Black History Month – Spotlight on Dee and The G37 Downlow Project

This week, we spoke to Dee Manning, our Community Networker for North Birmingham who supports individuals, communities, and local partners to become more physically, socially, and civically active and connected in their area. Dee told us about her recent work supporting the Gallery37 Downlow mural project in Lozells and why she enjoys her role within communities. She also shared some views on the importance of Black History Month in understanding Black history and shaping the future.

As a Community Networker, Dee connects people with activities, information, and resources. She signposts to our free activities, such as walking and running groups, cycling sessions, and gardening projects. She also helps residents build networks and develop their own projects by providing support and advice on accessing funding and resources. Dee explained that her aim is to develop lasting infrastructure and sustainable interventions. She said, ‘it’s about upskilling organisations and individuals to be active citizens within the community, and helping them gather the tools, resources and information to be sustainable in the future’.

As part of our Active Communities programme, Dee is working with Create Not Destroy, and Punch Records on the G37 Downlow project. Lead artist Bunny Bread and fellow artists Jason Caballero and Simone Linton have produced a series of murals which will form an art trail in Lozells. Up to ten walls will be illustrated with untold stories, quotes, and thought-provoking activism. The partners have worked closely with local residents, schools, community groups and businesses to identify and co-design artworks and locations which reflect and showcase the area’s views and histories.

The artworks will stimulate discussions and encourage people to rediscover and reimagine Lozells. Dee explained that while Bunny was painting the Siffa Sound System mural, which represents the music and culture of the African Caribbean community in the 1980s, onlookers including the daughter of Scientist, the engineer of the sound system, and one of the men himself shared their stories from that era.

Plans for the NHS Windrush memorial similarly provoked people to reflect on the contribution of the Black and Brown community and the role their family members played. ‘The conversations that we’ve had. People have been saying “if it wasn’t for my grandparents and other people’s grandparents and great grandparents, the NHS would not be as it is today”’.

The murals also challenge preconceptions. Dee explained that some people were sceptical about the image of the Muslim girl on the skateboard. She said, ‘some of them are saying, “well Muslim girls, Muslim women don’t skateboard”’. But as the image shows, ‘actually, yes, they do.’

During Black History Month in the UK, we promote and celebrate Black contributions to British life and raise awareness of Black history. Dee believes that Black History Month is important because it’s an opportunity to recognise histories which have been suppressed and denied for centuries. It’s a chance to celebrate the contribution of:

Black doctors, community workers, road sweepers, nurses, shop workers and bus drivers who helped build this country. Remembering the Black and Asian servicemen who fought in the First World War and The Second World War that we were never taught about.’

She also explained that Black history needs to be a more central part of the school curriculum all year round. ‘We need to teach our children and our children’s children our rich history because slavery is not our history. Slavery is white history.’

A better understanding of Black history will help us forge a more hopeful future. Dee says ‘We have to celebrate our heritage. We have to acknowledge what was before us and then we have to celebrate what is going to be our future.’

This year, the theme for Black History Month is ‘Proud To Be’. It invites Black and Brown people around the UK to share what they are proud to be – for a festival of celebration in October. Dee shared that she is

‘Proud to be Jamaican because that’s my heritage. I’m proud to be a Black female artist. I’m proud to be a teacher because I taught for seventeen years. I’m proud to be a community worker, a youth worker, because that is my past employment. I’m proud to be an innovator, a creator and idealist that wants to support future generations. I’m proud to be Dee Manning.’

The Downlow art trail was officially launched at Georges Park, Wills St, Lozells, Birmingham B19 1PT, on Saturday 23rd October 2021. Scan the QR code on the mural to animate the trail and discover the other artworks. Click here to find out more.

Nina Conway
Author: Nina Conway