'Class of 2020' campaign celebrates the achievements of Black UK graduates

The story of a Black student is one of survival.

Facing a 26% attainment gap, disproportionate representation in unemployment, and with many dealing with everyday racism, surviving until the final year and making it to graduation is something to be celebrated.

This is exactly what Black Impact is doing through their ‘Class of’ initiative.

Launched in July this year, the ‘Class of 2020’ graduation and awards event – which happened last month – celebrated every Black graduating student in the UK and provided a platform to highlight their achievements.

The aim of the ‘Class of 2020’ event was simple: To acknowledge the struggles, celebrate the successes, and share the inspiring stories of one generation of Black graduates with the rest of the world.

‘After coming to the UK many years ago as an international student, I have been through so many struggles and moments of achievement alone,’ says Ceewhy Ochoga, founder of Black Impact.

‘I have had many moments where I wished for a community to celebrate with me, and I longed for the opportunity to be celebrated and recognised and this is the experience of many Black students today. 

‘After a summer of protests in which Black students have been reminded of all the things that are wrong within society, it only feels right to do something to bring some joy into the community and this is why I am so excited about the Class of 2020.

‘Whether you’re graduating or not, the Class of 2020 will give every Black person something to be proud of.’

Black Impact aims to support the leadership development and career aspirations of Black students in England and Wales. Their key objective is to challenge structural racism, social and economic injustice and discrimination within higher education and wider society in general.

The ‘Class of 2020’ is described as a ‘welcome antidote and celebration of Black success’ in the challenges of the current climate. Campaign organisers say they are seeking a ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘anti-racist practice’ focused on Black employees and students.

For the awards themselves, nominations were received from students right across England, Scotland and Wales, which were then scrutinised by a panel of professional judges from various spheres of the Black community.

Here is what the winners and other students had to say about being Black graduate in the UK:

Naomi Adenis

First Class Honours in Politics with International Relations at the University of York:

‘Graduating in the middle of a global pandemic was the last thing on my mind when I envisioned myself finally walking across the stage, shaking the Chancellors hand in my cap and gown.

‘Achieving a First-Class Honours in the middle of so much uncertainty makes me so proud, but what makes me even prouder is witnessing that same success amongst my Black peers.

‘Completing our degrees under lockdown, whilst also witnessing the heightening of the Black Lives Matter Movement, was incredibly challenging, especially alongside the obstacles we already face such as significant attainment gaps and a lack of representation at University.

‘Despite all these challenges, we gathered enough strength to stay focused on our goals and keep pushing forward.

‘The national celebration of Black graduates by Black Impact is an amazing opportunity to truly appreciate the hard work of outstanding Black students.

‘I believe that sharing inspirational stories, acknowledging the struggle and celebrating the success of the Class of 2020, will surely inspire those that succeed them.’

Naomi Lebe

President of Bournemouth University Students Union:

‘Final year is tough for everyone, but the graduation ceremony is the one occasion that kept the majority of us going. It allowed someone like me to constantly tap into my tunnel vision every time I felt like giving up.
 
‘2020 is a year that was supposed to be full of excitement, growth, and happiness but instead, we received tears, uncertainty, and anxiety, due to the virus that came to strip us away from our normality.

‘But thanks to the amazing movement of Black Lives Matter and Black Impact’s Class of 2020 campaign, I couldn’t be prouder of those who I will be graduating with.

‘This ending was far from our imagination. So, congratulations to every single one of us that made it through this global pandemic, and those who battled with their mental state.

‘We are amazing, we are powerful together, WE MADE IT.’

Abigael Bamgboye

Winner of the Black Entrepreneur Award

‘Being shortlisted for the Class of 2020 Awards was a huge confidence boost for me, and it was a real pleasure to be able to reflect on and share my accomplishments in the process of campaigning for votes.

‘Black Impact is doing some phenomenal work to empower Black talent in the UK, so it is a total honour to be recognised through their process, and I look forward to collaborating with them in their mission to support ethical Black leadership.’

Promise Ahante

Winner of both Leadership and All-rounder Awards

‘Winning the Leadership and All-rounder awards were significant to me. It is great to have myself and my activities recognised which provides an additional motivation to do more.

‘It is however more incredible to know that someone out there will be inspired to take action towards impacting their community.

‘Black Impact has cast a stone which ripple effect would promote the rise of young Black leaders’.

Jaizzail Ofori

Winner of both Academic Excellence and Resilience Awards

‘I am sincerely grateful to have been nominated and voted for, for the Black Impact Academic excellence and Resilience award.

‘Recognition for your talent and hard work gives you the motivation to persevere and break down subconscious barriers which impede us from reaching our full potential.

Vincent Henry

Winner of the Olympian Award

‘This award is acknowledgement with society that my efforts are admirable. And that my story will be shared with more people to impart, inspire them to achieve more or try something new.

‘It showcases that we can and should hold higher level educational aspirations and also hold high aspirations for the things we are passionate about.

‘This award is an honour and the recognition it brings is powerful.’

Anjola Dare

President of University of Leeds Afro-Caribbean Society:

‘Here at the University of Leeds African and Caribbean Society, we endeavour to educate, empower, equip and edify the Black community at our University, and we commend organisations that strive to achieve this same objective, such as Black Impact.

‘The tremendous work Black Impact is doing in order to bridge the gap and break the glass ceiling for black students in the UK is phenomenal. Partnering with them this coming academic year is a venture we cannot wait to partake in, as we collectively facilitate our students to successfully integrate into the professional world.

‘We’re so excited to be a Local Network Partner for the Class of 2020.’

Do you have an inspirational story to share? We want to hear from you.

Get in touch: [email protected]

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