Questioning the Colour of Science – IF Oxford in Black History Month

11 October 2018

Scientific thinking isn’t just black and white: it encompasses every shade in-between and so do the researchers and inventors behind new discoveries and innovative thinking.

As part of the IF Oxford science and ideas festival 2018, you can also venture the world of Wakanda, the setting of this year’s Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther, the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast and the highest-grossing film by a black director. The futuristic technology seen in the film may have been imagined, but real scientists in Oxford are working on jet engines, space shuttles and cutting edge tissue engineering that are equally amazing, and on Monday 22nd October Blackbird Leys Community Centre in Oxford will be transformed into a ‘Wakandan International Outreach Centre’. Here local heroes, including Rhodes Scholar, Oxford Blue athlete and engineer Gladys C Ngietich, explore science and ideas from the film.
Natty Mark Samuels of Oxford’s African School, a cultural education project based in East Oxford, is delighted to be involved in IF Oxford. “I’ve been part of Black History Month every year for a long time,” he explains, “ but this is the first time I have seen Black History and the rich seam of ideas from African and its diaspora, form part of a science festival. It’s crucial that the contribution of Black scientists and inventors is documented and disseminated alongside that of their White counterparts, so I’m really excited to be part of it; to bring a sense of balance to the telling of the story of science, past and present. Relatively few people, for example, have heard of Al Jahiz, an African Iraqi of the ninth century, who pioneered the theory of evolution and natural selection, centuries before Darwin! I’ll also be talking about traditional and contemporary art from Africa and the Black diaspora, counteracting the mainstream focus on European and American fine art. When we talk of Renaissance, we immediately think of the Italian one, as there is no widespread teaching and awareness of the Harlem Renaissance. I’m hoping to make people think again, encouraging them to follow up on their enlightened thinking.”
The festival also includes two performances of new rap and hip hop music produced by a group of local youngsters working with Rodney P, radio and TV personality and the Godfather of British Hip Hop, and Rawz from Inner Peace Records who champions a mantra of peaceful expression with thought-provoking content. In ‘What If…’, through the media of music, video and spoken word they explain what it’s like growing up today, and the reality of drug and gang culture here in Oxfordshire influenced by County Lines, the drug trafficking network which exploits children to supply thousands of pounds worth of Class A drugs across the UK, which, in London and the South East, affects the black community disproportionately.
Dr Roxanna Willis, a criminologist at the University of Oxford who researches the effect of social background on youth mental health, has been involved in the project and describes it as follows: ‘IF Oxford has offered a unique way for young people to express themselves through rap. By opening up through music, the young participants have explored complex issues such as suicide, self harm, and loss. Importantly, participants have developed new skills to help them handle difficult feelings in the future.’
– ENDS –
For more information visit For media enquiries, contact Festival Director Dane Comerford 01865 810 027 07720705312 or Festival Communications Officer, Esther Lafferty 01367 242498 / 07715 640228
IF Oxford is an annual science and ideas festival organised by the charity Oxfordshire Science Festival, (Charity number 1151361), which is working towards a world where the complexity, wonder and opportunities of scientific research are explored, challenged, celebrated and enjoyed across society. Through a range of events and activity, from the discussion of cutting edge research to performances and hands-on activities for families, the Festival aims to inspire and support people of all ages and backgrounds to access ideas from research and innovation. IF Oxford has been developed from the Oxfordshire Science Festival which has taken place from 1994–2017 and attended by 500,000 people since its beginning.
The 2018 Festival is produced in association with Science Oxford with the support of the University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, local business and cultural organisations, BBC Oxford, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

Black Panther: Blackbird Leys
Monday 22 October, 11am-4pm
Explore technologies of tissue engineering or test out jet engines and space shuttles at the Wakandan International Outreach Centre in Blackbird Leys. Jump into a green screen studio with T’Challa and Shuri to create your own mini movie. Discover Black Panther science and African heritage with University of Oxford researchers and local heroes.

Saturday 13 October, 12.15-2.15pm; Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate’s, OX1 1BX
Discover the stories of African, African-American and Caribbean scientists, past and present, at this interactive workshop with Natty Mark Samuels from the African School.

Saturday 20 October, 12.30-2.30pm; Oxfordshire County Library, Queen Street, OX1 1DJ
African and Black Diasporic art has had a huge historical and cultural influence on modern life. Join Natty Mark Samuels of African School for this interactive, multi-generational workshop to find out more

What IF (Oxford Playhouse)
5pm, 19 October 2018, Oxford Playhouse, 11 – 12 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2LW

What IF (Blackbird Leys)
21 October 2018, 6-7.30pm, , Blackbird Leys Community Centre, Oxford, OX4 6HW
Two events of rap and hip hop music, spoken word and short stories about what it’s like growing up today. Hear the rhythm of life, touching on hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, with music performed by radio and TV personality Rodney P (Beats, Bass and Bars, Friday 12 October 10pm BBC4) artists from Inner Peace Records and new talent from Oxfordshire. See what happened when the Godfather of British Hip Hop worked with a group of exceptional young people.