My Cultural Review of 2020 part two: Nos 11-20

 No11: Icon. David Olusoga
I could award this for his Twitter feed alone. In a year of racial reckoning his insights and cultural crusade stood strong. Book. Talks. Essays. Bristol TV series https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b09l64y9/a-house-through-time and the BBC Obama interview. Peerless.

No12: News. Christine Amanpour. CNN
An extraordinary year at home and abroad with podcasts and TV programme on in-depth interviews from Covid to Black Lives Matter. She also graciously shares interviewing duties with her team. I really enjoyed BBC interview with her on her journalistic career from her birth in Iran to her coverage on the Iraq War. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000jf7v
https://edition.cnn.com/audio/podcasts/amanpour

No13: News. Marcus Rashford Feeding Britain’s Children. BBC

In a year of heart-breaking news quite how a kid born into poverty Marcus Rashford and his Mum made child hunger & #foodbanks an issue in the 6th richest country in the world is extraordinary. Both a national treasure and a national disgrace. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000qq41 

No 14: Theatre: National Theatre – Death of England – Delroy

One thing I’ve missed more than anything is live performance @national theatre tried to re-imagine the process with their back catalogue shown online Bristol Old Vic also kept the home flag flying during the summer. Delroy was my personal fave. https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/death-of-england-delroy 

No15: Online Events: St Pauls Carnival and Bristol Museums.
The innovation of Latoyah McAllister-Jones, Marti Burgess and Edson Burton as the creative juice for the first British Digital Caribbean Carnival meant we could still keep the culture and connect safely. https://www.stpaulscarnival.net/carnival2020 Enjoyed being part of Brizzle Week too and my article here. https://www.bristol247.com/opinion/your-say/bristol-my-brizzle-1/ 

No16: TV. I May Destroy You. BBC
Rarely do I watch something as ground-breaking and innovative as this jaw-dropping BBC drama from Michela Cohen that stuck two fingers up at any red lines… Great to see a different view of modern Black-British life. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m000jyxy/i-may-destroy-you

No17: Book: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Rarely make the time to read fiction but Colson Whitehead writes about the horrors of racism with such economy and skill. Back-to-Back Pulitzers after Underground Railroad. https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/colson-whitehead-0

No 18: RIP Good Trouble John Lewis
A fitting tribute to an extraordinary life in this poignant documentary gave a wonderful guide to his life of public service and fighting injustice. https://www.johnlewisgoodtrouble.com/ 

No 19: Music: Fight The Power 2020 by Public Enemy

Fight The Power Public Enemy Do The Right Thing had reboot from Nas, Rapsody YG & Black Thought Video depicts Black Lives Matter protesters during pandemic. Chuck D Flava Flav and crew still unapologetic after all these years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNUl8bAKdi4

No 20: TV. Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip Channel 4
Quite simply if we are to dismantle structural racism it will need more understanding for people to go on journey’s and understand its toxicity and (effect). Perry does so in wonderful insightful style in the Black capital of US Atlanta not only opening up but showing a lot of joy and love too. https://www.channel4.com/programmes/grayson-perrys-big-american-road-trip

Continue reading “My Cultural Review of 2020 part two: Nos 11-20”

My Cultural Review of 2020 part one: No 1-10

No one needs reminding what an unforgettable year this has been. 2020 was the year health, race and economic pandemics joined the environmental pandemic a set of crises that I hope we will spend our futures overcoming collectively.
Culture still stands strong as something that unites us all to enrich our mind, bodies and souls. The show still goes on and the arts became even more valued as we learned new skills or picked up old favourites to escape from the global chaos. In 2020 we saw how culture brought individuals together as global citizens. It encompassed the news, politics, sport and more. Here are my #20from2020 cultural picks in no particular order that I treasured the most. That I tweeted out over twenty days last There were many more let me know what I made your list.

 

No 1: TV. Small Axe Films by Steve McQueen. BBC
Five magnificent cinematic televisual experiences from the ground-breaking Steve McQueen’s Opus. The five films: Mangrove. Lovers Rock. Red, White and Blue. Alex Wheatle and Education. Their excellence will leave a valuable footprint of Black British History for generations. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08vxt33 McQueen also invited all of London’s Year 3 children to participate in an exhibition at Tate Modern.

