Facilitator and youth mentor for the Cork Migrant Centre, Raphael Olympio. Photo: Clare Keogh

Anti-racism summit planned

“I did Irish growing up and I tried my best to dabble in GAA sports. But then there's always a racial slur being said, always being the target of everything that's negative because of the colour of your skin or where you're from or your religious beliefs.”

Those were the words of Raphael Olympio as he spoke to the Cork Independent about some of the racism he has experienced.

He is one of the organisers of Cork’s first youth led anti-racism summit which will be held later this month in City Hall.

The summit takes place on 26 May and invites policy makers, politicians and organisations to discuss the impacts of racism, and how to tackle racism in Cork and Ireland.

At the event, young organisers will share their personal experiences of racism through music, spoken word and drama while facilitating discussions on how to tackle racism.

The summit is organised by young members of the Cork Migrant Centre (CMC) Youth Initiative against Racism in collaboration with Children and Young People Services Committee (CYPSC) Anti-Racist Subgroup and The Traveller Visibility Group (TVG).

Speaking to the newspaper, facilitator and youth mentor for CMC, Raphael Olympio, said he first experienced racism in school after moving to Cork from Togo in west Africa at the age of 6.

Raphael was of the opinion that school is still difficult for people in Ireland from a migrant background.

He said this is why it was so important that the upcoming anti-racism summit be youth led.

He said: “A lot of our people today still struggle in that area. Why are there things in the curriculum that would make a black person, or a person of a different ethnicity feel uncomfortable? There are certain books that might be read in a class with the n-word and that would make any black person feel uncomfortable because everybody automatically starts staring at you. We’re all reading it out and everybody’s saying the n-word, and because it’s a book, it’s acceptable.”

In 2020, Labour Party Spokesperson on Education, Enterprise and Trade, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, was part of a campaign calling on the Government to remove ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ from the Junior Certificate syllabus. Both books are set in the American south and contain numerous uses of the n-word.

Raphael also remembers going into school with braided hair and being told he needed to cut it.

He said: “There were things systemically in school where I wasn’t allowed to have braids. There are reasons why black people culturally braid their hair, especially in the winter so our hair doesn’t break.”

Raphael and his family arrived in Cork in 2000 having been forced to flee their home country due to a civil war. They were one of the first families to enter Ireland’s newly established Direct Provision system at the time.

He said: “I was a very playful child, so I didn’t necessarily notice what was happening, but I remember thinking, ‘why is everybody living in this hotel and why are we here for so long?’. It wasn’t something that bothered me as a child, but I could tell my parents were stressed and there was something not right. We were all living in one room, me, my parents, and my younger brothers.”

An active musician in Cork’s music scene, he believes music and the arts are a crucially important way for young people from migrant backgrounds to express themselves and to tackle racism: “I think a lot of people who have been marginalised lose confidence and lose their voice because they feel like they shouldn’t speak up, and they don’t want to be a bother to anybody, and they don’t want to raise attention, so by speaking up, it seems like they’re going to create another issue and get more negative attention than positive.

“Using art is a way to boost their confidence and is another way to share the message. I’m not just Raphael anymore, I’m Raphael the musician, it gives you that added layer of confidence,” he concluded.

The summit will be hosted at Cork City Hall on 26 May from 1-6pm.