Ottery students spark Devon-wide diversity debate with campaign to champion people of colour

Students from Ottery St Mary shining the spotlight on racism have sparked a debate urging county leaders to review Devon’s statues and road names that covertly celebrate slavery.

The A-Level politics students from The King’s School recently launched a six-week campaign, Diversity in Devon, opening up a discussion while raising awareness of what signifies racist behaviour or prejudice.

“For people to say that racism or prejudice doesn’t exist in Devon is wrong…

The teenagers’ crusade has been picked up by Claire Wright, Otter Valley ward member, who on Wednesday, September 9, will urge Devon County Council (DCC) to show support for people of colour living in Devon, through a forthcoming motion to support the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Cllr Wright’s motion will be debated in full in October. It includes urging DCC members to:

  • Take a lead among public organisations in Devon to seek out opportunities to promote and celebrate the work in Devon by the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community (BAME), both in the past and currently.
  • Invite every Devon county councillor to show leadership and support for people of colour in Devon – individually supporting the Black Lives Matter movement – using whichever public platform they feel most comfortable with.
  • Identify a cabinet minister champion for people of colour.
  • Invite Devon town/parish/city councils to review any landmarks, street names or statues that implicitly celebrate slavery, with a view to replacing them or clarifying their history, such as the historical plaque in Exmouth for slave trader, John Colleton, who also has three streets named after him in Exeter.

The Diversity in Devon campaign has secured the backing of The King’s School and BAME charity, Devon Development Education.

The campaign began after Sandra Sanena, aged 17, who moved to Ottery from Zimbabwe with her parents when she was eight-years-old, emailed Cllr Wright, asking for help to implement change – giving the black community a voice and eradicating ignorance.

Sandra has been joined by fellow student Anoo Kakarlamudi, also 17, who came to the UK from India with her parents when she was 18 months old.

The Ottery students hope to persuade councillors to take action on a range of issues, including the celebration of the achievements of the Devon BAME community.

Anoo said: “It may not be as bad as some other countries, but racism is all around us and the Black Lives Matter protests seem to have brought much of it to the surface, judging from some reactions on local social media.

“Sandra and I have grown up in an almost exclusively white area, which has mostly been great, but it’s also been difficult at times.

“For people to say that racism or prejudice doesn’t exist in Devon is wrong.

“This campaign is about posing some thought-provoking questions to people to – and also putting some stark or shocking facts out there, such as compensation to British slave owners after the abolition of slavery was paid right up until 2015. Shockingly, slaves received no compensation.

“We are asking for polite, but honest debate through social media on people’s thoughts on the issues we are raising.

“And we really hope that Devon County Council councillors support our motion.”

Cllr Claire Wright said: “It’s an absolute pleasure working with the girls. They’re bright, informed, enthusiastic, funny and kind.

“I am sure they will initiate some fantastic debates. I’m really looking forward to helping to develop the campaign with them.”

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