 

No 2: Book. A Promised Land by Barak Obama
A Promised Land gives us insight, fresh hope and understanding from President Barack Obama who is missed more with every passing day. An inspiration for us all to make continued change. Looking to bring my play about his life and presidency Dreams Of My Fathers which I wrote this year on stage in 2021. Extracts of from his own readings https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000qh4t

No 3: Icon. Bernadine Evaristo
The 2019 Booker Prize Winner for Girl Woman Other topped book the charts championed race, gender and was an inspiration to us all. Along with her academic work she gained the ultimate cultural accolade by being the subject for Melvyn Bragg South Bank Show now moved to free to air Sky Arts. https://www.sky.com/watch/title/series/0433749a-b3c5-40c7-b52d-58cb84814553/the-south-bank-show/episodes/season-10/episode-2

No 4: Wow Moment of 2020. The Removal of the Edward Colston Statue. You Tube
I’m still stunned that this actually occurred. A number of us were sheltering in place, watching the Bristol Black Lives Matter protest unfold online. This included Cleo Lake whose work here with Countering Colston should not be forgotten when I got a text. Like it or not, it catapulted Bristol into cultural spotlight with the ensuing debates likely to last for decades. In a remarkable piece of symmetry it was referenced in Reverend Al Sharpton’s powerful eulogy at the funeral of George Floyd. Was also highlighted in a BBC news programme by locals Ngaio and Michael Jenkins. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000l5mn

 No 5: Health Documentary. Is Covid Racist? Channel 4

The global health pandemic and race examined were examined in forensic style by Dr Ronx Ikharia. 

A necessarily painful injection of truth and reality on the deaths of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic essential and medical workers and the wilful government ignorance. https://www.channel4.com/programmes/is-covid-racist

No6: RIP Chadwick Boseman Ma Rainey’s Bottom. Netflix

The Black Panther star was not only one of the finest actors of our times but a supreme spokesperson on race equality and importance cultural representation. His final screen performance is now on Netflix from the pen of dramatist August Wilson in Ma Rainey’s Bottom. I’m predicting Oscar glory too for Chadwick and stunning performance from Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. https://www.netflix.com/title/81100780

No 7: Music: Kiwanuka. Michael Kiwanuka
My fave UK artist bagged the big UK 2020 Mercury Prize. His back catalogue and live performances are better but this still delights. Wonderful insightful lyrics on race, mental health and identity in the fine traditions of Joan Armatrading’s guitar folk-soul. https://www.mercuryprize.com/news/michael-kiwanuka-wins-the-2020-hyundai-mercury-prize#:~:text=Michael%20Kiwanuka%20has%20been%20announced,One%20Show%20on%20BBC%20One.

No 8: Book – African Europeans, An Untold History: Olivette Otele
Quite a year for our Olivette. Chairing the Bristol Commissioners for Race Equality, Booker Prize judge and continued work to contextualise slavery and its legacy at University of Bristol. In this book she chronicles the link between the African Diaspora and Europe and highlighted the excellent work of a number or women of colour in Bristol.

No 9 News: Question Time – Bonnie Grier on Trauma and Anti-Semitism and Rosie Jones on the Disabled rights. BBC

Not sure whether I should throw my TV out the window sometimes with QT but I’m commending two appearances stood out educating government panel members and us at home alike. UK/US national treasure Bonnie Grier post the review on anti-Semitism in the Labour party on trauma and the responsibilities of those in power https://twitter.com/bbcquestiontime/status/1321949826838368256?s=20 Was matched by comedian Rosie Jones speech for disability rights and greater action. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/rosie-jones-question-time-matt-hancock-b1722374.html and an educational nod to the documentary Crip Camp.

