It is our Black History Month - Passing the Baton on
Mia Morris & Maureen Roberts
Black History Month is celebrated in the UK mainly in October each
year. We may well take it for granted that events and activities
but let's remember and appreciate
the contribution made by those who came before its establishment
in 1987 by the London Strategic Policy Unit.
The late Len
Garrison - one of the
founder members and chairman of Black Cultural Archives
(BCA) - said, "Remember
what we inherit today has been won with bloodshed and sacrifice
by others yesterday".
Mia (Left) & Maureen (Right)
In 1977, Len Garrison founded The Afro-Caribbean Education
Resource Project (ACER) to publish and produce learning materials, drawn from
British experience, for use in schools. This project was one the cornerstones
for ILEAs multi-ethnic and anti-racist policy in practice. Through this
work, he also established the Black Young Writers Award, which encouraged and
exposed the talents of scores of young Black writers in the 1970s and 80s.
Some of those writers who benefited form this initiative included Nicola
Williams, Michael McMillan and Michael Beckles.
The Black Cultural Archives (BCA), established in 1981,
organised a series of classical music events celebrating
the life of Samuel Colleridge Taylor (composer of Hiawathas Wedding
Feast) and Alexander Pushkin (a black-a-moor) revered in Russia
as much as Shakespeare is in England.
The Centenary of Marcus Garvey's birth was celebrated
by a number of events in London, and at the Nottingham Playhouse.
In London, The Commonwealth Institute was the venue where
flautist Keith Waithe
made one of his key performances. It was also the debut of
the First Black Classical Concert at the South Bank. Performers
Thompson, Tunde Jegede, Clement Ishmael (Director of the Lion King).
In West London, BHM founding member, publishing house
Bogle-LOuverture also contributed to
the Centenary events by publishing a book entitled Marcus
Garvey - A Hero by Eric. L. Huntley. Together with the book, was
a pictorial portfolio of
forty panels depicting Garvey's "Life and Times".
Some years later, in 1998, Keith Waithe, composer and
arranger, was instrumental in obtaining the support of the
London Borough of Ealing, as its
Principal Arts Officer, in borough-wide activities commemorating
Flip Fraser and Junior Douglas Black Heroes
in the Hall of Fame, encapsulated our world, giving us a sense
of pride in our achievements (nice to see that is has been
revived). Though there have been some tremendous theatrical
productions since, this
in essence was the forerunner, capturing
the imagination of contemporary youth and families at the
time whilst propagating our history.
The role of the Keskidee Centre in Caledonian Road,
North London, and the late Oscar Abrahams who ran the centre,
together with the West Indian Student Centre in Collingham
Gardens, and the Abeng Centre, plus bookshops like New Beacon,
Grassroots, and Headstart, gave birth to a number of project
activists. These were the places where our culture unfolded.
Many an actor, comedian, writer, community worker and teacher
met with like-minded people
events such as lectures by Angela Davis, Malcolm X and Martin
This is an opportunity to recognise the rich contributions
to our history made by elder statesmen Lord
David Pitt, our first Parliamentarian,
former chair of the British Medical Association, and the
Greater London Council; by Berry
Edwards, from Manchester, who ran a bookshop, regularly organised
cultural activities, and of course the late Bernie
Pearl and the late Edric Connor ran the first theatrical agency in
Shaftesbury Avenue giving support and life to actors of a
by-gone era. Sandra Boyce, Paulette and Beverly Randall managed
a number of our contemporary
acting fraternity. Actors and
actresses we are indebted to include Rudolph Walker, Oscar
James, the late Norman Beaton, Clarke Peters, the late Joan
Campbell, Hugh Quarshie,
Yvonne Brewster, Carmen Munroe, Earl Cameron and Corrine
Skinner-Carter. Now we are regularly seen in the professions as well
regular stereotypes on television.
Alongside Keith Waithe, comes the stalwart work of Jessica
and Eric Huntley now in their early 70s who are actively
involved in community work, whether it be the establishment
of a supplementary school, a sickle
cell support group or the fight for criminal justice. All
this, whilst still running Bogle LOuverture Publications, and
the Walter Rodney bookshop (no longer operating). Their
home in Ealing has been a place
of refuge and support for a multitude of authors, writers
and parents. An evening in their company is uplifting and
as they embody
all that is good about coming from the Caribbean.
They were joint directors, with John La Rose (New Beacon Publishers
and Bookshop), in 1982, of the first international radical
and third world book fair, held in Islington Town Hall, which
subsequently contributed to establishing latter day poets
such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton Kwesi
Johnson, Lemn Sessay, John Agard and Valerie Bloom. There
was a time when people travelled
to them from all over London, literally in times of difficulties
and unrest, to get a better understanding of how things were
As a creative writer who has worked with people, programmed cultural activities in schools, prisons, colleges, universities and for the corporate sector, an event does not work unless you have the artists who can capture those all important moments..
