The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, was one of a number of church leaders who addressed the ‘Black History Month Summit’ in Londonderry on Saturday 23rd October, 2021. The event – at the City Hotel in the city centre – was also attended by the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the chairperson of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Shaykh Dr Umar al Qadri.
The conference was organised by the North West Migrants’ Forum to draw attention to the remarkable, and often tragic, history of the African people; highlight some of the key issues facing our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities; and celebrate the rich and varied culture of people of African descent living in Northern Ireland.
A distinguished cast of speakers addressed delegates, including: the Chairperson of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, Dominque Day; the author and academic, Professor Verene Shepherd, from the University of the West Indies; Patrick Corrigan, from Amnesty International; Dr Livingstone Thompson, Chairperson of the African and Caribbean support organisation; and the North West Migrants Forum’s Director of Programmes, Lilian Seenoi-Barr.
Among the politicians there to lend support were the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, the DUP Junior Minister, Gary Middleton, and councillors from different parties on the Council. Mr Middleton addressed the conference in person while his fellow Junior Minister, Declan Kearney of Sinn Féin, spoke to delegates virtually.
Bishop Andrew told delegates there was a question asked of Jesus in the New Testament – ‘Who is my neighbour?’ – to which Jesus gave the broadest possible answer. “Here we are as neighbours today,” Bishop Andrew said, “and I hope today’s a very significant day not just for us in the North West but across our region, across the island, as we celebrate Black History Month, as we celebrate the contribution that different people from different backgrounds, different races, different cultures [have made] – the richness that they bring to all that we do here in the city and beyond.”
Bishop Andrew told the conference that Senator George Mitchell – the American politician who chaired the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement – said the Irish were very welcoming towards visitors but very suspicious of each other. “I think that was true 20 or so years ago,” the Bishop said, “but maybe our welcome towards visitors who are now ‘us’ – who are now part of ‘us’, are part of our community, who live with us as equals – maybe we’ve become suspicious rather than welcoming. Today is a day that helps us break down some of those divisions and helps us celebrate who we are as people made in the image of God. So, I’m thrilled to be part of today.”