The first stage of the project started last year. We met with a member of the Medway African and Caribbean association, Yassmin, and a researcher from the Chatham Historic Dockyard, Ally. They both eagerly talked to us about the plans to create a massive exhibition, highlighting the untold stories of the revolutionary men and women that played a huge role in shaping our country and how they all had one place in common: Medway.
They initially asked us if we knew of or were taught of any African or Caribbean people that were celebrated in Medway and we answered with a unanimous ‘No’; however, we saw it as an opportunity to learn more!
They then wasted no time and set to work, not only teaching us of their lives and stories but also opening our eyes to the revolutionary feats that these incredible people accomplished- in a time where doing so would have been seen as impossible. Following this, we put our heads together to try and come up with a way of displaying all of this information to the public in an interesting way.
The plans for this exhibition had been in the works for 5 years, so both Yassmin and Ally presented us with loads of their suggestions but also allowed us to comment on what we believed would appeal to people our age. As our team spanned across several year groups, we were able to come up with a wide range of ideas. For example, we suggested that there be: more women from today that inspire us- like the renowned author Malorie Blackman, music through the ages playing as you walk through the exhibition and lots of interactive activities (which resulted in us creating a giant magnetic crossword of some of the people’s names- that is now mounted on the wall as a permanent part of the exhibition).
I don’t think any of us could’ve even imagined how amazing the final product would be and how fun it would be to take part in the launch and learn even more about their legacies and the impressions that they left on the world.
Seeing all of our contributions to the ‘Untold Stories’ exhibition come to life was a truly gratifying experience.
When we initially came into Chatham Dockyard, the atmosphere was charged with members of RGS; waiting, with the general public, for the big reveal of the project, which we found out was a product of 5 years of hard work.
After a few speeches from Carol Stewart, who is the chairwoman of MACA, and the performances from the gospel choir and the orchestra, we were finally able to see the exhibition, for which the opening ribbon was cut by the great- great grandson of Sarah Forbes Bonetta; who, in short, was a Yoruba girl who was the goddaughter of Queen Victoria.
If there was one word I could use to describe the exhibition as a whole, I would use the word ‘rich’. It was rich in colour, rich in representation, rich in education– the second you walk in, the bright walls reveal stunning artwork pieces of black women with positive imagery. Seeing the words ‘Pride’ and ‘Power’ above the halos of the dreadlocks and the afros of the women in the art immediately brought about a sense of familiarity; the faces of beauty and liberation were brown like mine.
The exhibition was split up into sections, each section having a different colour and a different aspect of history, like Sport or Medicine. And each section contained a range of people, from Norwell Roberts (who was the first black police constable in the London Metropolitan Police in 1960) to Malorie Blackman, who most of us know and love for being the author of the ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series, which I would highly recommend to anyone.
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that a lot of the people in the exhibition were people who we knew nothing about prior to this. It’s refreshing to learn history that we aren’t taught in school and in the general media; and it’s amazing to know about the black men and women who created history walking on the same streets as we do.