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PhD student leads world first talkathon tackling racism

Photograph of a black female student at the top of the Wulfruna Building staircase

Eradicate Racism was a BHM UK event, livestreamed on YouTube on Saturday 28 October, to mark the relaunch of On Root, a digital platform for learning and improving issues in Black communities.  

Founder of On Root, Malissa Lewis-Francis, 42, originally from Smethwick, now living in Wolverhampton, is in her first year of studying for a PhD in Education in the Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing at the University. Malissa first joined the University when she completed a top-up degree converting a PG Cert to a BA, achieving a first-class degree and went on to achieve a distinction for her Master’s in Education.   

The platform was created during lockdown 2020 as an output of Malissa’s Master’s dissertation, offering an online education course ‘Ancient African History’ through YouTube.  

Malissa said: “My research focus has always been Black history, African studies, understanding my identity, understanding what other people might want to know and sharing what I’d learnt.  

“Through my research I’ve identified that online and digital spaces offer many advantages to engage and grow, not just an audience, but a community. The platform developed as a direct output of the research and has since branched out across multiple social media channels, as well as well as a website. The recent event has been the culmination of a rebrand and was coordinated with the support of a small team of volunteers from the On Root network. 

“A lot of careful planning and consideration went into organising and hosting the launch event.  It ran for 24 hours as a gesture to show our commitment to the online networked community, as it is a global community and we wanted to transcend the time zones. We also wanted to showcase the upgrade, our abilities, and the potential of our platform.  By talking for 24 hours about racism, we achieved a record-breaking success.” 

Malissa, who also goes by the pseudonym Mz.Rootz, co-hosted the event with fellow student Nathan Israel, welcoming a lineup of ten guest speakers including University of Wolverhampton lectures and students, as well as local and international contributors.   

Malissa said: “Throughout the event we posed 5 questions: What is racism?  Does racism exist today? Why does Racism Exist? Have you ever experienced racism? How do we resolve Racism? 

“Participants indeed felt safe enough to speak publicly and shared their views and experiences. We ended with a collaborative conclusion, which suggests that we cannot Eradicate Racism… However, we must not stop having these important conversations and breaking down those barriers.”   

The team are very pleased with the engagement of the event, which had over 200 viewers, including 86 newcomers to the platform. “We believe this is just the beginning - people just need to know we are here!” 

One of the guest speakers, Dr Peter Bennett, Senior Lecturer in Post Compulsory Education at the University of Wolverhampton, taught Malissa during her top-up degree and describes her as a ‘star student’. Peter, who is now Director of Studies for her doctorate, said: “She has always been a force of nature and a great supporter of the university which gave her the opportunity to develop in the way she has.  Truth is she always had the talent and the active and innovative mind!”  

Peter is a passionate advocate for social justice, whose work and values align with the values of On Root.  

“As a local lad from a working-class background I’ve always been interested in the way education too often lets down what are now called ‘under-resourced’ kids and sadly in our urban and post-industrial areas that includes people of colour to a disproportionate degree.” 

“The work that the On Root community is doing is exceedingly important. The PhD research and On Root are inextricably linked as she is exploring her brand and the new concept she has coined, developing ‘critical confidence’ in action through the On Root project: the talkathon was the launch of this work. I’m excited to see what will develop.” 

“I’m really proud of the way our university rises to the occasion and supports our students.”  

Recordings from the event can be viewed here. If you are interested in discussions focused on issues in Black communities and the African Diaspora subscribe to the OnRoot23 YouTube Channel to receive notifications of up-and-coming events. To find out more about the On Root project, Find out more about the On Root project 

For more information about courses at the University of Wolverhampton  check out the website or visit one of our forthcoming Open Days.  


For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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