Coventry students address United Nations global conference on the legacy of the slave trade

Grave of MyrtillaTwo Coventry school pupils have addressed a prestigious United Nations conference thanks to the support of the University of Warwick’s Colonial Hangover project.

Just five student teams were chosen from around the world to speak. Harvir Dhatt [15] and Aadam Vohra [15] of Lyng Hall School, part of the Finham Park Multi Academy Trust, represented the UK with their presentation at the 12th Annual Global Student Conference on slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

This year’s theme was “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice.”

Harvir and Aadam spoke about the links between Coventry and the transatlantic slave trade – which the Colonial Hangover project helps local school students to explore – and also reflected on their own experiences as young men of Indian and Pakistani heritage.

Addressing representatives from 28 countries and H.E. Mr. Alie Kabba, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, Harvir said: “Coventry’s legacy still remains unknown to many of the population living in it. Until I had conducted my research for this presentation I hadn’t realised how close to home this legacy had existed. It prompted me to question, have I remained too silent?”

Aadam spoke about examples of racism in today’s society such as the abuse directed towards footballers like Marcus Rashford and asked the delegates to consider whether this was a legacy of slavery – “although slavery, as a constitution, has been abolished, the deep-rooted attitudes still have prevalence today.”

“It is vital that we learn to appreciate and value all people regardless of race, religion, skin colour, gender, and respect our differences as points of celebration rather than of division,” Aadam concluded.

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Dr Shahnaz Akhter, Research Fellow of the Colonial Hangover project, based within the Department of Politics and International Studies at Warwick, said: “In their presentation Harvir and Aadam focused on placing their local and personal history within the context of the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. Over the year they have really engaged with the work that the United Nations outreach programme on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery does, and their presentation highlighted why it is so important that we continue these conversations on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. These legacies often form part of our everyday environment and the Colonial Hangover project works with schools to examine these hidden legacies.”

Reflecting on the conference, Aadam said: “I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to voice my beliefs and share the history of slavery in my home of Coventry and also my motherland of South Asia. All of the presentations were thought-provoking and inspiring pieces of academic work.”

Harvir said: “I offer my heart-felt thanks towards everyone at the conference, it was an honour to speak in front of so many members about a topic which is not only important but something I am passionate about. Everyone’s presentation was enlightening – the charisma in their work meant I came away with transformed views of the wider issues.”

Mrs Cathy Smith, Associate Headteacher at Lyng Hall, said: “The inspirational and professional delivery and subject matter was both thought-provoking and a pleasure to witness. I’m incredibly proud of the students who represented Lyng Hall on a truly global stage, ably facilitated by our own Miss Lisa Hagan, Director of English, who co-ordinated the project with Colonial Hangover at Warwick University.”

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17 June 2021

PHOTO CAPTION:the tomb of Myrtilla in Warwickshire, one of the oldest graves of an enslaved black person in the UK, which was discussed by Aadam in his presentation. Credit: Dr Shahnaz Akhter.


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