A tribute to Athelston Winston Best

March 29, 2014 in Blog

It is impossible to speak or write about the British schooling system and its engagement with the post-war Black presence these last 50 years without calling the name, Winston Best, over and over again.  Without doubt, Winston stands in the vanguard of the black working class movement in education and schooling as both an educator and an activist.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Winston (pictured right) was born on 15 August 1930 in Sugar Hill, St Joseph, Barbados, the first of six children of Luther and Lillian Best. Luther was a road builder and Lillian a market trader. Winston was big brother to Eulene, Gloria, Moriah, Lloyd and Owen. Gloria in Canada, Moriah in Brooklyn, Owen in Atlanta, Lloyd in Barbados and Eulene in Ipswich, East Anglia. Winston and later Lloyd came to England, Lloyd returning to Barbados after almost 40 years.

Winston attended Southborough Boys School, Clifton Hill, St Thomas. At that time, only primary schooling was free. Winston’s parents paid for him to attend secondary school. After secondary school, he left and went to work in Curacao where he spent 12 years with Shell doing oil refining. He became very active in labour organisation there with Len and Albert Mason.

Winston was therefore able to assist his parents in paying for his siblings to attend secondary school; he makes particular mention of Lloyd at Cumbermere and Owen at Lodge School. Lodge School was one of the most racially segregated schools in Barbados. Winston acknowledged that Patrick Simmons, former Barbados High Commissioner in England, was one of those who was instrumental in helping to break down what Winston described as the ‘apartheid schooling system’ at Lodge School and in Barbados generally.

In time, Winston took charge of the care of his parents. His mother died in 1984. Mert Pitt, childhood friend of Winston and lifelong friend of the Best family, helped to care for his mother in her twilight years. Read the rest of this entry →

Could you name a British black intellectual, now Stuart Hall has gone?

February 15, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The Guardian newspaper published the article below on 15/02/2014

As a pioneer of cultural studies and coiner of the term “Thatcherism”,Prof Stuart Hall, who died this week, was in the truest sense a public intellectual. He was also something else: probably the only black British intellectual who most people could readily name.

A bit of prompting might produce mention of Paul Gilroy of King’s College, author of The Empire Strikes Back and Black Atlantic, who has recently returned to Britain after several years in America’s more fertile ebony towers. But how many other black British thinkers have a public profile? Read the rest of this entry →

Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall Dies, Aged 82

February 10, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

Stuart Hall. Photo: The Voice (http://bit.ly/MEM5wE)

Stuart Hall. Photo: The Voice (http://bit.ly/MEM5wE)

JAMAICAN CULTURAL theorist Stuart Hall has died aged 82, according to reports.

Hall, who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, studied at Oxford and emerged as one of Britain’s leading sociologists.

Last autumn, Hall was brought to the big screen, in The Stuart Hall Project, a documentary and labour of love from acclaimed director John Akomfrah, for whom the academic is a personal hero.

Akomfrah said: “Stuart Hall was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing, or running…he was a kind of rock star for us [black teenage bookworms], a pop icon with brains whose very iconic presence on this most public of platforms – television – suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.” Read the rest of this entry →

Making the future we face the future Britain we want

January 7, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

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 →

Barbados thanks God for Margaret Thatcher

November 19, 2013 in Blog

Two church events took place in Barbados on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th November respectively, each in thanksgiving and celebration of a life and in each case, a life lived in Britain.

On Saturday 16 November, at the magnificent St Matthew’s Church, Hothersal Turning, St Michael, Barbados, the funeral and burial service took place of Ralph Adolphus Straker, BSM, OBE, who had arrived in London from Barbados on 31 August 1956 to work on London Transport. Throughout his 57 years in the UK, Ralph Straker struggled against state-sponsored racism and for racial equality and social justice. He died in London on 12 October 2013, aged 76. The service was conducted by the Rt Rev Bishop Wilfred Wood, an anti-racist activist himself and the first African Church of England Bishop in the UK, now retired to his native Barbados.

"THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER", by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER”, by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

On Sunday 17 November, at St Mary’s Church, Jubilee Gardens, Bridgetown, Barbados, a Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service for Baroness Margaret Thatcher (pictured right) was held. Jubilee Gardens was established to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The land on which St Mary’s Church was built served as a burial ground for the non-white residents of the City of Bridgetown during the 45 years between the destruction by hurricane of the first St Michael’s Cathedral in 1780 and the construction of St Mary’s Church beginning in 1825. Officiating at that service, under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Barbados and the British High Commissioner, were the Bishop of Barbados, who delivered the sermon, the Dean of St Michael’s Cathedral and the Rector of St Mary’s.

The letter of invitation to the Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service, sent by Owen O Eversley OBE, founder of the Barbadian Families and Friends Relocation Association (BFFRA), stated:

‘It was Baroness Thatcher’s Conservative Party that from 1955–1965 opened the door for thousands of Barbadians of all ages to migrate to the UK, voluntary (sic) or on a contractual capacity, e.g., nurses, London Transport, British Rail, Lyons, etc. It was also the Conservative Party that lifted the imposed monetary restrictions from £10-£50 back to normal. It also introduced the ‘Right to buy housing’ policy which benefited many Barbadians. It is for those reasons this service was conceptualised’.

The contrast between these two conversations with God could not be more stark. Indeed, given what those of us who spoke at Ralph Straker’s funeral at St Mark’s Church, Dalston, in the borough of Hackney on 9 November had cause to remember, his life was extraordinary not on account of birth or title but because of his relentless struggle against what Margaret Thatcher herself and her Party in government had done and were still doing to African and Asian people ever since Ralph Straker first arrived in the UK. Read the rest of this entry →