When Stephen met Trayvon

July 23, 2013 in Blog

Credits: "Stephen Lawrence memorial", by Darryl_SE7 (Flickr - CC BY-NC 2.0)

Credits: “Stephen Lawrence memorial”, by Darryl_SE7 (Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0)

Stephen Lawrence – 1993 to 2013 and continuing… Trayvon Martin – 2012 to 2013 and continuing… So, who will guard and police the guards? Who and what are those guards protecting and on whose behalf?

When does ‘neighbourhood watch’ morph into vigilantism, with vigilantes exercising what they see as their moral and God-given right to determine who is acceptable in a neighbourhood and who is not; who could go visit residents without fear of challenge and who should just know that, if they do, they are eligible to be challenged by those who appoint themselves as gatekeepers to exclude people like them?

Who has the inalienable right to walk the street and go wherever they like, irrespective of their dress code and who does not? Who are immediately identified with those of their ethnic or social group who commit crime and engage in anti-social behaviour and from whom the same could be expected automatically and who are not?

Who can presume to have the protection of the law and the services of the police when their rights have been infringed and their person or/and property violated and who cannot?

Why should any society presume that it is held together by liberal democratic values and principles and can export those to, if not impose them upon, others when from childhood every African heritage person born in that country learns that they carry an ethnic penalty that restricts their freedom of movement and access to opportunity and that they forget that fundamental fact at their peril? Read the rest of this entry →

Gus John joins Jayne Cortez celebration

February 9, 2013 in Blog

It was a huge honour to be invited to join Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers at the celebration of her life in New York on Wednesday, 6 February 2013.

The celebration took place in a most fitting venue, the Great Hall of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859. The building — today a New York City landmark — quickly became a common meeting place of intellectuals, inventors, tinkerers, and people from across the social strata. Perhaps its greatest feature was the Great Hall.

"Lisette Santiago" by Margaret Busby (Picasa - BY-NC-ND 3.0)

“Lisette Santiago” by Margaret Busby (Picasa – BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Cooper Union website records that:

The Great Hall of The Cooper Union has stood for more than a century as a bastion of free speech and a witness to the flow of American history and ideas. When the hall opened in 1858, more than a year in advance of the completion of the institution, it quickly became a mecca for all interested in serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day.

The Great Hall was the platform for some of the earliest workers’ rights campaigns and for the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the women’s suffrage movement and the American Red Cross. To the Great Hall’s podium has come a pageant of famous Americans — rebels and reformers, poets and presidents. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama all spoke there. Besides Woodrow Wilson, two other incumbent presidents have spoken in the Great Hall: William Jefferson Clinton, who, on May 12, 1993, delivered a major economic address on reducing the federal deficit and Barack Obama, who, on April 22, 2010, gave an important speech on economic regulation and the financial markets.

During the past century’s times of tremendous upheaval, it was through meetings in Cooper’s famous auditorium that the politics and legislation necessary to build a humane city took shape.

In that place, steeped in the history of the birth of social movements, the contestations of ideas and ideologies and the shaping of liberation struggles, some of the most progressive voices and talents gathered to honour an extraordinary woman with an equally extraordinary talent, Jayne Cortez.

In a programme moderated by Danny Glover, actor, film director, political activist, ally and dear friend of Jayne and husband Mel Edwards, poets, academics, musicians, cultural and political activists gathered to honour Jayne Cortez and celebrate her life. Read the rest of this entry →

Three Cheers for Kevin-Prince Boateng

January 6, 2013 in Blog

AC Milan’s friendly match against fourth-tier side Pro Patria was abandoned less than half way into the game when midfielder Boateng took off his short and walked off the pitch in protest against racist chants from Pro Patria fans.

Although Pro Patria’s Dario Alberto Polverini attempted to talk to Boateng as he left the pitch (see video below), Boateng was having none of it. To their credit, the other Milan players and officials followed him off the pitch. Other fans remonstrated against those who had indulged in the racist chanting against Boateng, Mbaye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari.


Boateng’s courageous action brings that bit closer the day when black players take similar action against racist abuse by fans, other players or referees during a premier league, champions league or other competitive match. Whether Boateng would have taken similar action during one such match is beside the point. The fact is that he was justified in making that protest in this instance. It was the first time that an entire team supported a black player against racist abuse by walking off the pitch with him. Read the rest of this entry →

Jayne Cortez: one last tribute

January 5, 2013 in Blog

We mourn our sister’s passing and give the Creator thanks for her purposeful and inspirational life that enriched us so very much and made us so much stronger and more resolute in struggle.

She was in every sense a kindred spirit and a clarion voice, making the medium of poetry work in ways that many traditionalists found bewildering, especially in the academy.

As synchronicity would have it, we are remembering and celebrating all she gave to us even as we are congratulating our brother Linton Kwesi Johnson for his equally unique bending of the medium in the service of the Jamaican language and his dynamic bilingualism as a world first that eminently qualified him for the Golden Pen award.

May we ever celebrate and validate our prophetic voices and see them as the gifts of the Universe that they are, loaned to us for a purpose and for a time, and abandon the tendency to take them and their presence among us and as part of us for granted.

Our Sister Jayne remains very much a part of us through the impact she has had, the way she touched us individually and through the immortality of her words and of her fighting and liberating spirit. Read the rest of this entry →

Intercultural dialogue between Europe and Islam

November 1, 2012 in Gus talks, Lectures

On October 31st, professor Gus John delivered a research seminar entitled “Intercultural Dialogue and Mutual Respect between Europe and Islam – The challenge for Education” at the University of Birmingham. Here is the lecture in full:

Let me thank my friend and comrade Dave Gillborn for nominating me to deliver this lecture and thank the School of Education for the invitation to do so.

Professor David Gillborn is one of the few academics in this country who has courageously and consistently engaged education practitioners, policymakers and fellow academics on the issue of race, ethnicity and education in the last period, especially in this era of neo-liberalism and the marketization of schooling and education.  We owe a lot to him for his clarity of vision, the incisiveness of his analysis, the relevance of his research and his perseverance in encouraging teachers, students and voluntary education projects to be bold, to think outside the box and to challenge establishment ‘wisdom’. Activists for children’s education rights, like myself, in communities across the country, continue to look to him for academic research evidence and policy analysis to support our perennial struggles.  For me, and I dare to say it in this forum, that is an even more critical endorsement for any academic than the validation of one’s peers.  It therefore gives me great pleasure to be able to share some thoughts with you today to mark the start of Prof Gillborn’s professorship at this university.

Read the rest of this entry →