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Event examines role of race in Bermuda

Race and Resistance: panelists answer audience questions on Saturday

Young people’s questions at a weekend forum on the history of racism in Bermuda showed “an absolute thirst” for understanding, one of the event’s organisers said.

Lisa Reed, executive officer of the Human Rights Commission, said: “It’s the recognition that if we do not connect our collective existence, then how are we to make Bermuda better?”

Ms Reed was speaking after the Race and Resistance: Understanding Bermuda Today event at Bermuda College on Saturday.

The daylong event included three panel discussions and featured more than two dozen local and international contributors “dedicated to honouring Bermuda’s history”.

The event’s goal was to “provide an accessible contribution to the telling of Bermuda’s experience of race and racism through the lens of resistance”.

Ajala Omodele, a writer and father of two, said that Bermuda’s youngsters were the key to “imagining a different world”.

He said: “Our children have to be the architects of the destruction of the systemic injustices that lays all of us low.”

Rajai Denbrook, an actor and performance artist, said that the arts “hit the viscera, they hit the heart, and they hit the mind, all at the same time” in response to a question during the final question and answer session.

Mr Denbrook added: “That power of communication and that power of truth that is inherent in artistic practice could not be more important to this kind of conversation, and could not be more important to young people.”

Theodore Francis, an assistant professor of history at a Texas university, agreed that the arts “were critical”.

He added: “Music, poetry, performance have been a way in which our stories have been conveyed, especially in the pre-literary era.”

Dr Francis was asked by a schoolgirl what young people could do to tackle the island’s race relations problems.

He said young people should work to “build community”.

Dr Francis added that young people could start with a focus on a single problem that bothered them.

He added: “Continue to build until you can work on that issue, so that you can change society.”

One of the organisers, Alexa Virdi, who is in her final year of a law degree at Oxford University, said that one of the goals of the event was to “try and make Bermuda’s history accessible”.

She added: “I certainly know, as a Bermudian, that I wasn’t taught any of this at school.

“Bermuda’s history is one of slavery and segregation.

“In an island where the current situation we are in is a direct product of slavery and segregation, if information is not known about that, I think that is a huge cause of a lot of the problems that we have.”

Ms Virdi said that she hoped event participants left with a desire to learn about Bermuda’s history.

She added: “It’s a responsibility for all of us, who live on this island that we love and is beautiful, to learn about what happened.”

Phyllis Curtis-Tweed, vice-president for academic and student affairs at Bermuda College, said that Bermuda “needed to regain control of our narrative”.

She added: “We have to be able to tell the story of our history.”

Organisers said the event, set up by the Human Rights Commission, Bermuda College and the Oxford Centre for Global History, was held in honour of writer and equality campaigner Eva Hodgson “with gratitude for her example, both as a courageous activist and an ever-curious academic”.