 

 No 10: Film Clemency
At times this was more horror film than drama. The Hollywood directorial debut of Nigerian-American Chinonye Chukwu also wrote this chilling human study of the effects of Death Row. Actor-activist Alfre Woodard’s extraordinary performance was overlooked in Oscars but her civil-rights work has not. The mass incarceration and criminal justice system highlighting racial injustice over centuries were already a national disgrace. However this barbaric system plumbed new depths by Trump’s presidential orders to execute several more African-Americans on his way out of the Oval Office. I was proud to host special Deaf Conversations About Cinema with David Ellington for Watershed Bristol https://www.watershed.co.uk/whatson/10492/deaf-conversations-about-cinema-online-clemency

Continue reading “My Cultural Review of 2020 part one: No 1-10”

Windrush Generations: Digital Community Legacy Project

Students and community members are being invited to help celebrate the Windrush Generation in Bristol in a joint project working with the local community from UWE Bristol. The collaboration will involve students working alongside generations of Caribbean community members to record and document the stories related to their lives in Bristol and Britain.

The Windrush Generation refers to people arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries and their descendants who have contributed much to Bristol and British society. It refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which docked in Tilbury on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, to help fill post-war UK labour shortages.

This Project aims to explore, celebrate and document the contribution of the Windrush Generations in Bristol and British societies and across the African Diaspora. It provides an opportunity for UWE students to work in partnership with community members, historians and interested parties.
The project is being led by Roger Griffith, MBE, an associate lecturer in ACE, Alisha Airey, BAME Project Officer for HAS and Mian Ng Associate Head of Department at the International Creative Industries. UWE alumni students Millie Wood Downie, Benjamin James and Izzy Jack who will be working on the project through Creative Connex, delivering digital marketing resources and engagement via social media.

It will consist of a series of workshops including a series of mini-lectures from leading artistic and community leaders in Bristol. They will give some of the background to the lives of the Bristol Caribbean community in order to highlight the successes and challenges of adapting to life in Britain through the generations. It will culminate in students and community members delivering artistic expressions through stories, research, art, photographs, artefacts or poetry and a celebratory event to share learning on Windrush Day 22nd June 2021.

Roger said: ‘’The overall aim is to encourage an intergenerational collaborative project which develops the interpersonal, self-expression and creative skills of students and community members, It seeks to give voice to Caribbean elders’ experiences and their resilience and tenacity and highlights the amazing contribution they have made to the UK multicultural society and across the African Diaspora.”

Anyone who wishes to find out more please contact the Project Team members. Roger roger.griffith@uwe.ac.uk Alisha alisha.airey@uwe.ac.uk or Mian mian.ng@uwe.ac.uk

Here is a short video made by future guest lecturer Michael Jenkins of 8th Sense Media commissioned by My Future My Choice on which features the voices of Roy Hackett and Roger’s Mum Arabella https://bit.ly/WindrushAnimation

Launching a new way of working: Creative Connex

Click the link to see the video from our team members Millie Wood Downie and Benjamin James

https://bit.ly/YouTubeCCrebrand 

Creative Connex are a team of community consultants using social activism to provide diverse and inclusive opportunities and marketing for under-represented groups.

We have delivered several successful media, creative and artistic projects engaging diverse communities. These include consultation programmes, training and development in diversity and inclusion, digital marketing projects. Our clients include UWE Bristol, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bath Spa University, South Gloucestershire Race Equality Network, Diversity Trust and Ujima Radio. We have worked with and delivered for a host of organisations including Avon & Somerset Police, NHS, Bristol City Council, Bristol Old Vic, Watershed, several universities, schools, artistic organisations, and community organisations.

Why Change? Creative Connex Company Statement on our rebranding

With times and situations changing so rapidly I have spent this difficult period reflecting on how best to move forward. I have been re-imagining how we deliver improved future services as well as providing opportunities to engage, discuss, learn, create and connect. Continue reading “Launching a new way of working: Creative Connex”

Back to Life The Murder of Emmett Till, I Have A Dream and Bristol Bus Boycott

     

CONNECTING HISTORY BACK TO LIFE – 28th AUGUST 1955-2020
THE DEATH OF EMMETT TILL, I HAVE A DREAM AND THE BRISTOL BUS BOYCOTT

Today marks sixty-five years since the murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, USA. His punishment for the alleged crime of whistling at a white woman, was to be abducted, beaten, shot and tossed into the Tallahatiche River. His mother’s decision to have an open casket and let the world see the horror of what his murderers did to her 14-year old’ mutilated body radicalised a generation of future black leaders. They included John Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and many unknown foot soldiers who proudly called themselves ‘Emmett Till men’ who went on to devote their lives to getting into ‘good trouble’. They knew it could easily have been one of them, one black life indistinguishable and unloved from another.

