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.

Roger awarded M.B.E. – Read Roger’s latest blog – ‘Reclaiming Empire’

Dear subscriber. I was delighted and honoured to receive an M.B.E. in the recent Queens Honours List https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/queens-new-years-honours-2020-3683178  I wrote these words to convey my feelings

Reclaiming Empire

Many thanks to those well wishes from family, friends and supporters who have helped me to achieve my M.B.E. I’m truly humbled and wouldn’t have got here without you all. I know there are some who disagree with my decision to accept an M.B.E. on principle over the British Empire and I fully understand. However, the seeds of my personal achievement have been sown over ancestral centuries. I’m part of a connected history over co

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

ntinents. So, I have compiled this short passage to explain some of my feelings and context behind my acceptance. This makes for good writing material during my travels in America as I write Volume Two ‘My American Odyssey, From The Windrush to the White House: Reflections Across a New Black Atlantic.’

As I crossed continents wherever I travelled the world I was asked one question repeatedly by many different people from many different backgrounds often with a tone of incredulity. ‘Where did you get that accent from?’ The answer to this biological riddle has taken me many years to unravel. I was born in multicultural London but grew up in a white enclave of Bristol in Lawrence Weston. My parents were from Guyana, part of an Empire that had broken loose from its colonial chains and morphed into a family of nations known as the West Indies and part of the wider Commonwealth. British Guiana gained independence to become the Republic of Guyana yet geographically was in South America near the Amazon jungle. With the trauma of enslavement and its legacy raging within me, how do you expect me to explain all these conflicts and complexities? I’ll start here.

My parents had been raised from the cradle to grave in the history of the British Empire reinforced at school, church and social institutions like Sunday school and girl guides. Theirs was a relationship built on colonial power with towering sugar cane billowing in the fields to remind them of the reasons their ancestors were taken there. In my Mother’s school curriculum, there was little of our African ancestry or of Caribbean freedom fighters like Nanny Maroon or Quamina. My paternal grandfather who never left Guyana was part of one of these institutions as a Mason (pictured) was never prouder then when sending his sons my Uncles Leslie, Varney and my Dad to help rebuild Britain after World War Two as part of The Windrush Generation pioneers. Through the NHS, the London Underground and more my family and many others from its empire helped to rebuild Britain.
Writing about all of this proved my outlet and was more cathartic than I would have ever of dreamed. I could see the parallels during my adolescence and events of the 1980s where poor-policing and mistreatment led to uprisings and riots in inner-city Britain. I saw the genesis sown from seeds of hate from the state seen in stop and search tactics. This fuelled the violence of far-right groups and racist propaganda from the National Front, skinheads and thugs telling me to ‘Go Back Home’. I was on the receiving end of acts of violence, aided and abetted by a hostile political climate. I had to overcome an internal burden of inferiority that had been placed upon ‘the chips of my shoulders’ by white authority figures. This was characterised by Norman Tebbitt’s infamous ‘Cricket Test’ made in remarks made in 1990 on the 22nd anniversary of Enoch Powell’s incendiary Rivers of Blood speech. Once again a generation of black and brown people were left feeling rejected by their host country. This time it was different, however because we were born in Britain. We were now children of the commonwealth whose forebears had never commonly shared the wealth and natural resources of their homelands.

The seeds of empire and imperialism have always been for better or worse part of my DNA and this has been hard to acknowledge. Now I have chosen to reclaim what this means to me. I will continue to inspire others to make their dreams come true through the arts and championing diversity. Most of all the award is an acknowledgement of the work of my parents and their generation who when they came to Britain dreamed of a better life for their children. Whilst the streets have never been paved with gold, I am humbled and proud to accept the rewards of my ancestral dividend. This allied to the work of many, many friends and colleagues has helped me to reach my potential and achieve recognition.

ENDS

Roger Griffith M.B.E. Author, Broadcaster and MD of 2morrow 2day Community Consultants

Follow me on Twitter – Rogerg44 Instagram 2morrow 2day

Roger works with TRACE at Bath Spa University

Roger is pleased to announce he has been a made an Associate Director at TRACE a part the Paper Nations and will be Independently chairing their governance group working with Professor Bambo Soyinka

Bambo Soyinka

Paper Nations is a creative writing incubator based at Bath Spa. They are a team of writers and researchers, working with other cultural leaders to deliver programmes that connect and expand support for writers. Their approach is creative, collaborative and informed by rigorous research into writing habits, communities and networks.  They map the writing landscape, identify gaps in provision, create resources and share insights into the lives of writers.  Roger was drawn to them by their vision is to make Writing for All; to help everyone enjoy and appreciate the art of writing, regardless of experience or background.

https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/research-and-enterprise/research-centres/transnational-creativity-and-education/

 

Roger is already an Associate Lecturer for UWE Bristol working to diversify the curriculum with inclusive lectures including in script-writing, English and film making. In addition he undertakes community projects and ambassadorial work as he seeks to promote the value of life-long learning. He is seeking to explore more academic work alongside his writing in 2020.

