Community Engagement: Black History Month – October 2023 

Community outreach and public engagement is, and has been, an important aspect of the Windrush Scandal in a Transnational and Commonwealth Context project with activities taking place across the year.  In Black History Month these activities often increase in response to invitations to speak at events organised by external entities. 

The Windrush Scandal: A Longer History – Saturday, 14 October 2023 

The first of the events for BHM in October 2023 took place on the evening of Saturday, 14th October and followed an invitation from Dr Helen Paul, a historian and member of the Museum of Slavery and Freedom, to speak to an audience of local residents in Deptford’s A. P. T. Gallery.  The gallery’s multi-media interactive exhibition Arrivals/Departures, was at the time exploring how to engage with migrations and Diasporas in a ‘planetary and local Deptford context’.  It felt like the ideal location for a talk on the unfolding of the Windrush Scandal and the long history of hostile environment policies and practices.  Given the multi-media context of the gallery the talk also drew upon poetry and offered a response to the question posed by the Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley in the final stanza of Colonization in Reverse (1966): 

What a devilment a Englan! 
Dem face war and brave de worse, 
But me wondering how dem gwine stan 
Colonizin in reverse. 

The relatively small space, and intimate audience of around 12 to 15 people, helped to amplified the excitement of hearing excerpts from the oral history interviews that had been conducted as part of the Nationality, Identity and Belonging scoping project and led to a thoroughly engaging post-talk discussion.  It was surprising to discover that two members of the audience were not only residents of Deptford but also the sister and brother-in-law of Amelia Gentleman.   

Saluting our Sisters: Celebrating Black Women – Tuesday, 17th October 2023 

The second event of the month came as a result of an invitation to speak at the Mayor’s annual Black History Month reception, Saluting our Sisters – Celebrating Black Women.  I had never previously attended an event at City Hall and had excitedly agreed to speak on a panel with the formidable immigration lawyer, Jacqueline McKenzie (the Chair) and co-panellists: the survivor-activist Glenda Caesar, and the former barrister who notably resigned as Head of Policy in the Windrush compensation scheme, Alexandra Ankrah.   

At the time of accepting the invitation, I had not realised how privileged I would feel, nor how moving it would be, to be in the company of over 300 people from across London’s diverse Black communities.  The event highlighted the crucial role that Black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change and building communities.  Suddenly I was in close proximity to women (too many to mention) that I’d always admired from afar.  The event also gave me the opportunity to catch up with Dawn Butler MP, one of the project’s oral history respondents, and to have my photograph taken with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and other speakers at the event. 

The panel discussion provided an excellent forum for building awareness and interest around the IHR’s Windrush Scandal in a Transnational and Commonwealth Context project.  It also led to interesting pre-panel discussions with Glenda Caesar about her own ‘child Q’ incident (partially retold in Hannah Francis’s ‘Black Parents’ Movement’ on page 221 of Many Struggles (2023) edited by Hakim Adi) and friendships her parents had had with high profile activists like the late Darcus Howe and Professor Gus John.  The stories she shared dramatically reframed my earlier limited understanding of her experiences as a survivor of the Windrush Scandal and relationship to the British State.  We both agreed we would reconnect in the near future to produce a podcast that reflected on the recording conducted for the earlier scoping project, from her now-perspective as an activist.    

The podcast will be signposted here and made available via the podcast page on completion. 

The Windrush Scandal and Reparations – Monday, 24th October 2023 

As a project, we have previously contributed to radio discussions on the Windrush Scandal but none that attempted to draw a direct link between the legacies of Empire, the scandal and the growing demands for reparations.  When Maureen Grant, a Bradford Community Broadcasting radio station volunteer, invited me to join her, Goodie Okechukwu, Shamarley Fontaine and Martin Scott in conversation I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to share insights from the Windrush Scandal Conference (19th June at the IHR) and from the two-day UK Reparations Conference, which I’d attended on 21st and 22nd October.  The latter had been organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Afrikan Reparations, which is chaired by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, and was held at the Friends Meeting House in Euston. 

Maureen had importantly indicated in a pre-show discussion that an understanding of the Windrush Scandal was sorely needed in the Bradford area as some scepticism remained as to the extent and significance of the scandal.  She had thus asked questions about the unfolding of the scandal and its impact, about the adequacy of the government’s response to the Wendy William’s Windrush Lessoned Learned Review and if there have been a cultural shift in the Home Office’s behaviour when dealing with those affected by its hostile environment policies.  She’d closed with questions about our thoughts on reparations, what difference we thought reparations would make, and how we viewed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s refusal to apologise for the UK’s role in slavery.   

The discussion was rich but inevitably time-limited.   Since 25.5% of the audience in Bradford identifies as being of Pakistani origin (the second largest percentage nationally) and includes a not insignificant number of people of Indian, Bangladeshi, Black or Mixed heritage (see 2021 census) I nevertheless hoped that the broadcast would help to increase awareness of the Windrush Scheme and its applicability to a wider range of people than the commonly used title of ‘Windrush’ scandal suggests.   

Bradford Community Radio offers a listen again service.  Anyone interested in listening to this or any other archived broadcasts, should click here. 

Women of the Windrush Generation – Thursday, 26th October 2023 

Outreach on the topic of the Windrush Scandal is of vital importance but as we wanted to end Black History Month on an uplifting note, I decided to invite two women to talk in Senate House about the shaping of their successful careers after migrating to the UK from the Caribbean.  The event Women of the Windrush Generation sought to explore similarities and differences of experience by selecting two speakers, Joyce Trotman and Sherlene Rudder OBE who came from different generations, different parts of the Caribbean and had had worked in different job sectors before retiring.  Joyce, mid-90s, and born in what is now the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana, had become a teacher and the Head of Remedial Department at the Scott Lidgett Boys’ Comprehensive School in Bermondsey.  Sherlene, in her 70s, had moved to Britain from Barbados in 1963 and had become a specialist sickle cell thalassemia nurse and health visitor. 

The discussion had touched on their memories of their colonial education, their journey to Britain as British subjects and the strategies they had used in their attempts to transcend the racism they had faced.  Whilst Joyce shared rich memories of school and the poems they’d been taught, Sherlene recalled being inspired by her great grandmother, one of the first community midwives in St Lucie, Barbados. 

In this imperfect recording of the event (it is a splicing together of two separate recordings) you can hear Joyce Trotman singing a ‘rap’ at 11:48 minutes of John Keat’s There was a Naughty Boy (1818), which she’d performed as a school child. 

The Bedford Room setting in Senate House made for a snug event with an audience of around 35 people.  And if I had to end with three words that characterised the event they would be: pride, family and laughter! 

Black History Month 2023

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