London’s Black Cultural Archives Opens Its Doors

July 28, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

George 'Fowokan' Kelly, Colin Jackson and Dawn Hill, Chair Black Cultural Archives. Photo by Colin Ince/ Black Cultural Archives (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly, Colin Jackson and Dawn Hill, Chair Black Cultural Archives. Photo by Colin Ince/ Black Cultural Archives (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There was an extraordinary buzz in Brixton that lasted 7 hours on Thursday 24 July 2014 as the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) opened its doors to the world.

Situated at 1 Windrush Square in an elegantly refurbished Georgian building next to Brixton’s Tate Library, the BCA hosted some 2,500 people in a two part launch programme. There was a private view of the excellent opening exhibition Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain and an official launch ceremony, followed by a launch gala of spoken word and musical entertainment in Windrush Square. The rare, dazzling sunshine and rising temperature helped to induce a celebratory atmosphere as people from across Britain and a significant number of overseas visitors gathered for the opening of the BCA.

The BCA is ‘a national heritage space dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain’. It was established in 1981 by Len Garrison and others and occupied premises at 378 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, above the Timbuctu Bookshop. Len Garrison died of a heart attack in 2003, aged 59, while attending a meeting of the BCA trustees. Read the rest of this entry →

‘Trojan Horse’ brings a Packhorse of British Values into Every School

June 18, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

David Cameron made a jingoistic statement about ‘British values’ last weekend in the wake of the ‘Trojan Horse’ debacle and Ofsted’s ‘extremism’ inspection findings on 21 schools in Birmingham, findings in respect of 5 of them that were described by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, as ‘deeply worrying’.

Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether some leaders of state have lost the capacity to listen to themselves and understand what is coming out of their mouths, or whether they are just plain stupid.

The Prime Minister said:

This week there has been a big debate about British values following the Trojan Horse controversy in some Birmingham schools  – about what these  values are, and the role they should play in education.

I’m clear about what these values are – and I’m equally clear that they should be promoted in every school and to every child in our country.

The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day.

I am an African. I have lived in Britain 50 years. During that time I have campaigned relentlessly for racial equality, human rights and social justice and against structural, cultural, institutional and personal manifestations of racism and discrimination. Campaigned against:  racist murders by neo-fascists and racist extremists; the protection given to such organised bands of extremists by the police and the state; police practice of harassing bereaved Asian families about their immigration status when called to the scene of racist murders, rather than pursuing the murderers; police brutality, too often with fatal consequences for their victims; the deaths of African people while in the custody of the state without anyone being held to account; police huddling together to concoct ‘evidence’, hide the truth and pervert the course of justice, thereby denying justice to the relatives of the dead; police abuse of power and wanton criminalisation of black young people with the endorsement of the courts;  wrongful arrests, malicious prosecution, gross misconduct and massive cover-ups, all with the full knowledge of their senior command.

I have witnessed police surveillance, harassment and wrongful imprisonment of community activists campaigning for justice, campaigning for a more accountable police service, campaigning for a less racist media, campaigning against perennially disproportionate levels of black youth unemployment and commensurately high levels of illegal stops and searches by the police, campaigning against the ruining of black students’ life chances through school exclusions and the dumping of the excluded into containment centres and ‘sin bins’, latterly known as pupil referral units.

I have witnessed ‘white flight’ and the abandonment of whole areas by white folk only because they wanted nothing to do with black folk whose presence they felt would depress the value of their properties, the status of their neighbourhoods and the quality of schooling outcomes for their children. Read the rest of this entry →

‘Trojan Horses’ and Policing ‘Extremism’ in Schools

June 7, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

School class

What happens in a secular schooling system when, free from ‘the shackles’ of elected local government, parents exercise the choice the state gives them and their school chooses to reflect its community’s aspirations in the way it caters for the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” of children? What happens when the community that school serves is predominantly Muslim, even though the school is not a faith-based school?

The intriguing ‘Trojan Horse’ school debacle in Birmingham is set to run and run. What is extraordinary about it, however, is the fact that although it says more about the unmanageable shambles that is schooling provision in the country right now, than about Islamic extremism in schools, however that’s defined, there is very little comment about this aspect of the whole sorry saga.

The first and most obvious thing to be said is that Park View School is an Academy, a Mathematics and Science Academy, in Alum Rock, a socially deprived area of Birmingham with a largely Muslim population. As such, it enjoys the unrestricted powers of any other Academy, including the right to set its own curriculum and not follow the National Curriculum. It is not a denominational school like the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Church of England schools to be found in many a city in England, but its student population is predominantly Muslim.

