Meet the President: Black Cantabs Society

Meet the President: Black Cantabs Society

Discover Cambridge's trailblazing students with Black Cantabs | #WeNeedRepresentation

Black students have been studying at Cambridge for the last 250 years. The Black Cantabs Society's Research Project is telling their stories.

In the video above, Society co-founder Dr Njoki Wamai and current President Surer Mohamed from Queens' College say their stories show why 'We need representation' to inspire the next generation of bright students.

Q&A with President Surer Mohamed

Surer, a PhD student at Queens' College, talks about how she became involved in the Black Cantabs Society and what she's most looking forward to as the group's President for the coming academic year.

How did you become involved in the Black Cantabs Society?

"I became involved in the Black Cantabs Research Society during the 2017-18 academic year, at the advice of one of the founders, Njoki Wamai. I became involved because I was interested in learning about the stories of Black alumni of the University of Cambridge, but also because the Society offered the opportunity to reflect on practices of history-making, my place at Cambridge, and how the past relates to the present."

What’s the best thing about the Society?

"The Black Cantabs Society demonstrates the indelible mark that Black alumni of the University of Cambridge have had here, and across the globe. The best thing about the Society is that it creates a link between past Black scholars, present students, and prospective students.

"We celebrate the Black Cantabs who have come before, we connect present Black students to one another, and hopefully, we demonstrate to prospective Black students that they do have a home in Cambridge."

What has been your favourite moment being involved in the Society?

"My favourite moment in the project was the Black Cantabs Dinner in October of 2017. Every year, we invite a prominent Black Cantab to speak to current students. Through the hustle and bustle of organizing an event of that size, we were able to create a special moment where students felt that they belonged, and indeed, had a place here. I personally appreciated the words of wisdom that our Distinguished Speakers, Wale Adebanwi and Yaba Badoe, had for the current generation of Black students."

What are you most looking forward to?

"I'm looking forward to the entire Michaelmas [2018-19] timecard, but I have a special place in my heart for the 'Black Cantabs: History Makers' exhibition at the University Library. Here, we have a chance to showcase the hard work of student researchers who have been involved in the project, and to ensure that the legacies of past Black Cantabs are not forgotten. It's a remarkable opportunity!"

Visit the Black Cantabs Research Society's website >

Professor Archie Mafeje (1936-2007), sociologist, activist and author

Black Cantabs: History Makers exhibition

Black Cantabs: History Makers is a groundbreaking exhibition telling the stories of black students in Cambridge, from the forgotten pioneers of centuries past to the celebrated successes of today.

In it, a collection of photographic portraits will celebrate centuries of black students at Cambridge (from 1700 to the present day) and inspire future generations.

Featuring trailblazers from the first black British army officer to the first black female composer to have a composition played at the Proms, the exhibition features famous faces such as Zadie Smith, Thandie Newton and Naomie Harris alongside rare archive images.

New portraits are being taken by the city of Cambridge’s chief chronicler, Sir Cam, including of classical composer Errollyn Wallen, jazz singer Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan and MP Diane Abbott.

These portraits will hang on the University Library’s 'Royal Corridor'.

This collection represents a reinvention of the traditional Cambridge portrait students may see on a daily basis and the exhibition opening marks the first day of the UK’s Black History Month (1 October).

Black Cantabs: History Makers runs from 1 October to 22 December at the University Library, before touring the University and Colleges. 

It builds on the painstaking research project undertaken by the Black Cantabs Society, the members of which are students, staff and alumni of the University. See the results of the project on the Society's website.

Inset image: Sociologist, activist and author Professor Archie Mafeje (1936-2007), courtesy of Margaret Green