The RSA Supplementary Schools Investigation

November 21, 2014 in Blog, Briefing note, Open letters by Gus John

Reading Aloud to Children

This comment is in response to a request from the Royal Society of Arts to join a group of 20 ‘experts’ and advise on a new ‘investigation’ into Supplementary Schools.

To place my comments in context, let me summarise the extent of my involvement with the Supplementary Schools movement.

I was one of the co-founders of the first supplementary school in Oxford in 1965, based in a community hall along Cowley Road in East Oxford. I was then a friar at Blackfriars Priory in St Giles and a theological student there and at the university. I was also the education secretary and Chair of the Education Sub-committee of what would today be called the Oxford Race Equality Council, but was then named the Oxford Council for Racial Integration.

In 1968, I started the first Saturday/Supplementary School in Handsworth, Birmingham, with a group of colleagues, some of them African-Caribbean students at Birmingham University. A major issue for us then was teachers’ dismissive attitude towards and wrongful classification of the home languages of African-Caribbean students (something about which I have written extensively since; cf John 2006: Taking a Stand – Gus John Speaks on education, race, social action and civil unrest 1980-2005).

Those students were generally thought to be speaking ‘bad’ English, with the capacity neither to make themselves understood, nor to understand their students and white English peers. Teachers therefore tended to assume that such students were academically backward and incapable of high attainment. Read the rest of this entry →

Unveiling of African and Caribbean War Memorial

November 11, 2014 in Blog, Highlights, Speeches by Gus John

The UK’s first African and Caribbean War Memorial at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. Photo: BrixtonBuzz

The UK’s first African and Caribbean War Memorial at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. Photo: BrixtonBuzz

Prof Gus John delivered the following speech at the unveiling ceremony of the War Memorial to African & Caribbean Servicemen and Women in Brixton, London:

Before I pour Libation and acknowledge the spirit of all those Africans who gave their lives in the first and second world wars, let me make a few brief comments.

We are gathered here today, not to glorify war. The monument we are about to unveil is not to glorify war. War remains forever inglorious, whether you are victor or vanquished!

Nor does this monument represent jingoistic, or even pious, adulation of the bravery, selflessness and sacrifice of the Africans who served in the British Armed Forces. Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

SBL… and things that are defined as real

August 27, 2014 in Blog by Gus John

Royal Courts of Justice ("Courts' Closed") by Chris Kealy (Flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Royal Courts of Justice (“Courts’ Closed”) by Chris Kealy (Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If anyone were to suggest to SBL members that that acronym translates as a ‘Stinking Bunch of Layabouts – who cannot be depended upon to act with integrity’, rather than the Society of Black Lawyers, there would no doubt be outrage to the extent that SBL members would reach for the nearest lawyer, with protests such as: disgraceful, disgusting, defamatory… and no doubt more.

When in May this year the Solicitors Regulation Authority published my report of the independent comparative case review of disproportionality in regulatory action and outcomes for BME solicitors which they commissioned me to conduct in July 2012, SBL sent a note round to its members decrying the findings of the review and suggesting, in terms, that I must have received my ‘thirty pieces of silver’ in return for not concluding that the SRA had discriminated against black and ethnic minority solicitors and was guilty of institutional racism.

There then followed a SBL press release which charged that the report was ‘fundamentally flawed’, with one of the ‘flaws’ being a potential conflict of interest, the alleged details of which formed absolutely no part of my report. Read the rest of this entry →