What were your backgrounds before arriving in Northern Ireland?
Alexis: I was born and grew up in Nigeria and both my primary and secondary education took place in there. I studied Communications at the University of Nigeria and after my graduation I worked in television for a short time and I was a teacher as well. I came to Northern Ireland because of my husband. He came here to further his education.
I worked in Nigeria as a primary school teacher and worked here in Northern Ireland as a support worker. When I was working as a support worker I was doing some leadership training at the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre and that is where I met Israel. We discussed how we might go about setting up some sort of television programme and he was wondering if I knew anyone who might present a television show and I suggested that I could do it. And we went on from that conversation to develop the idea for a television programme.
Israel: I was born in Nigeria and I moved to Germany when I was a teenager. I moved to Northern Ireland to further my education and as Alexis suggested we met when we were both doing a leadership training programme which took place at BURC.
The idea for the Minority Community Network came about because of all the reporting that I was reading either in the press or online about people from ethnic minority backgrounds here in Northern Ireland. We were only ever in the news when a racist attack happened, when something negative happened. There were never any reports where the positive contribution that people from ethnic minority backgrounds were making and so I suggested that we should create a space where those stories were told. To me it was vital that we could present Northern Ireland as a place where people from elsewhere could come, be presented with opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities but also in the process give back to the community.
Do you feel that those stories were not being told at all?
Israel: As I said, I wanted to show that Northern Ireland, apart from the difficulties that we all know about, could be a place where people from an ethnic minority background actually contribute. And over time I met other people who also thought that side of the story needed to be told as well.
We met people from other communities, other nationalities and we also met James Rea from Bohemian Productions who was a film maker and he had equipment which meant we could actually produce a show. At that point we had no funding. We approached BURC and they offered a small amount of money to put towards the project. We used half that funding to but a very old camera and we spent the other half on editing the television show.
Given that you decided to set a project up yourselves, did you find prior to that it was difficult to get your skills recognised here?
Alexis: I can’t say that I experienced that situation. Sometimes you have to take work while you are waiting for a job where you are using your skills, but, no I couldn’t say that happened to me.
Israel: When I arrived here I was a computer technician and I really wanted to set up a business but once I looked into that it really wasn’t going to work so I got a job at IKEA initially. Then I joined the healthcare service as a support worker. I was able to go to University here, so I can say that getting my skills recognised really wasn’t an issue
Why did you end up deciding on a talk show format for your first project?
Israel: I think it provided people the opportunity to tell their story in their own words. They are able to express their own thoughts and ideas.
Alexis: People aren’t just interviewed. We have a short presentation about their daily life and what it is that they do. It is very important to us to present a whole picture of the person who is on the show.
Israel: We do try to show how they got here as well.
Alexis: We need to look also at why people ended up leaving their homes and relocating. Some people will be seeking asylum, the place where they lived was experiencing difficulties. Other people are looking to find new opportunities and others find people they want to live their life with. There are many different reasons as to why people arrive in Northern Ireland.
Does Black Lives Matter impact your approach in any way?
Israel: No, not really. We are all aware of the negative elements that exist in Northern Ireland. We know that, we experience that. At the moment I think it is fair to say that ACSONI (Afro Caribbean Support Organisation NI) are taking a lead on the Black Lives Matter movement here. We support ACSONI and we obviously want policies which support people from a Black and Ethnic Minority background to be campaigned for. We won’t be covering that specifically.
What is the next project you will be working on?
Israel: We are connected with Diverse Youth so we will be producing a talk show with young people talking about their lives but particularly how their lives have been throughout the Lockdown. Hopefully we will be able to get that produced in July and out to the public in August. Obviously we would, as we did with the first episode of Shared Stories, like to film that in the Arts Resource Centre.
The young people were able to undertake media production through Youth Link and it was funded by the Education Authority. They now feel confident that they will be able to produce a show and we will be part of making that happen.
We are also hoping to work with other organisations and we want to focus on building relationships between young people from different ethnic backgrounds and links with the indigenous youth as well.
We also have a Youth Space project that we want to produce events through as well.
Alexis: We have Shared Stories. We want to put together a show focusing on the heroes of Covid 19. There are plenty of people from minority community backgrounds who have been part of the front-line workforce in all areas throughout the pandemic.
We would also like to produce a show looking at fashion; how people look at fashion from the places they used to live and what is available locally and how those things link together.
Israel: We will also need to look for funds and support so I would like to make an appeal to any organisations who might think about supporting us.