On Saturday 2 September, we were lucky enough to support and attend the first ever Black on the Square festival, hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar Square.

On Saturday 2 September, we attended the first ever Black on the Square festival, hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar Square.

Our stand showcased our ongoing Black-365 campaign where we recognise the importance of Black History 365 days a year.

Visitors to our stand had the opportunity to write their own affirmations before taking a photograph.

We spoke with Michi, a photographer, artist, Black activist, and Photography PhD student at CCCU. She took pictures of people at the stand during Black on the Square.

Celebrating community, diversity, and unity

“What a day Black on the Square was! Sometimes events like these can be tokenistic, but this festival was great.

It was well thought out. Everyone was professional and respectful. There were disabled facilities and even a Black signer for the deaf community. The vibe was just so welcoming.

"The music was authentic, and there was poetry performed by different people of different ages. Different styles. Different fashion. So many different cultures coming together to unite and celebrate Black culture – it was special. Not just for the Black community, but for the whole of London and further afield.

"One of the best photographs I took was of a Black woman laughing with her white friend. I managed to capture that image of positivity and unity.

"So, whilst the day celebrated different cultures in the Black community, we also celebrated unity and the importance of working together to develop as a society.”

“Walking the walk”

Technically, Michi was yet to start her PhD at CCCU. But after seeing Michi's work and passion for Black British art and culture, and her undeniable talent behind the lens, asking her to be a part of the day was a no-brainer.

And it seemed to have helped her settle into life as a CCCU student already.

“To feel truly involved before even starting University takes away a lot of anxiety. As a first-generation Black British person, I don’t have family to ask for advice about university. So, it was nerve-wracking going into Higher Education.

"But seeing what Canterbury Christ Church University are doing with Black-365 and getting involved in Black on the Square, they’re not just ticking the diversity boxes. They really are passionate about giving their students the platform to share and support their work.

"It highlights that we do welcome all; we are inclusive and we’re not just saying it. We’re not just focussing on Black History month. We’re talking the talk and we’re walking the walk.

There are institutions that really do allow you to be yourself and let you take pride in your blackness whilst they assist you on your academic journey, and CCCU is one of them. You don’t need to lose your blackness to hit that ceiling.

"And this ethos, this culture of inclusivity that CCCU embodies, all coincides with Black on the Square.

"Getting people to write their own words on the placard during the day symbolised the importance of giving Black people the platform to have the freedom to write what they wanted to write. Our stand gave people the freedom to be themselves and to share their authenticity through words and art.

"Once people heard what our stand was all about, we had queues. It was busy. Sometimes I couldn’t even get the photographs!”

The artistic significance of Trafalgar Square

Whilst Michi spent most of her day taking photos, she managed to savour some time to soak up the day; to really look around Trafalgar Square to take in the art and the architecture, and to reflect on the significance of the Fourth Plinth.

“The Fourth Plinth was inspirational,” shares Michi. The statue of John Chilembwe, who’s from Malawi, replicates the photograph of himself with the British missionary John Chorley.

It’s said that Chilembwe was a catalyst in the uprisings against British colonialists and was one of the first Africans to fight against colonial injustice in Malawi in 1915.

The statue itself replicates both men in the photograph, but Chilembwe towers over Chorley, symbolising the sculpture’s intent of elevating Chilembwe’s story and importance in history.

“As I looked at the statue, I felt emotional. It’s a great milestone, seeing a Black man tower over Trafalgar Square. Chilembwe’s statue symbolises the recognition of the struggle that Black people have endured throughout history, but it’s also a symbol of acceptance. It was a powerful moment for me.”

Continuing to recognise and celebrate Black history and culture

Black on Square was a huge success for its first year, and we hope to be a part of it in 2024. Our celebration of Black British history, culture, and people continues as we continue to exhibit Michi’s wonderful photography on campus.

“Carrying this on alongside Black-365 builds firm foundations and longevity in continuing to recognise, educate, and celebrate Black history and culture.”

Check out Michi’s work on her Instagram and see her exhibition in our Verena Holmes Building.

Thank you to everyone who got involved with us at Black on the Square.