                                  

 

What Black History Month Means to Me

Why Black History Month Matters

 

‘If a race has no History it has no worthwhile tradition. It becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.’  So said Dr Carter G Woodson who is the originator of Black History Month (BHM) across the African Diaspora. Woodson came from ultimate humble beginnings, being the son of enslaved parents. He embarked on a programme of self-education working by day and studying by night to become an educator and activist. Woodson argued that increasing social and professional opportunities between people of different backgrounds and races would help reduce racism. He also stated that black history was “overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.’’ In this guest column to launch BHM 2019 I outline what BHM means to me.

For a variety of reasons BHM has had controversy attached to it. Many like myself bemoan the fact that black history is packaged into one month. To us it can feel like it is too neatly commodified and just like a Christmas tree put back into a box for the rest of the year. I have however reflected on several conversations over the years that have helped me to re-think its overall contribution.

 

Carter G. Woodson Creator of modern day Black History Month

The Case For Black History Month  

 

We are fortunate In Bristol to have a strong vibrant black community to supply events with networks built up over decades of contribution, connections and activism. However, many others new to the black experience or have felt on the edge of that experience are not so fortunate. For them BHM provides many platforms of entry.  A white parent who brought up a child alone pointed out to me that there was very little educational support to help bring up the child in a way that reflected the child’s heritage. Another young black man, who had grown up in a rural countryside also confided to me that BHM had helped him understand more about his identity, provided links of support and boosted his confidence. Not everyone has a deep-seated knowledge of their background. Social commentator and activist Patrick Vernon OBE says ‘BMH has influenced and inspired the equalities world to organised similar months, exposing the hidden and excluded histories.’ These include LGBTQ, Disabled and Women’s History Months.

 

Of course, we can’t confine anybody’s history let alone black history to one month and that argument should be obvious to all concerned. I respect anyone for taking a proverbial NFL knee and sitting out BHM, whilst they ensure black history is represented throughout the year. For me, in my activism there is a practical and pragmatic need to do both. To ensure that the culture that gives us so much pride and inspiration reaches as many influencers and audiences as possible. We need more than ever opportunities that bring us together. During these divisive times we can tackle new emerging themes of intersectionality and demographic changes within and beyond our communities.

 

Tackling the Barriers of Exclusion with Education and Inclusion

The outcomes, gaps and barriers due to solely the colour of one’s skin are clear and exist across issues of education, employment, the criminal justice system, health and housing. BHM on its own isn’t going to change that, but over the month it does make a compelling case for achievement, celebration and putting these issues to the top of the agenda. All of this work helps to take forward local issues including one of the recommendations from the 2017 City Conversations to have a more inclusive curriculum which reflects the needs of more than 20% of its pupils. Champions like Alisha Thomas an Educator at City Academy, Sibusiso Tshabalala of Cognitive Paths are working with the Bristol One Curriculum Forum and making progress.

 

Education is always a central tenet of BHM and provides a range of opportunities to learn of the presence and contribution of people of colour in Bristol and Britain over centuries. I can’t wait to see fellow creative Black Bristolians such as Dionne Draper (DAWTA) and Lawrence Hoo (CARGO) who along with many others host contemporary challenging art that will enlighten and entertain.

Ras Judah as front cover of Black History Month 2019

Sure, we don’t have the numbers of state sanctioned police killings of unarmed black men and women as in America. That does not mean however we should wait for the bar to fall to those deplorable depths. Instead we must tackle the complacency, lack of action and continuing economic and social divides between Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and their white counterparts. A range of academic studies has shown that racism and inequality causes premature deaths, increases, mental health and directly affects the future life chances of our young.

 

Until that set of circumstances changes every action count and every opportunity must be tried and taken. This is why Black History Month matters to me. To build awareness and as an engagement campaign to fight against the daily injustices of racism…all year round.

 

Roger Griffith is an Author, UWE Bristol Lecturer, broadcaster and CEO of Ujima Radio. Libraries West have just published his booklist of 19 books for 2019 https://www.librarieswest.org.uk/client/en_GB/default

For a full list of Black History Month events go to https://issuu.com/cognitivepaths1/docs/black_history_month_magazine_online

Roger selected as contributor for 100 Years of Council Housing – Homes for Heroes

Roger was delighted to be selected as a contributor for the Home for heroes series by Festival of Ideas alongside BBC TV author and historian David Olusoga and MP Alan Johnson by the Festival of Ideas season. He writes ‘it was probably my most difficult composition yet and deeply personal and emotive a journey I describe as The Good The Bad and The Ugly.

