Q: The theme of Black History Month is ‘Proud To Be’. Can you share what this means to you?
A: This theme allows for a recognition of all the experiences and backgrounds that make up who we are as Black people. Firstly, I am proud of my history and know exactly how much it means for me to have an opportunity such as this. I am the product of ancestors who fought hard with a vision of one day seeing a Black Jamaican student with the opportunity to complete a law degree at an institution such as Oxford University. Secondly, I am proud of my background. Muriel and Kevin’s ‘one and ongle pickney’ was provided with all the guidance he could hope for. Each day I strive to make them proud and embody the determination and work ethic which they continue to show. Also, as it takes a village to raise a child, I am proud of my church, school and community which have moulded me to the Black man I am today. Thirdly, I am proud of my personal journey. As young Black children, although our access to resources may not have always been comparable to others, we were taught to be creative and do the best with what we had. Each obstacle I have faced, whether as a result of my background or race, has helped me to build resilience and developed my drive to succeed to this point. Today I am also proud to be a part of the movement of Black people who recognise the privilege which comes with being in certain spaces and seek to use our positions to fight for justice, equality and mentor future generations who may not have had the same chance. We have a duty to assist other Black students and professionals to be their best so that in the end regardless of nationality or background, all Black people can stand proudly of who we are and what we continue to achieve.
Q: What is your experience of being a Black/Brown Rhodes Scholar studying at Oxford University?
A: My experience as a Black man studying law at Oxford has been quite varied. I have built a great community of friendships that will last a lifetime and have been privileged to learn from some of the world’s leading law professors. Oxford is also quite unique and I have enjoyed exploring several aspects about being in this environment. Unfortunately, at times the experience does bring with it exactly what one imagines of a Black man navigating a space which is quite obviously not created for him. Although I have had quite enjoyable experiences and built a strong community of friends through the Rhodes, Balliol College, Faculty of Law and sporting communities, I have still encountered prejudices in each of these spaces. However, what I find critical is my response to these instances, since realistically racism still exists and will not be eradicated immediately. I have been determined to get the most out of my experience at Oxford despite any negative interactions. This has meant that I never shy away from sporting teams, academic competitions and other circles that have never had a Black participant. With the support of my family and friends, both here and back home, I have been able to compete on behalf of the university and remain as involved as I would at any other institution. Overall, I have enjoyed my time at Oxford and this year I look forward to an even more interesting year as Covid restrictions begin to ease.
Q: Are there any cultural celebrations or traditions that you miss while in Oxford/ due to COVID restrictions?
A: I have missed some cultural celebrations that each year form a big part of our sense of community in the Caribbean. During Christmas last year due to COVID I was stuck in the UK and spent my first Christmas away from my family. For us in Jamaica, Christmas is a huge celebration of those closest to you with Christmas activities, markets and dinners. Last year I tried to replicate some of these celebrations in Oxford and London. Whilst here I also miss celebrating National Heroes Day when we spend time looking back at those who helped build our island. I also miss watching carnival and other large music celebrations which is always an opportunity to watch various floats, trucks, costumes and is a great time of music and dancing along with our favourite artistes.
Samuel Bailey (Jamaica & Balliol 2020) is currently studying a Master of Business Administration at the University of Oxford.
Throughout Black History Month, we will be celebrating the stories and experiences of Black and Brown Rhodes Scholars. Find out how the Rhodes Trust is examining its legacy and focusing on eliminating racism.