Book review: ‘Black British Intellectuals and Education’

October 15, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Reviews by Gus John

The Empire Windrush. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Empire Windrush. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

It is not for nothing that the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury port in East London on 22 June 1948 is seen by many commentators as marking the start of the growth of the black population in Britain. That ship brought 492 passengers from Jamaica, the largest group of West Indian immigrants to arrive in Britain immediately following the end of the Second World War. Most of them settled in Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, a place that would later become the site of some of the fiercest confrontations between the African population and the state as represented by the police.

The African heritage population of Britain now stands at 1.87 million, having been a mere 28,000 at the end of the Second World War. One million of us currently live in London alone and in some boroughs we make up more than 25% of the population. Among the Global African Diaspora (GAD) in Britain, therefore, there are 4 generations of British born Africans in relation to whom the old narrative about ‘coloured immigrants’, ‘newcomers’ and ‘integration once the newcomers have settled and produced British black children’ is increasingly meaningless, as the GAD population remains marginalised and subject to widespread discrimination and social exclusion.

West Indian immigrants came mainly from agrarian economies and from villages where poverty and deprivation defined people’s lives and life chances and limited their capacity to access quality health care, among other things. But theirs was a poverty of means; it was neither a poverty of spirit nor a poverty of aspiration. They came to Britain with high ambitions for their children, especially with respect to schooling outcomes, progression to higher education and to the sorts of careers they had dreamt of back home for their children: typically, doctors, dentists, lawyers, civil servants, architects, engineers. Read the rest of this entry →

Launch of Black History Month in Wales

September 26, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Highlights, Speeches by Gus John

Credits: Black History Month - Wales

Credits: Black History Month – Wales

On September 26th, Prof Gus John delivered the following speech – entitled ‘The Past in the Present: Working Together to Make the Future We Face the Future We Want for Wales‘ – at the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre, Newport. It marked the launch of Black History Month in Wales.

Dear land of my fathers, whose glories were told
By bard and by minstrel who loved thee of old
Dear country whose sires, that their sons might be free
Have suffered and perished for thee!

Wales! Wales! Land of mist and wild
Where e’er I roam
Though far from my home
The mother is calling her child

The Lords of great Snowdon in brave days of yore
For thee fought for freedom by Mona’s green shore
Their courage undaunted inspires all our leys
Our harps e’er resound to their praise.

Wales! Wales! Land of mist and wild
Where e’er I roam
Though far from my home
The mother is calling her child

Good evening everyone.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you as you launch Black History Month, Wales, 2014.

As the Chair’s kind introduction indicated, I am a ‘Voice of the Caribbean’ that has had cause to comment on Welsh affairs in the past, not least through the research undertaken some 7 years ago for the Higher Education Council for Wales on the performance of your 14 universities in implementing equality legislation.

There is much that I would like to share with you this evening, but we have limited time. I therefore want to commend to you, most emphatically, this excellent book by Alan Llwyd: ‘Black Wales – a history‘. This book should be the history textbook for all of Wales and a manual not just for Black History Month but for understanding the history of Wales, how that history has helped to shape the present and why it is imperative that Wales understands itself so that the people of Wales, racialised as ‘white’ and as ‘black’ could work together to make the future you face the future you actually want for this proud, beautiful country, a country with an abundance of hope. Read the rest of this entry →

Global African Diaspora: transforming the state we’re in?

July 31, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Gus talks, Highlights by Gus John

When did you discover you are African

This article aims to explore the structural position of the Global African Diaspora population in Britain as related to the economy, education, employment, criminal justice and political representation. It examines the decline of social movements and of independent political resistance to the structural, cultural, institutional and personal manifestations of racism and discrimination that still define social relations in British society. It ends by addressing the question of what electoral politics has to offer the African Diaspora in Britain, given the record of successive governments over the last 60 years.

The African heritage population of Britain now stands at 1.87 million, having been a mere 28,000 at the end of the Second World War. One million of us currently live in London alone and in some boroughs we make up more than 25% of the population. Among the Global African Diaspora (GAD) in Britain, therefore, there are 4 generations of British born Africans in relation to whom the old narrative about ‘coloured immigrants’, ‘newcomers’ and ‘integration once the newcomers have settled and produced British black children’ is increasingly meaningless, as the GAD population remains marginalised and subject to widespread discrimination and social exclusion.

Many writers and academics cite the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury port in East London on 22 June 1948 as the start of the growth of the black population in Britain. That ship brought 492 passengers from Jamaica, the largest group of West Indian immigrants to arrive in Britain immediately following the end of the Second World War. Most of them settled in Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, a place that would later become the site of some of the fiercest confrontations between the African population and the state as represented by the police.

