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 →

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 →

A tribute to Prince Joseph Lincoln Burke-Monerville

May 3, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Speeches by Gus John

The following address was delivered at Joseph Burke-Monerville‘s funeral. 

Condolences to John and Linda, Joseph’s parents and Jonathan and David, his brothers and all of the Burke-Monerville extended family. If I were to name you all, we’d be here till 6.00 o’clock… tomorrow morning.

Joseph Burke-Monerville (Credits: http://on.fb.me/Yk31Ii)

Joseph Burke-Monerville (Credits: http://on.fb.me/Yk31Ii)

I have witnessed close at hand your pain, your hurt and your grief these last weeks, and have had cause to applaud your faith, your resilience and generosity, even in your grief, and your togetherness as a family.

Let me express my special admiration for Jonathan, who in the last 11 weeks has borne the loss of his twin brother and best friend with immense courage and dignity, sustained by what I sense is an inner peace and deep faith, and above all, the knowledge that his beloved brother, though no longer with him in the mortal body, is as inseparable from him in spirit as they both were in life; sustained by the knowledge that the Creator and the Ascended Ancestors have welcomed him in glory to his eternal home.

We have gathered here to celebrate Joseph’s life and all that he was, and all that he gave because of who he was and how he lived.

But, even as we celebrate, we mourn.

We celebrate the fact that he was all he could be; but we mourn the fact that he was cut down in his prime and prevented from being all he aspired to be: an even more loving twin brother; a son of whom his parents could be justly proud; proud because of who he was as a person, his self-belief and how he lived his values; proud because of his achievements and his example to others. All he aspired to be: a loving sibling; a loving, funny and caring uncle and guardian; a role model to his siblings and his peers; a committed and active citizen; a successful and innovative forensic scientist.

As they mourn, one of the many things Jonathan, his parents and the entire family struggle with, – even as they give thanks for the fact that they did not lose three sons -, is the cruel irony that Joseph who so abhorred violence and loved peacefulness, who was always the one to make peace, was made the innocent victim of such gratuitous violence.

I deplore utterly the statement that is made too often in relation to incidents such as that which claimed his life and in which so many others like Joseph have lost their lives…, the statement that: ‘it was a tragic case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time’. Read the rest of this entry →

An eulogy to Willis Wilkie

February 22, 2013 in Blog, Speeches by Gus John

Every day in every community, ordinary working people do extraordinary acts of great selflessness and courage in the service of their community. We tend to hear and write about luminaries and celebrities and not about them.

I was privileged to be asked to join Fr Nigel Orchard at Christ the Redeemer C of E church in Hanwell, West London, on Friday 22 February 2013 to conduct a service to celebrate the life of one such active citizen, Willis Wilkie (3 Oct 1926 – 5 Feb 2013), who spent most of his life serving communities in the Borough of Ealing.

The eulogy I wrote and delivered at the service coincidentally cuts a swathe of social history through almost 60 years of Caribbean life in Britain. Read the rest of this entry →

Jayne Cortez: one last word

February 9, 2013 in Blog, Speeches by Gus John

On February 6th, professor Gus John joined Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers in New York to celebrate her life and work. Here’s Gus John’s tribute, which was read out during the ceremonyRead the rest of this entry →