We stormed into the sports hall chanting 'ROOTS! ROOTS! ROOTS!' From the opening ceremony alone, several things immediately became clear: the unity of Atlantic College’s African and Caribbean community, our love for our culture and our determination to reclaim all the pieces of our history. As the acronym states, it was time to Rightfully Own Our True Stories.
We’ve learned that if you don’t tell your story, someone else will. But as history is written by the victors, our stories are too often revised, falsified or omitted altogether. As African, Caribbean and black students, we were shocked to discover that the truths we held as common knowledge were unknown by the majority of the school.
The ROOTS organisers are just your typical, pioneering UWC students who refused to be bystanders to injustice. Rallied under the leadership of student Azelia Pennerman, we decided to channel our frustrations into creating a fun, educational experience that would hopefully reverse the damaging stereotypes of African and Caribbean countries.
We initiated the conversation with the ROOTS Focus Week that featured a fashion show and discussions around conflicts in our region. For the conference itself, which took place over the 19/ 20 January, we were overwhelmed by the whole-hearted support of both Atlantic College students and staff. We also benefited from the involvement of the wider UWC community, including students from UWC Maastricht and Atlantic College alumni.
Our speakers - UWC Robert Bosch principal Laurence Nodder, writer and filmmaker JC Niala and psychologist Katheryn Day - fearlessly tackled the highly controversial issues of apartheid, mental health in the black community and resistance. The equally as interesting workshops challenged our perceptions towards development in the Global South, privilege and Western beauty standards. However, ROOTS is also a celebration of a rich and diverse culture. Participants had the opportunity to engage in fun activities like traditional African games and media analyses based on popular black TV shows. Dispersed throughout the two days were amazing musical and spoken word performances by our talented students. The weekend was capped with a whole school dance party that threatened to stretch past check-in hours.
Any member of the organising team will tell you that the positive feedback has made this event one of the most rewarding experiences of our time at Atlantic College. The sleepless nights, the behind-the-scenes squabbles and even some hurtful confrontations were worth it just to hear a friend or teacher tell say that they have learnt to consider an alternate perspective.
Some people have asked, why ROOTS? Why Africa and the Caribbean? The answer is that no region should be relegated to a single-story narrative; every story deserves to be heard. Our hope is that the ROOTS conference will mark the start of a beautiful new trend within the UWC community.
Laura Logan (UWC Atlantic College), Class of 2018 from Jamaica