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Historian and actor Joe Williams inspires students at Leeds Trinity to kickstart Black History Month

Joe Williams outside the Leeds Trinity Centre for Journalism

This month, Leeds Trinity University and Leeds Trinity Students’ Union are hosting multiple events to mark October as Black History Month. Kicking off the events, Joe Williams, founder of the Leeds Black History Walk, delivered his presentation African Stories in Yorkshire.

As founder and director of Leeds Black History Walk and Heritage Corner, Joe Williams’ mission is to celebrate diversity in Leeds and promote untold African history. His talk explained the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of black history in Leeds, and the importance of educating all generations as to what they are missing in ‘history’ as we know it.

Having originally trained as an actor, Joe is passionate about using the arts as a vehicle to educate and explore the non-Eurocentric aspects of history. However, even with the recent news that the UK government is to move ahead with plans to cut funding for art courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England, Joe is not worried about the impact on his mission.

“I haven’t actually relied on funding. I have actually funded my own work, and if I make it interesting enough then people will buy into it and book me”, says Joe.

“I was able to charge the British library and universities in Britain who were interested in the narratives I was doing, so I was able to get, well at least, subsidised in what I was doing.”

So, the solution to lack of funding, Joe says, is simply “finding imaginative ways around these barriers.”

Joe Williams presenting African Stories in Yorkshire.

Joe went on to speak on how the mainstream arts, including the Marvel movie Black Panther, were the start of a positive change society needs to see, as the movie’s release came after a long history of overtly white representation in film and media.

“When it came out, I could finally breathe.

“You need your own superheroes representing humanity, yet it was overdue. We must go further and make it a part of culture.

“But why the arts? There is one key answer to that. If you are not represented in the arts properly then neither is your humanity. And if your humanity is not represented in the arts, then it is not represented in society. And that when you get George Floyd incident, is that people don’t see human beings, they see an object of imperial design.”

After a powerful and eye-opening talk, Joe was finally asked if he had ever thought of running for parliament.

“Oh, certainly not” he said with a cheeky grin. “They are bigger actors than me. At least I act with integrity.”

What do you think?