An alumni perspective: Black History Month 2021

The image shows a black background with the LSU and Loughborough University logos. The words Black History Month are written in the centre.

Alumna Edith Alusa, who left Loughborough in 2001 after completing a master’s in Water and Environmental Management, reflects on Black History Month, what it means to her, and how she can use her influence as a member of the Alumni Advisory Board to help support the University’s ongoing race equity work.

Q: Edith, can you tell us about your roles and any other interests you have outside of work or study?

“I currently work as the team lead and CEO of Ecotourism Kenya, a Civil Society Membership Association that promotes sustainable tourism practices. Fun fact, I occupied the same position exactly 10 years ago.

“I am quite happy to be back in the sustainable tourism space after having had an interesting and fulfilling ‘tour of duty’ in other capacities in environmental management and socio-economic safeguards including co-founding EED Advisory, a consultancy firm based in Nairobi and serving as a director on a Government Parastatal Board.

“When I joined Loughborough way back in 2001 to pursue my MSc in Water and Environmental Management, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to tackle whatever was thrown at me. It was my first time living outside my country Kenya and the first time I encountered subtle discrimination at train stations, in shops, and some restaurants. It was quite confusing for me. Fortunately, I met many wonderful people in Loughborough, some of whom I am still in touch with and who are doing amazing things all over the world.

“My profession has always involved a lot of local and international travel and meetings, with new people, different teams, experiences and challenges at every single turn and I enjoy it. It is the path I chose and in some ways the path that chose me. All this travel exposed me to so many cultures and belief systems and although my message of sustainability was always the same, I would have to take the situations I found on the ground into consideration and tweak my message accordingly.

“We always say that in sustainable business you need to know your local surroundings and seek to work from a point of common interest for the betterment of all. I am now a Certified Mediator which has taught me how to listen and hear what the person speaking is communicating. I bring those skills into my work daily and have been able to broker successful outcomes in conflict situations without them escalating.

“Outside of work, which has so many moving parts, I like to live a quiet life and either read in solitude (preferably outdoors) or have small intimate lunches with close friends. I occasionally enjoy the odd DIY project, anything that involves a drill or hammer.”

Q: What is the importance of Black History Month to you?

“Black History Month provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on what can happen in society when you deliberately and systemically disenfranchise any group of people.

“I really didn’t observe this month until I went to Loughborough University. The activities of this month were an eye opener and made me think about what else I didn’t know about my own history in my own country. What struck me most were the different ways people were approaching the sometimes-difficult conversations around race and discrimination and what happened historically versus what was happening currently.

“I work in the tourism sector in Kenya where much of its history was formulated within a colonial construct. While tourists were coming on exclusive luxury hunting safaris in Kenya, black African slaves were still fighting for emancipation and their rights. This legacy has meant that even though I did not live through slavery or high levels of discrimination, I have to deal with the remnants of its effects and impacts.

“I appreciate that my lived experience as a middleclass African may shield me from many realities, but it also allows me to use my platforms for changing perceptions about discrimination against black people.

“I really long for the day when people will simply just look at another human being as just that, a human being who simply wants to be respected, seen and valued not as a favour but as a way that humans ought to treat each other.”

A profile photo of Edith

Q: What is something you would like people to reflect on, or take action on, during Black History Month?

“Have a difficult or uncomfortable discussion, not to advance your opinion or point of view but to understand someone else’s. How would you do this? Attend a discussion on campus that allows for open dialogue and provides a safe space to ask difficult questions and build understanding.

“It’s amazing how much we grow once we learn about other cultures. Even among black people there is a need to build understanding because an African black person and a black person born outside Africa will have had different experiences.

“We live in an era where most of us were not directly part of the historical construct that we now have to fix. We are inheritors of the problem, so either we let it grow in complexity and pass on a problem with more layers, or we elect to stop it dead in its tracks and tame it. It will take time, but we need to make the time or else we will fragment this world into pieces that will be impossible to usefully re-construct.”

Q: As a member of the Alumni Advisory Board, how do you feel you can use your influence to help support the University’s ongoing work with the Race Equality Charter?

“Tourism has a unique opportunity to allow people to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar in the most pleasant and genuine way. I would like to encourage sports tourism exchange opportunities particularly for the student athletes to come to Kenya and train at the high altitude centers with the world champions of track and field. The university that churns out some of the best athletes training in the country that births some of the best athletes in the world would be a great matchmaking opportunity and a platform to extend a hand of understanding and mutual respect based on a shared love for running.

“Travelling makes you appreciate that other people are just people like you, different settings but fundamentally, just like you.

“Secondly, as a Chevening Scholar I would like to use my networks to get more Kenyan scholars coming to the University. I had a positive experience at Loughborough and incidentally (and quite coincidentally) work closely with a few alumni in Kenya, so I would like others to experience the power of that network as well.”

For more information about the University’s Black History Month events programme, visit the website.

Thank you to Edith for sharing her thoughts.