led Anti-Racism Summit in Cork, will showcase the talent and leadership skills of these young people, who are often marginalised and viewed through a deficit lens.
Deborah is certain that this will be an empowering experience for the young people involved. Indeed, she has already seen the impact of the work carried out at CMC.
“A lot of young people I work with have already gone out into other spaces and visited other groups. That is something we really encourage. It is hard to constantly raise awareness but this work is very enriching.”
Deborah was born and raised in Ireland. Her parents arrived in Ireland and went through the direct provision system. She can’t remember it as she was a baby. She knows it was hard for them.
As she mentions throughout our interview, her time as a child and particularly a student in Ireland was far from easy.
“When I was in primary school, I found out that I was dyslexic. Apart from struggling with my learning difficulty and the anxiety that came with it, I also experienced racism from my teachers and peers. This made school a very hard place to be.”
Deborah believes that whilst some teachers are racist with intention, others simply need more education. She hopes plenty of educators will attend the summit, and hopes that what happened to her won’t happen again.
She thanks her mother for helping her to get to her position today.
“Thanks to my mother’s encouragement, I was able to persevere and complete my Leaving Cert, and I got accepted into Southeast Technological University (STU), despite the fact that my guidance counsellor had advised me not to go to college and not to apply for the CAO.
“I had the best five years of third-level education. I got great support from the DSS (disability support services) team at both STU and MTU.”
Deborah is now a youth leader and mentor at the Cork Migrant Centre and for more than three years has enjoyed working on projects such as the Wednesday hip-hop dance class, and racism awareness webinar.
Summit organisers reference the word UBUNTU when describing the event. This is a South African term meaning “I am because we are”.
It seems fitting that this shared humanity and this ability to support one another will be celebrated through music and poetry and song, as Deborah describes.
Organisers of the summit don’t want these brave young people to speak into a void. For this reason, along with educators, other frontline service providers and policy makers have been invited to actively listen and reflect on their own capacities as people who share the same community as these young people.
The summit will call on all present to be change-makers.
The event will make demands. Having listened to these young people, attendees will be asked to answer questions, such as: What will you do to support them? What will you do to bring them to amplify their voices? What will you do to speak out?
Aribasoye explains that the summit is all about making these young people feel seen and heard. But there is also an expectation that attendees will not only respond with words but with meaningful action.
DEEDS NOT WORDS
According to Dr Naomi Masheti: Programme Coordinator at the Cork Migrant Centre, “it is about deeds, not just words, to borrow the family motto of a great woman - Nano Nagle, who lived in the 18th century and on whose shoulders I happily stand. This is what it means to hold ourselves accountable for success in this fight against racism.”
The collaborating organisations that are organising the summit range from Cork City Council, Cork Migrant Centre, Cork’s Mexican Community, the HSE, Nano Nagle Place, National Youth Council, Cork’s Roma Community, TUSLA, Traveller Visibility Group, UCC, YMCA, among many others.
All involved are seeking to demonstrate that it takes a concerted, collaborative, system-wide effort and commitment to generate the necessary momentum to make Cork an anti-racist county.