Academic, activist and lifelong Derby local Cecile Wright shares how the tenacity of the Caribbean community propelled her towards educational success…
Mojatu: What was it like growing up in Derby?
Cecile: I lived in a part of Derby where there were other children of a Caribbean background whose parents, like mine, were of the Windrush Generation.
Many of the adults came from the same place in Jamaica, and there was a sense of belonging that cushioned us from some of the negative experiences of living in Normanton, as we experienced a considerable amount of racism and name-calling.
I’m the eldest of nine children and, for periods of time, we were on free school meals. My mother was a nurse and my father initially worked for British Rail before establishing his own haulage business.
Mojatu: What role does your Caribbean heritage continue to play in your life today?
Cecile: It defines my character, my outlook and my values – and how I’ve gone on to achieve educationally and ultimately become the first Black female professor in the East Midlands.
It also provides resilience, which I think is essential for minority communities. In Caribbean culture, education is considered a form of capital currency that can be used to shape one’s life.
My academic work has shown that, even though their experience of schooling can be negative, young people from Caribbean communities will continue to pursue positive educational outcomes – so their participation in further and higher education is at odds with their negative experience during the compulsory educational stage.
“It was a case of not just accepting the situation, but wanting to change and transform it”Professor Cecile Wright
Mojatu: When did you decide that you wanted to become involved in politics?
Cecile: It came from seeing the struggles of the community around me, but more fundamentally, seeing the solutions that they were able to garner in order to meet their needs.
In my late teens, I became the secretary of the Derby West Indian Community Association, so through my voluntary work I was able to appreciate that it was a case of not just accepting the situation, but wanting to change and transform it.
My first formal involvement in politics was when I became a member of the National Union of Students – my formal union activism became the impetus to then embark upon politics, and part of that was joining the Labour Party in my twenties.
Mojatu: What makes you proud to be from Derby?
Cecile: The supportive networks in Derby should be acknowledged – certainly within the ethnic minority communities, and indeed the wider demographics within the city.
Derby is a relatively small city, but with greater investment, we can build upon the great cultural venues that we currently have.
Derby has vibrant communities and we are very honoured to participate in some of the spectacular and engaging events that help to build community cohesion, such as the West Indian Carnival and other annual events within the city.
By Jamie Morris & Tristan Best