Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

I wore clogs the first three years I was in the Netherlands

Photo by: Martlot van den Berg

Bright couldn’t simply go out on the streets in Liberia. He was an actor in the country’s most popular television series so he caused a stir wherever he went. “They often had to get the police to clear a path for me.” No-one recognised him in the Netherlands, and he was secretly disappointed. “I suppose I missed it; an artiste lives for his audience.” That’s why he wore clogs for the first three years he was here: “People could hear me coming and they looked round. I had an audience again: the street.”

Bright is working on his latest show: The Bright side of life. His innate positivity isn’t an act. He has a twinkle in his eye and a grin from ear to ear. He’s not keen to talk about the war in Liberia. He started ‘roaming’ when he was 21. “Everyone goes their own way when there’s a war on.” Leaving his family behind, in 1993 he boarded a plane to Schiphol. “It was a fantastic feeling. As soon as you board the plane, you stop being a refugee and become a traveller.” He loved what he saw when he arrived: the bustle, the friendly people and the abundance of food. “I was given a voucher to collect free food and I was just overwhelmed. Wow!”

Bright landed on Dutch soil in 1993. He soon learned the language and auditioned for the ArtEZ stage school (in his clogs), where he was accepted. His graduation research project was in London. While there, he decided to found his own theatre production agency for first generation migrants. Utrecht seemed like a good place to start; a central location, easy to reach for people from all around the country. “Many migrants who train in the arts here don’t get the opportunity to tell their story. I want to help them.” He rang a friend who lived in Utrecht and explained his plan. The friend in question wanted to go to London so they simply swapped houses. “Incredible, isn’t it? That’s how I got to live in such a lovely house in Wittevrouwen.”

‘Properly integrated’

For ten years, the house in Wittevrouwen was the base for his organisation New Dutch Connections. He recently moved the operation to Park Oog in Al, where he lives with his wife (who he met in the SJU concert hall) and their three children. The area is perfect for children; they can play safely on the street.

Bright hopes that New Dutch Connections will help refugees (‘New Dutch citizens’) to become economically independent. “Three thousand Japanese live Amstelveen and nobody bats an eyelid. I want refugees to be as valuable as anyone else, so that people will stop complaining about them.” He gives training courses to young asylum seekers, but hasn’t given up theatre. In fact not long ago, he took to the stage at an EU conference.

Why does he do it? “I want people to start believing in themselves again.” He finds it relatively easy (‘I’m just the instigator’), but it means a lot to the asylum seekers. If it’s up to him, he’ll never leave the Netherlands. “Yesterday I was in the Ter Apel reception centre talking about doing the infamous four-day evening walk with my kids. Someone shouted out: ‘Bright! That’s when you know you’re properly integrated!’”

Passport
Name: Bright Richards
Date of birth: 17 December 1969
Place of birth: Monrovia, Liveria
Motto: ‘Home is not where you were born, where you come from or where you want to go; it’s where you feel happiest.’


Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

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Article by Annabel van Heesbeen.