Black heritage means Northern Ireland is more than just Orange and Green

Too often people in Northern Ireland look at the world from a perspective tainted by orange or green.

That narrow view can prevent us seeing the full spectrum of ethnic diversity that enriches our society.

A new pioneering project wants us to see and think differently.

Called "Hidden History", it aims to record and map the history and heritage of black people in Northern Ireland.

It's a five-year programme funded by the National Lottery and run by the North West Migrants Forum, a Londonderry-based support group for immigrants. The Hidden History project got under way with a visit to Foyle College where Year 9 pupils joined in African and Caribbean music and dance.

The teenage students were surprised to learn that the history of black people in Ireland goes back centuries.

But all too often their tale is blighted by racism, division and intolerance.

Naomi Green, who is leading the programme, said: "How many people know that during the Second World War 37,000 black American soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland?

"There were children who were born in Northern Ireland to those black soldiers, and in later years to black students and doctors, and those children were born and raised in Northern Ireland but they were made to feel that they were an 'other', that they weren't part of Northern Ireland society.

"The Hidden History project wants to tell those stories, to record those stories, and build up a map of where these people lived and how they helped to make Northern Ireland."

Migrants Forum spokesperson, councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr, was the first black African to be elected in Northern Ireland.

She believes the contribution made by black people here has been pushed to one side and even suppressed.

"It is never acknowledged. Not only is it not acknowledged, it is never appreciated," she said.

"I think the black people have been wiped out of the history of this country, but we do know that many black people contributed in building this society."

Meanwhile, as the Foyle College students laughed and danced they were finding out that the black contribution to our lives is about more than music, fashion and sport.

Black scientists and inventors have helped create our modern world: helping to develop modern computers and laptops, designing the first traffic lights, calculating the trajectories for the first Moon landings.

Forum spokesperson Beverley Simpson says: "Black history is actually integrated into other cultures, we just may not know it. But as long as we learn about it we'll realise just how important black history is."

The Hidden History project isn't just about shining a light on our black heritage. It's helping to make allies of young people in the battle against racism.

And it hopes to teach Northern Ireland to see history in more than two colours.

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