In fact, there had been a continuous black presence in Britain for at least 400 years before the Empire Windrush docked in June 1948. While it is not possible to state the exact number of Africans that lived in the UK from one century to the next, what is known is that they were to be found in all strata of the society and hailed from the African continent and the African Diaspora. Many were scholars and scientists, artisans and missionaries, musical composers and dramatists, medical doctors, biologists and horticulturalists. Others were seafarers and military personnel. Read the rest of this entry →

Making the future we face the future Britain we want

January 7, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers by Gus John

In 1970, a full thirty years before The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, sponsored by the Runnymede Trust and Chaired by Professor Bhiku Parekh published its report (which was speedily buried by the British establishment), the late CLR James ended a rousing address to three hundred black youths at the Metro Youth Club in Notting Hill with these words:

‘Your future is Britain’s future and Britain’s future your future.  If you succeed, Britain will succeed.  But, if Britain fails you, it will have a hell of a job saving itself’.

(In Police Power and Black People, 1972, Derek Humphry and Gus John, Panther Books Ltd)

Between November 2011 and October 2013 Race on the Agenda (ROTA) delivered the Shaping the Future seminar series, which considered some of the main challenges facing London’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children and young people and their families, following a difficult economic period and wide-spread policy reforms and public spending cuts.

In August 2014, Professor Gus John will have been 50 years in the UK, having arrived in 1964 as a theological student.  In contributing to the seminar series, Gus drew upon his many decades of political activism, community development and academic research, including his tenure in the London Borough of Hackney as the UK’s first black director of education and his seminal study of youth policy and youth and community work in 16 towns and cities in England:  ‘In the Service of Black Youth –  a study of the political culture of youth and community work with black people in English cities’ (1981)

We strongly recommend the final report of the Shaping the Future seminars which is now available from the publications pages of ROTA’s website. Read the rest of this entry →

The Alfred Fagon Award 2013

December 2, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Speeches by Gus John

Each age has its own part to play in its destiny, its own mark to leave on time.  Each generation has its own mission to fulfil or betray.

Frantz Fanon

On Friday 29 November, I had the honour of presenting this year’s Alfred Fagon Award at the Tricycle Theatre. It was there in 1996 that a number of Alfred’s friends and family met and decided to establish an award to celebrate his life, acknowledge his contribution to theatre as a playwright and actor, honour his memory and keep his spirit alive by supporting the work of playwrights from the African Diaspora in the UK. A £5,000 prize is awarded to the writer who has, in the opinion of the judges, written the best stage play of the year. New as well as established writers are encouraged to enter.

Diana Nneka Atuona receives her award from Professor Gus John. Credits: Alfred Fagon Award

Diana Nneka Atuona receives her award from Professor Gus John. Credits: Alfred Fagon Award

The 2013 Alfred Fagon Award, the 17th, went to young playwright Diana Nneka Atuona for her first play, Liberian Girl, a play in which she explores the impact upon communities of Liberia’s devastating 14 year civil war.

On 29 August 1986, Alfred Fagon collapsed and died from a heart attack while jogging near his home in Lambeth, South London.  The police established that a heart attack caused his death and that he lived in an apartment in the building near where he was found.  They claimed that they could find nothing to identify him or find any information about family or friends and therefore arranged for him to be buried as unknown in a pauper’s grave.  It was some two weeks later that his agent, Harriet Cruickshank, was alerted that something was wrong when the BBC notified her that Alfred had failed to turn up to a meeting.  Among his belongings in that same apartment were his passport, letters from Harriet herself and from the Arts Council.

Alfred’s debut as a professional actor was in Mustapha Matura’s Black Pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1970.  This prompted him to write 11 Josephine House which was staged in 1972 at the Almost Free Theatre in London by director, Ronald Rees. Ronald Rees also directed Mustapha Matura’s As Time Goes By in 1971 at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Royal Court and the ICA with a cast that included Alfred Fagon, Stefan Kalipha, Mona Hammond, Oscar James, Robert Coleby, Corinne Skinner-Carter, Carole Hayman, T Bone Wilson and Tommy Eytle.

By the time of his death, Alfred had written and produced a number of other plays, including No Soldiers in St. Paul’s; In Shakespeare Country produced by the BBC in 1973, a play about the struggle to define and project black personality in a country dominated by Shakespeare; the Death of a Blackman’ (1975); Four Hundred Pounds (1983) and Lonely Cowboy (1985). Read the rest of this entry →