The second obvious thing to be said is that, like any predominantly Christian community, people who call themselves Muslim do not all believe the same things, behave in the same ways or have the same expectations of schooling. Christians vary widely in their views about salvation, gender and gender subordination, wealth, social justice, sex education, sexual conduct, same sex relationships, crime and punishment, and much else besides. So do Muslims.

What, then, is Michael Gove’s and Ofsted’s definition of ‘Islamic extremism’? Read the rest of this entry →

Barbados Remembers Winston Best

June 6, 2014 in Blog by Gus John

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Barbados paid tribute to Athelston Winston Best at a memorial service held at the Clifton Hill Moravian Church, St Thomas, on Thursday 5th June 2014 at 3.30pm.

Winston Best passed on at Whipps Cross Hospital at 7.00pm on 18 March 2014 and a funeral service led by Professor Gus John was held at All Saints Church, Forest Gate, London on Thursday 10 April 2014.

The Homily (below) was delivered by former Bishop of Croydon and Britain’s first black Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Wilfred Wood KA, now retired and living in Barbados.

…………………………………

1

In our first Bible reading, taken from the Old Testament the prophet Micah, more than seven hundred years before Christ, prophesies of this world being at peace with itself, and in perfect accord with God. Why? Because everyone is seeking and heeding God’s teaching. In our second bible reading, taken from the Gospel according to John, Our Lord Jesus makes it clear that there will be more than ample accommodation in the life hereafter for those who in this earthly life, follow His teaching. From the time He left His childhood home in Nazareth, Jesus spent His life on earth, before and after His death and resurrection, as a teacher.

2

Christ was a teacher for Young and Old alike, but He made it clear that children were the best examples of the values of God’s kingdom and its perfect citizens. On one occasion he scolded His disciples for keeping children away from Him. “Suffer the little children to come to me, do not try to stop them, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” On another occasion He warned them that the fate of anyone who hurt one of these little ones would be worse than being thrown into fire with a mill-stone around his neck. And when He wanted to bring home to his disciples what were the true values of the Kingdom of God, He took a child and set him in the midst of them, and said:   “Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Read the rest of this entry →

The SRA responds to Independent Comparative Case Review Report

June 3, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has published its response to my ICCR report which it published in March 2014 and committed itself to taking action to tackle disproportionality in regulatory action and outcomes for BME solicitors.

Outlining the range of actions to which it has committed itself, the SRA stated:

  • we have announced a programme of regulatory reform to ensure our regulation is more targeted and proportionate;
  • we will publish proposals to reduce regulatory burdens for small firms and to improve our engagement with, and regulation of, them;
  • we will engage with the Law Society, other representative bodies, firms and solicitors to identify ways to improve the co-ordination of efforts to improve diversity within law firms and to identify more effective approaches for the future. We will publish the outcome of this work in October;
  • we will use the data from the ICCR report and our regulatory outcomes report to analyse and understand the causes of disproportionality better so that we can address the issues and reduce disproportionality;
  • we will review the content of our regulatory outcomes report, start publishing it twice a year and undertake more engagement with stakeholders about what it is indicating, with a view to identifying priority areas for action;
  • we will revise and strengthen our internal quality assurance processes so as to provide greater assurance that our discretionary decisions are fair, consistent and free from bias;
  • we will publish an annual report on discrimination issues raised by law firms’ employees and consumers;
  • we will recruit people with expertise to join the SRA Board’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee (ED&I) to advise and support it in leading the work to tackle the issues identified in the ICCR report;
  • we will continue to take action to improve the diversity profile of our staff and develop effective training and professional development so that our staff have the confidence and skills to make fair and transparent decisions;
  • we will publish an update on our work on the issues identified in the ICCR at the end of October 2014, and a full report on progress in October 2015.

The SRA thanked the core team:

‘… Professor John and Anthony Robinson for their commitment to this project, their diligent examination of the issues and their recommendations. The report has added significantly to our understanding of this important issue. We would also like to thank Lord Herman Ouseley and the members of the EIG for their contribution to this work and for their assistance over a number of years in helping the SRA with this work. All of the organisations represented on the EIG are small and the members of those organisations who have attended the EIG and many other meetings with the SRA have given up their own time, freely, on behalf of their colleagues’.

I am encouraged by the SRA’s response and I hope the regulated profession as a whole and BME practitioners in particular will be, also.

From the outset, I was relieved that the SRA received my report without defensiveness and showed its commitment to giving careful consideration to its findings and recommendations and especially its implications for the way the organisation functions generally. I see this response as further evidence of that commitment and of a willingness to use the report as a vehicle for change. Read the rest of this entry →