Later that in that year of 1955, Rosa Parkes would defy instructions to move from her seat from the front to the back of the bus. This put women at their rightful place at the centre of the battle for social justice. She would be joined by a young Reverend Martin Luther King on an arduous year-long campaign for civil rights and social justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

On 28th August 1963 Dr King delivered his electrifying and unifying, I Have a Dream speech. It is important to remember that his speech over 60 years ago called for an end to police brutality as well as racial equality. Dr King’s work inspired another firebrand Paul Stephenson who once proudly told me how he once de-segregated a Virginia hotel. He led many others in the Bristol Bus Boycott that also ended the day Dr King spoke in Washington D.C.. That provided the template for major changes to equalities law and social justice in Britain.

From Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to this week’s sickening shooting of Jacob Blake we sadly still experience these heinous crimes in 2020. The key themes from history are just as relevant today. Black bodies the subject of unpunished brutality. The importance of media and images to keep the spotlight on these atrocities. Dreaming of brighter tomorrow’s and painfully tackling morally corrupt leaders in authority. Take a moment this weekend to remember many fearless campaigners and activists such as Roy Hackett, Tony Benn MP and Emmett’s mother Mamie Till.

Even though we are separated by waters that transported enslaved millions from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean by people who then as now viewed their bodies as disposable commodities. We can still stand united together and remember their actions mattered.

ENDS

Roger Griffith MBE is the former Executive Chair and Broadcaster at Ujima Radio, he is a lecturer at UWE Bristol and the author of My American Odyssey From the Windrush to the White House. He is currently researching his next book, Reflections Across A New Black Atlantic.

Of Monuments and Men part 1 – Thomas Jefferson

One year after Obama’s election in November 2009, I travelled America searching for answers to major historical questions about slavery involving many places and people across the globe. It troubles me that two of the first three American presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, kept slaves. They also fully utilised the income their tobacco plantations brought them in their roles as revered patriots and freedom fighters in the new America – ultimately leading to freedom for the slaves. To someone like me who has the blood of African heritage running proudly through my veins, yet knows that my ancestors chopped sugar cane in the heat of the South American sun in Guyana, the issues of freedom and slavery are as contrasting as the difference between light and darkness.
My search for some answers to these historical puzzles began at President Jefferson’s plantation Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

 

Monticello is the president’s former home, built on a mountaintop with a panoramic vista across Virginia and the nearby university town of which Jefferson was a patron, Charlottesville. His sumptuous twenty-one-room, three-storey neoclassical mansion house – which President Jefferson designed, and which is replicated in his monument on the Washington Mall – dominates the thousands of acres that encompass it. The plantation is a network of gardens, buildings and farms that grew a variety of crops and housed animals tended by over 200 slaves. There is plenty of evidence that Jefferson was a benevolent owner. In keeping with the thinking of the day, he viewed slaves as we would children: unable to live independent lives of their own. As I walked among some of the slaves’ quarters – built below ground so as not to spoil the stunning views – I could begin to piece together how such a system existed and flourished.

Plantation owners ruled over millions of lives from the cradle to the grave, and sustained the growth of the transatlantic slave trade. Though British colonial slavery was first used in Virginia, the ‘peculiar institution of slavery’, as it became known, was assisted by British settlers from Bristol, who brought their African slaves with them from the British colony of Barbados into the then royal colony of South Carolina. Through Charleston, South Carolina’s major slave trading port named after King Charles II, a large-scale importation of African slaves arrived and successfully began to cultivate rice on its plantations. Slavery spread to Georgia and throughout the southern states of America, establishing the power and grandiose ways of the plantocracy.

