On Tuesday 23rd July 2019, none of the team were at Impact Hub Birmingham. Many of you who know us well will appreciate the highly unusual nature of this situation, as on a normal day you can be greeted by near on every face you see on our team page, taking care in a very hands-on capacity day-to-day throughout the year – but not this day.
On this day we were taking up a very special invitation to Birmingham Town Hall for Aston University’s School of Life & Heath Sciences graduation ceremony, to celebrate Immy Kaur receiving an honorary doctorate for her work in the city. Lining the entire side balcony of the Town Hall, the venue that for many of us remains synonymous with TEDxBrum #PowerOfUs in 2016, the many faces of the team along with Immy’s family and close friends looked down at a stage filled with robes of every colour, as Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Helen Higson introduced someone we know so well and work so closely with in a totally personal and warm way in front of the huge class of 2019 graduands below, and their proud parents, carers, and friends in the circle above.
We wanted to share a copy of Immy’s speech that followed, as its prevalence on the same day as the announcement that Boris Johnson will be the next UK Prime Minister felt amplified and ever-increasing in their importance; words of wisdom not just for those concluding their studies that day in Birmingham, but in a wider context and societal and political moment that we all bear witness to.
Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, honoured guests, Aston graduands, ladies and gentleman. Thank you so much for this incredible honour; I can’t quite believe this is happening. Thank you so much for the kindness and generosity in putting on this wonderful day for us all.
It is custom for the honorary graduate to share some words of wisdom, so I hope I can do that invitation justice for the next few minutes. Those of you who know me well know I have a lot to say about the times we live in and the challenges we face collectively as a society. You don’t have to look very far to know we are living in paradoxical times, a vicious cycle where everywhere we look there is a need to come together urgently and fiercely to solve the 21st century’s great problems, from climate breakdown to the deep rooted issues in many part of cities.
Yet, paradoxically, we are pulling further and further apart again; something many who have been marginalised will argue has always been the way. Without dismissing that struggle we know all around us we are even more polarised, nationalism, fanaticism and extremism are taking root and spreading. What we previously understood as fascism and racism is being masked as everyday politics. We sometimes even find ourselves laughing it off, as sloppy amusing leadership. This is making, and will continue to make, solving our deep challenges less and less possible.
Building the movements, organisations and behaviours urgently, boldly, and confidently yet humbly to challenge this has to be task number one. We have to be at the front of the charge to bring a troubled world and country back together at this juncture of human history, a time of great challenge, great transition, and change but also of great opportunity. This has been the sole unrelenting focus of our work in this city over the last decade, and it genuinely is an honour and privilege to be a part of this glorious city. I do believe there is a bright future ahead, but none of it will come without a fight for what is fair, equitable, just and regenerative. In a time of great uncertainty, this is one thing I know for sure.
So my plea to you, my one shred of wisdom for today, is that when you leave this hall today, and once the celebrations wear off, you commit deeply to the struggle for justice; that you don’t just enter the world of business-as-usual where we extract as much profit and resource for a small minority at any cost to the planet and its people whilst the world burns in hate and division; that you know you are the generation that will restitch the social and physical fabric of the world, and you will create a fair, just and sustainable planet for generations to come. You will be the generation that don’t accept where we find ourselves.
For all of human history we have been better when we come together; when we work together, when we understand and empathise with each other. We have solved some of the most complex problems through bringing together diverse minds, people, experiences; this is our strength. You will know this in so many ways from the support you may have received from a classmate, a team you worked with, a question or piece of work you struggled with or even when you were introduced to an idea of struggle you had not know before. We grow, learn and build together, and you will have experienced this so many times here in your time at Aston University. That is the power of our differences; they make us smarter, more creative, more prosperous and empathetic. They are not a threat, they are not be feared. They are to be celebrated and nurtured.
You know your own stories. You have all taken different paths to this moment and only you know the determination, sacrifice, hard work; the juggling of jobs, the long commutes, the challenges you’ve faced, the hurdles, the balance of study and care, the uncertainty of the future and the hope in your hearts. You have all overcome so much to be sitting in this room today, so take a moment to be proud of that. But know, none of us have achieved this alone. We all know those who have supported us, those who have worked so hard to support us, those who went the extra mile, those who bought you that coffee when all hope was lost, those who stayed later to work harder, to try harder, to go further than we thought possible. None of us achieve alone; we are a product of our collective endeavours, our environment, our privileges, our access to resources, our ancestors; those who came before us.
I stand here today with the very hopes and dreams of immigrant parents and grandparent carved into my soul, those who who came to this country, gave up all their hopes and dreams to build a world for me and my younger brother to thrive, the first to go to university in my family, a moment they may never have dreamed of during some of the worst times of their hard and unrelenting young lives. I stand here the product of generations of hope and struggle. So, look around you today who has helped you to get here, and consider who you are going to be in the world for others.
From how we come together to solve our urgent challenges, to how you greet your neighbour each morning, the change we need will start with us; a more collective, kind, loving, empathetic, unrelenting, ambitious, hopeful us.
So, as fascism is disguised as thoughtful debate, as anger and intolerance starts to creep in as our default, and isolated islands of people take power, when fear is used to divide and control; we must resist, we must resist with joy, love, kindness, ambition, dreams, hope and a collective belief that the future can be radically more equitable, just, sustainable and beautiful for us all, together. This has alway been at the heart of true humane progress.
Don’t wait for permission, class of 2019. Don’t spend years in jobs you don’t believe in, working for people who don’t inspire you, or work that doesn’t have deep purpose. Wake up tomorrow and build your dreams together. Let’s make history and build a city and a world that we can be deeply proud to pass on to the next generation. That’s what I will be trying to do here in Birmingham.
Congratulations Class of 2019, I can’t wait to see you what you achieve in the years ahead.
Good luck and thank you so much.
A huge thank you to Aston University for such an unbelievable day, of hosting everyone beautifully and making us feel a million dollars. Whilst Immy finds it hard to receive an individual award for collective work, we could not have been prouder and would not have changed a thing, always happy to keep acknowledging our own and many others’ roles within the wider systems and methodologies that this work involves, but also celebrate one another’s deep successes and Immy’s tireless work and very particular and entirely crucial role in keeping the fire in our hearts alight, and hope in the city alive when all hope could so easily get lost, or at least go missing for a while.
Impact Hub Birmingham x