Kirklees College leads on poignant ceremony to remember victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade


On Monday 18 March, Kirklees College became the “first college in the UK to have its own independent commemoration ceremony” – a quote from Sharon De Leondardis, following her work with us to bring the day back from obscurity.

Kirklees College students created the ceremony as a pre-cursor to the International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, inaugurated by the UN to happen annually on 25 March. However, since it’s designation in 2007 (the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in British Colonies) it has all but been forgotten. The day honours and remembers those who suffered and died as a consequence of what has been called “the worst violation of human rights in history” in which more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims.

Kirklees College is part of a larger collaboration with Sharon de Leonardis (founder of Spectacularts, Bedford) to raise awareness and honour the memory of the heroes who were enslaved over a period of nearly 500 years. The aim is to inspire acts of remembrance throughout the UK and beyond, educating communities of the authentic history that pre and post-dates African Enslavement, thereby putting it in its correct historical context. Kirklees College is leading on this with Sharon, as pioneers in Kirklees and West Yorkshire of a movement that marks and honours the Day of Remembrance annually, and works towards equity every day of every year.

Invitees included leaders and dignitaries from across the West Yorkshire Region, including community representatives, the Principals of both Greenhead and Huddersfield New College, KC students who are ambassadors for The Student Commission on Racial Justice, The Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire, the Deputy Mayor of Kirklees, Black Leaders, and Sophia Buncy, Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire.

Assistant Principal Polly Harrow gave the opening speech, reading a letter of support from the Earl and Countess of Harewood who have worked consistently on addressing the links of Harewood House to Slavery (students will visit the house later in the year to learn more). The closing speech was given by Principal,Palvinder Singh, who spoke of the greed that underpins such atrocities and of the unity that recognition and kindness can bring. Sharon De Leonardis performed the Libation (blessing) and Nairobi Thompson gave an uncompromisingly direct keynote speech that gave all present much to consider and hope for.

Students performed a drumming workshop under the mentorship of International Percussionist and Performer Claudio Kron do Brazil, and led a poignant reflection in which candles were lit as the names of young slaves were read out and repeated by those gathered to keep their memory alive. KC’s Afro Dance Club Students ended the ceremony in a joyous performance of their art, accompanied by clapping, dancing, and cheering from those gathered.

All of the feedback on the ceremony and accompanying Exhibition (sharing the work of Spectacularts and the Student Commission on Racial Justice) demonstrated the need to share this event far and wide:

“I can’t actually pick out what I liked most. The whole event was engaging, thought provoking, informative and enjoyable.”

As part of our work to become an anti-racist, trauma informed and restorative college, plans are already afoot for 2025 in which we hope to work with local and regional communities and organisations to mark and honour the Day of Remembrance annually in Kirklees, thereby inspiring further independent acts across West Yorkshire and beyond. If you are interested in supporting the Enrichment Team with this project, please email studentcommunity@kirkleescollege.ac.uk.

“On this day, let us renew our resolve to fight racism and celebrate the heritage of Africa that enhances societies around the world today.” – Ban Ki-Moon

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