Slavery became entrenched into the southern way of life, which it would take bloodshed and civil war to bring to an end. Tracing the links between the Piedmont tobacco plantations and the newly formed southern plantocracy, I found both spiritual and emotional connections between my home in Bristol, my parents’ origins in the West Indies, their family’s migration to America, and our shared heritage from West Africa. Like many before me, I began to connect my own past on a vast continental scale via the transatlantic slave trade, from Africa to the Americas, and through to the role of the Europeans.

Windrush Generation: Animation of our great pioneers

Film-makers 8th Sense Media in collaboration with author Roger Griffith who co-wrote and was Creative Producer, have made a short animated film to celebrate the lives and achievements of the Windrush Generation. Devised and co-ordinated by My Future My Choice the film will be of interest to schools and home learners to understand how migration has affected our lives positively.  The film can be seen here https://bit.ly/WindrushAnimation

It is designed to raise the understanding and aspirations of young people in Bristol and Britain. Narrated by broadcast journalist Primrose Granville and it includes reflections from Elders from the Windrush Generation, Roger’s mother Arabella and Bristol Bus Boycott campaigner Roy Hackett. Supported by Ujima Radio.

Race & Covid 19 – ‘A Crisis Within A Crisis’

 

RACE AND COVID-19 – ‘A Crisis Within A Crisis’
Emerging Thoughts and Future Actions by Roger Griffith

Coronavirus has devastated the global community, drastically changing our interconnected lives, how we live and work. Many from President Obama to NHS nurses have spoken out. Through my equalises work here I highlight how Black Asian & Minority Ethnic groups (BAME) have been affected and the issues to tackle going forward.

1. Black and Asian people have been disproportionately affected by losing their lives in greater numbers. This also highlights underlying health conditions in BAME communities such as high-blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, in part due to social inequality issues which need to be addressed.

2. Economic disparity and Health issues are related. Years of systematic social inequality have highlighted issues such as poverty and employment which affects underserved communities disproportionately. This has been highlighted by the Runnymede Trust recently

3. Employment Conditions in NHS. There have also been disproportionate rates of deaths within the NHS. There are now two commissions being led by prominent figures, Trevor Phillips (Government) and Dame Doreen Lawrence (Labour. BAME health workers are reporting higher levels of stress from fearing contracting the illness and hearing news of the deaths of their colleagues and community members. Vital answers from these commissions are urgently needed.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-understanding-the-impact-on-bame-communities

4. Lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) There have been reports from BAME social care workers and those working in care homes who have struggled to gain PPE

5. Violent Racism & Xenophobia has been experienced by South Asian communities where Chinese workers have faced abuse. They have also been the victim of pernicious online media campaigns.

6. General Issues relating to Covid -19: Many in the UK are undergoing financial hardship however international students have stated they no longer have finances to send back home to support their families. Concern has also been expressed about the exposure to Covid-19 in prisons, where due to inequalities in the criminal justice system BAME communities are over-represented Technological poverty also hits low-income and rural area groups as well as BAME.

LOOKING FORWARD

7. Data and Monitoring: The crisis has highlighted the value in gathering data. Information from equalities monitoring forms can identify, then quantify issues and help to tackle the disparities. Resources need to follow the data.

8. Employment – Essential Workers – The work of BAME workers in the NHS, Healthcare, transport, food and service workers have been highlighted in the media. Testing for these groups of frontline workers is a major concern as we face new working conditions. We can report and applaud a new level of respect for these essential workers at the bottom of the economic ladder.

9. Information on Public Health and Covid-19: Due to information gaps, language, poor literacy or lack of internet there must be a concern whether the right information is reaching underserved communities. Concerted efforts must be made to sensitively reach these communities through mediums such as community media including Ujima and BCFM. There has been a rise of misinformation circulating in BAME groups on social media. Providing harm minimisation strategies and health promotion campaigns e.g.: ‘Know Your Numbers.’ (blood pressure, blood sugar rates, obesity) will be required. Post Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I witnessed information projects to identify, support and train local leaders street by street within the community.

