Where Now for Black History Month?

November 3, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

"African Diaspora" by beautifulcataya (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“African Diaspora” by beautifulcataya (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most every year at this time, a debate ensues about the purpose, merits and direction of Black History Month (BHM), a debate fuelled in the main by frustration about the focus of BHM programmes over the preceding four weeks. 

On Thursday 31 October 2013, some 1,000 people gathered at the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Allenbury Road, Greenford, for the funeral of the publisher and political activist Jessica Huntley and to acknowledge and celebrate her distinctive contribution to British schooling, British social history and Black History over the last half a century.

One of the many educational and inspirational events Jessica organized and contributed to in the period before her death was a debate in November 2012 about ‘the way forward for Black History Month in the UK’.  On 22 February 2013, Nubian Jak organized a symposium at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London, on a proposal for an annual ‘African Heritage Month International‘ celebration in February.  On February 23rd, the 8th Huntley Conference was held at the London Metropolitan Archives. This also marked Jessica’s 86th birthday and turned out to be her last conference.

I was unable to contribute to the Huntley debate but wrote this paper for the Africa Centre symposium.  I reproduce it here because among the very many discussions that took place around Jessica’s funeral about the many projects she was actively involved with up to the day before she passed on, was one about her take on the future of Black History Month. Read the rest of this entry →

SRA report shows small improvement in staff diversity

June 21, 2013 in Blog, Gus in the Media, Print

This article was edited and published by LawCareers.Net

The Solicitors Regulation Authority‘s (SRA) annual equality report has this year shown a small improvement in the diversity of its own employees. Black and minority ethnic (BME) staff now comprise 15% of the SRA’s workforce, up slightly from 13% last year, and the percentage of male staff has also increased from 29% to 33%.

Gus John_Broken Britain

However, the SRA’s separate diversity monitoring report for 2012 revealed bad news. The report, which examined diversity across the legal profession, shows that BME lawyers are still disproportionately represented in what the SRA has called its “regulatory decisions”, which means that BME lawyers are disproportionately subjected to more complaints and disciplinary procedures than their white colleagues. An independent comparative case review, led by Professor Gus John (pictured, right), has been commissioned to find out why and suggest remedies. Read the rest of this entry →

“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

‘The university professor is always white’

February 2, 2013 in Blog

"Empty Seats" by Benson Kua (Flickr - BY-SA 2.0)

“Empty Seats” by Benson Kua (Flickr – BY-SA 2.0)

Rachel Williams’ disturbing feature (‘The university professor is always white’) comes at a time when this government is hell bent on removing the public sector equality duty from the compliance requirements of the Equality Act 2010. Already, the Coalition Government has effectively neutered the Equality and Human Rights Commission and rendered it a hollow shell that could easily be made to disappear without anyone missing it.

Williams’ piece rightly pointed to the bold initiative the chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies took 18 months ago in pursuit of gender equality by requiring medical schools seeking biomedical research grants to demonstrate evidence of supporting women’s career progression.

One of the dangers some of us foresaw in joining up the various equality strands into a single equality act was that public bodies that had shown so little evidence of engagement with anti-discrimination legislation and of promoting gender, race and disability equality would be even less focused on improving their performance in respect of those three strands, let alone promoting equality for the additional number of groups (6) with protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Read the rest of this entry →

New World Steel Orchestra: a goodwill message

January 27, 2013 in Blog

New World Steel Orchestra performs during the Leeds Carnival back in 2008 (Credits: http://on.fb.me/XEe8tO)

The New World Steel Orchestra performing at the Leeds Carnival back in 2008. (Credits: http://on.fb.me/XEe8tO)

It gives me great pleasure to publish this message, marking the achievements of the New World Steel Orchestra (NWSO) in Chapeltown Leeds in 2012.

Among those achievements were the massive contribution they made to the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival and the memorial for the late Dr Geraldine Connor, musicologist and choreographer for NWSO, who for many years inspired the growth of the Carnival and the development of the steel orchestra. In her last publication before her untimely death, Pan! The Steelband Movement in Britain, Geraldine Connor (2011) wrote:

The steelband is not only the greatest acoustic musical invention of the 20th Century, it is also an exceptional reflection of the resourcefulness, inventiveness and sheer survivalist mentality that we as a Caribbean people possess. Within Caribbean communities abroad, the intersection between history, identity and cultural expression significantly informs our interpretation of our heritage. Arthur France MBE and New World Symphony Orchestra are a living embodiment of this phenomenon’.

Each year, December seems to come along more speedily than ever, calling on us to reflect upon successes and defeats and renew our hope for success in meeting the challenges that lie ahead. Read the rest of this entry →