Visual arts are again useful for BHM events as they help build a picture
and further stimulate the mind beyond what you can really
see. Recognising the major role and spectacle of Carnival,
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Club, Mahogany, Cocoyea and South Connections, - and the
work of visionary, activist and journalist Claudia Jones.
The work of Sculptor Fowokan George Kelly should
be revered - a bust of Jessica Huntley should really have
pride of place in our own museum,
which it will one day. These foot soldiers shoulder and cradle
our creative community often with no recognition for their
work. We certainly look
forward to the day when there is a large public art display
of his work. Maybe if London gets the Olympic bid his work
will adorn the gates.
The role of those who operate behind the camera is invaluable, whether
it be Menelik Shabazz, Albert Bailey, Kelvin Richards, Imruh Caesar,
John Akomfrah or a photographer such as Armet Francis who has possibly
the largest social documentary of photographs chronicling our life and
times. Armet has been chronicling for over forty years and assignments
have included The Times Magazine, Sunday Times Supplement, BBC and Channel
4. Later came the work of Neil Kenlock, Van Lee Burke , Robert Taylor
and Anita McKenzie
Arthur Torrington who runs both the Equiano Society (better known
as Gustavas Vassa) and the Windrush Foundation regularly organizes events
and activities to promote the contribution of Equiano. Events have involved
community conferences focusing on his contribution to abolish the transatlantic
slave trade. Equiano stands shoulder to shoulder with abolishinists like
William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granvile Sharpe and others.
The society played an instrumental role in ensuring together with the
English Heritage and Camden council that a blue plaque was placed in
central London for Equiano.
The Windrush foundation has grown to an awards ceremony but during that great period of celebration where our elders, and quite rightly so, are treated like Royalty. Where they as one said, wore more different suits and tie in one month than he did in a whole life time of being in London. Journalist, broadcaster and historian Steve Martin regularly lead walks revealing the hidden histories of black peoples. Martins in depth knowledge is superb .
Campaigning and sharing information about Black History has been for
most a life long career. Take for instance, Professor Elizabeth
Anionwu, Head of the Mary Seacole Centre
for Nursing Practice at Thames Valley University in London
when she came across the life of Mary Seacole used her influence,
her tenacity and her will power to ensure that all Nurses
become more aware of her contribution. Joined up work between
the Department of Health and various nursing and midwifery
organisations, such as the Royal College of Nursing, Unison,
the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association
and the Royal College of
meant that Mary Seacole's life is now remembered
via a nursing leadership scholarship named
after her and worth £250,000 per year - rather ironically
the Royal College of Nursing has coined Black History Month
"the Mary Seacole Black History Month".
Mia Morris runs the mentoring,
motivational and management consultancy, Well
Placed Consultancy. Well Placed Consultancy fields questions and
queries all year round on their www.black-history-month.co.uk
website, from schools who are keen to do a session on migration
in 15 minutes, local authorities keen to get their hands
on historical photographs,
book shops keen for publicity, radio stations wanting to
find out more about the lives of current classical musicians
through to government
department and employer networks. We took a query in Spring
for a theatre company wanting to know whether they could
include Bangra Dancing, Soca
and Quadrille as part of the Black History in service teaching.
Queries and questions and points of clarification are all important
real stuff which keeps the community going. In essence, with
the absence of any clear centrally co-ordinated body, Well
Placed Consultancy was recently
told by an established media agency, who supply copy in advance, we
gather that you are the sole contact person for BHM. Essentially
we are of the opinion, that BHM has become so multi cultural
that it is very much in danger of departing from its original
As you read this, you will think of other people who should be mentioned,
but what this article is attempting to do is to alert you
to the people who, whether Black History Month is funded,
part funded or not funded at all,
will do what they can, where they can to make sure that it
happens. It would be good if families were encouraged to
attend events organised
by the little people so that one day they will rise up like
all of our heroes whom we revere.
We have heard the plight of several voluntary organisations who are
still awaiting confirmation of funding for an event planned
for the end of the year, which had a closing deadline of 31st March
with the outcome being made in July this year and despite several phone
and responding to various questions by funders are still
none the wiser.
In actual fact, we should generate our own funds as well as press for
adequate ring fenced funding for smaller organisations rather
than the situation now of the larger museum just adding to
their collections of
work without generating any real benefits to communities.
For those of you who are considering their itineraries, bear in mind
those who passed before us will not pass this way again, but not attending
our own events organised within the community will ultimately destroy
our creativity and resolve and essentially our spirit. So Enjoy.
Originally produced for the GLA London Live Black Heritage Magazine