10. Support to community groups. Decimated by a decade of austerity the crisis has re-affirmed the need to strengthen community organisations. Organisations with strong community links such as BSWN, SGREN and SARI have proved vital. Support is needed to BAME elderly groups who are currently suffering bereavement trauma. Key organisations have been Bristol Black Carers, Bristol Ageing Better and Bristol BME Elders Health & Wellbeing Project. Quartet Community Foundation and St Monica’s Trust have made this funding a priority. Faith and advocacy groups have a key role to play in future health education programmes.

11. Covid-19 General Factors where BAME communities are disproportionately affected – Some BAME and Gypsy &Traveller communities have larger families who may live communally. Support and understanding of these groups needs will be required. With new ways of working and living required now more than ever is a chance to engage with BAME communities of their experiences of the environment.

12. Resilience. One thing to report positively is that BAME communities can provide experience in resilience. Imagine arriving in a foreign country with little or nothing, sometimes fleeing trauma yet being able to navigate new languages and customs. Migrants have created family structures against a backdrop of racism, environmental, political and economic challenges. However these communities are not blessed with superpowers. Whilst the UK and the world face the ‘new normal’ only with targeted solutions and resources can we assist these communities to emerge from inequality. This will help these communities to continue to play a key role in our shared new future.

Roger Griffith MBE: Author, Independent Consultant and Lecturer UWE Bristol. With thanks to UWE Bristol, SGREN, SARI, Ujima Radio, Bristol Green Capital for information and interviews.

Published in Bristol 24/7 22nd May 2020 – https://bit.ly/RaceandCovid – 

Poetry: Of Riots and Rebellion – St Pauls Riots 40 Years On from April 2nd 1980

The Thin Blue Line

Just when does a riot signify a rebellion?
Well, let me tell of a time when communities took to the streets to defend their dominions.

The difference for some can be a matter of Colour,
But for many others is a matter of Honour.

I remember when as a boy-man just about to leave school,
Halston Drive, Brighton Street and Grosvenor Road were no places for fools.

How can you possibly understand when a person has reached the end of their tether?
Fed up of ritual police humiliation and tasting skinheads leather.

For when black lives and blue lines mash,
It becomes more than a culture clash.

And so it began on April 2nd, 1980, when the Black & White cafe exploded into flames,
Its raging occupants lighting up media headlines forever with dark fame.

The indigo skies were lit from the blaze the sirens blaring for miles around,
Whilst down below broken glass, desperate cries and shouts provided the street-sounds

In those moments there is no reasoning, reckoning, no time for sorrow,
Just ‘Get Up Stand Up’ with little hope offered for brighter tomorrows.

Toxteth, Brixton, Handsworth and Broadwater Farm came next,
From a people pushed beyond being merely vext.

Some say, ‘A crime is a crime, so those responsible must be punished and silenced!’
Ignoring state complicity through sus laws, mass-unemployment and violence.

After the school gates closed, I learned resistance and uprisings were commonplace,
In order to preserve black lives and save face.

Nanny Maroon, Bussa, Quamina and Sam Sharpe, all led Caribbean rebellions,
Against the evils of the slave trade that made many in Bristol and Britain millions.

Mandela and Martin went to prison, resisting with actions that were contrary,
To the Black Panthers and Bernie Grant who believed in ‘By any Means Necessary.’

Now Black Lives Matter and fresh activists take forward all these mantras,
Whilst others like me tackle social injustice in stanzas.

So, I can understand depending on your point of view,
Whilst this tale can make you feel black or blue.

But whether you call it a Riot or Rebellion matters not the least,
As just like back in the day, too many miss out on societies feasts.

Published in Bristol 24/7 on 1st  April 2020 –  https://bit.ly/Stpauls40B247

My Day at Buckingham Palace Tuesday 25th Feb 2020

Image: Roger meeting Prince William

Reclaiming Empire part 2:   My Day at Buckingham Palace

On Tuesday 25th February on a beautifully crisp sunlit day, I collected my MBE at Buckingham Palace for services to Diversity and Arts. It was a wonderful day and occasion for my family with Mum, Sister Laurice and fiancée Stacie, there to witness the ceremony. Being nominated brought mixed feelings and not just because of connotations with ‘Empire’ which I wrote about in Bristol 24/7. There was a sense amongst my fellow recipients including a Citizens Advice advisor who worked with the residents of Grenfell fire disaster, that there were more deserving people. However, as my doting sister advised, today was not the day for that.

Like many others I had only seen Buckingham Palace from the outside, acting as tour guide to family members and friends from across the world in my birth city. I would watch them as they peered through the iron railings, wondering aloud whether the Queen was ‘home’ and perhaps taking tea behind one of the many ornate windows. I would watch as they vainly tried to disturb the Queen’s Guards into actions, that would differentiate them from Madame Tussauds’ mannequins.

Passing through the regal courtyard and feeling the crushed gravel beneath my feet was electrifying and jolted me back to less illustrious times. I was constantly aware of the countless individuals who have assisted my career and proud to have fulfilled their dreams and delivered my potential. ‘A hand up not a hand-out’ had been my mantra and remembering friends like Paul Hassan brought waves of emotion. Paul had nurtured my raw potential since I wondered off a building site and into a positive action scheme in St Pauls. That turned into an 18-year career moving from trainee housing manager to a Senior Manager with Bristol City Council. Then, following redundancy along with founding Director, Kevin Philemon, we worked together to take Radio to new heights. Paul’s guidance of working from the inside, speaking to truth to power, proved his wisest counsel and here I was about to enter one of the most illustrious citadels.

Inside the Palace, thick carpets cushioned my footsteps to protect the priceless pottery from toppling over. Gold leaf trimmings and flecked wallpaper decorated the walls with artwork of monarchs and vistas from Britain and Europe. No one who gazed back at me from these paintings had my skin complexion, no landscape depicted the civilizations that existed before or after the reign of the British Empire. Maybe this is a project for the Lord Lieutenant Peaches Golding and me to work on, I mused chuckling to myself as I waited. Then we were called forward in alphabetical order and I was pleasantly surprised when former children’s entertainer and actor Derek Griffiths joined me. I thanked him for the joy he had delivered as one of the first Black British performers on television, as others thanked Ben Stokes and for his cricket heroics.

The moment came when my name was announced over the classical orchestra. It felt like I was in a Hollywood movie, only I was playing me! I looked for a family wanting to share this once in a lifetime moment, knowing Stacie and Laurice would be shedding happy tears whilst Mum beamed her stoic serene smile. I thought of my late father who had been the first to show me Buckingham Palace. He gave 32 years of his life to the London Underground arriving from Guyana in 1958, beginning by sweeping up discarded tube-tickets before driving the trains. He met and greeted Prince Charles when the Jubilee line opened as the station manager of nearby Green Park underground in 1977. Decades later truth would become stranger than fiction as the sons of Prince Charles and Laurie Griffith from Georgetown, Guyana would renew the connection. A tall uniformed Prince William deftly pinned the MBE medal upon my lapel. He was very gracious and well-briefed as we discussed my community and cultural work, and we both agreed that the arts are such a vital tool for self-expression and engagement for diversity and inclusion. The ceremony ended, and we posed for pictures that would outlast us, but provide memories that our descendants would treasure.

A day later my box-fresh three-piece suit was replaced by a tracksuit, as I sat at my Mum’s home in South London. She had, much to our family’s bemusement, purchased a Netflix subscription, which I was dutifully setting-up. With intended irony, I showed her the opening of The Crown.

” We grew up thousands of miles away from Buckingham Palace, yet we knew everything about the royal family.” My mother remarked,” ‘I can remember when the Queen got her bad news about the death of her father when she was visiting Kenya, the details of her dress for her wedding, we knew everything it was always in our newspapers. But what was that to us? Where was our history?”

 

Roger’s Grandad in Guyana a mason and a monarchist.

I smiled surprised by this new historical anecdote illustrating the colonial influence on a schoolgirl in then British Guiana, South America and still part of the British Caribbean and Commonwealth.

It was a reminder that when we are asked by future generations “Where is our history?” from the paintbrush to the pen, we must ensure we have a curriculum and commissions that tell our story and our many contributions to Britain.