Roger back at his former home in Lawarence Weston, Bristol where he lived for 18 years

 Homes for Heroes 100 is a programme of coordinated community projects, events and publications marking the centenary of the Housing Act 1919 and the development of large-scale council estates in Britain. David Olusoga and Roger Griffith have contributed brand new essays’ on their experiences of growing up in Council Housing. (50) https://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/themes/homes-for-heroes-100/

Read the article in full here and the book is availble freely from Festival of Ideas

Homes For Working Class Heroes

Large-scale council housing came into being through the 1919 Addison Act with a vision to build homes ‘fit for heroes’ returning after the First World War. Over time, this vision evolved into one of providing homes that would be a sanctuary for people needing to build – or rebuild – their lives and for those on lower incomes looking for affordable rents. Council housing was a lifeboat for my mother and me from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s. After her divorce, my mother chose to move to Bristol. We lived in one room in a house of multiple occupation in Easton for over a year in 1975/76 and shared a bed that was no more than a big piece of foam on the floor. Mum’s efforts to gain more secure and stable accommodation were eventually successful. We were offered a council flat on the top floor of a three-storey block without a lift, on a 99 percent white working-class housing estate on the outskirts of Bristol in Lawrence Weston. Mum didn’t drive, we were miles from friends and our black culture. My mum – not one of life’s complainers – got a job in nearby Shirehampton and made the best of our new environment. Aged 11, I befriended an older girl at Lawrence Weston Comprehensive School who was also dating the local hardman.

I was not untouchable, but I did now have someone to watch over me as no one messed with ‘Sally’. My quick wits meant I made a range of friends from different backgrounds. You could count the number of black families on the estate on one hand. I forged friendships with one family through Colin White and we became each other’s best-man at our respective weddings. Another friend, Tony ‘Pilch’ Pearce, is now a teacher in Brighton, a place we then only knew through our Subbuteo football teams. Due to my mother’s insistence I addressed all my friends’ parents as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’. This meant I often got invited to ‘tea’, something my West Indian upbringing had no reference of but I intrinsically knew was an important occasion. I was always grateful for the cakes and sandwiches that would’ve sustain any cricketer at Lords. While I played with their children, these various parents would fill the gaps in the void left by the rest of my family being more than 120 miles away in London. We lived without fear of life’s everyday dangers. Soon we had a tight gang of kinship rather than terror. We fought, argued, laughed and cried together. Whenever one of our brood got into trouble, we took the musketeer approach. All for one and one for all. The youth clubs, boxing gyms and a plethora of sporting clubs kept most of us away from the glue-sniffers, speed-freaks and junkies.

At Avon Boys’ Club, we honed not only our football skills, but also developed sporting prowess in table tennis, darts, snooker and many other games. We learned teamwork, camaraderie, sportsmanship and time-keeping, even if I’m still working on the last one. We were drilled in a never-give-up attitude, no matter how better the opposition or inclement the weather. I left school without qualifications, unprepared for what life would want from me because I didn’t have any expectations. I don’t remember a single conversation about furthering my education, let alone visiting a university. This is an irony I begin most of my lectures with today, as I’m now a part-time lecturer with UWE Bristol. Poor schooling meant my brothers-in-arms and I were viewed as cannon fodder for the nearby industrial factories at Avonmouth that belched toxic waste into our living space.

We were catapulted without a safety net into an adult world. Packed pubs beckoned us to an oasis of adventure. It was solace for those seeking to escape the routine with alcohol, music or the chance of a sweet illicit encounter: to turn the daily grind into a physical one. An honest day’s work or a small loan from a mate could sometimes be found to alleviate rising debt as unemployment levels reached one in ten levels (three million), making prospects for the unskilled bleak. The pubs on the estates were homes to midweek darts, skittles and pool teams and pre- and post-match meeting places for local football teams if you weren’t watching your beloved Rovers or City play away. When he was a young boy, Marvin Rees and his sister Dionne briefly became our downstairs neighbours. Their mother Janet, like mine, had been grateful for the sanctuary and safety of a council home – though not for the local abuse. Our mothers became lifetime friends and I’m still proud that the young boy I saw then is now the Elected Mayor of Bristol.

I was annoyed when my car was broken into for its stereo and belongings, devastated when I was burgled, pleased when security doors were introduced to stop drunken passers-by using the ground floor of our block as a toilet. I became a father at 18 and had years of unemployment as my life swung violently out of my control, much like the rest of the country. Around me, I watched predominately black housing estates like St Pauls, Toxteth and Tottenham – three miles from where I was born – rise up in flames and rebellion fuelled by the humiliating ritual of aggressive stop and search policing. I miss the banter and camaraderie of life on the estate. It could be vicious yet have the most acerbic observational humour of the finest stand-up comedians. It certainly helped to build my character, sharp tongue and canny pragmatic skills in response to an array of insults and challenges.

There were no safe spaces and this sink-or-swim approach to growing up is not recommended for the faint-hearted. Gossip was given verbally, not via text and, in this vital currency, key information was exchanged such as where the local suspected paedophile lived. Our resilience meant we drew up a verbal risk assessment and would take the long way around that spot lest the troll come out to ply us with cheap alcohol or worse. We walked or cycled everywhere, using today’s quaint relics such as telephone and post boxes as landmarks. As I grew older, I became more aware of the ritual racist abuse. I recall one vicious attack that took place when I was alone at a bus stop, which left me physically and mentally scarred. It was carried out by two assailants who shouted ‘Nigger’ at me, individuals who hated what they didn’t understand. I was lucky, I got up: Stephen Lawrence in similar circumstances did not.

Survival skills were honed over many skirmishes with a range of authority figures that were coming into my life. When my mum moved, I had the right to continue to rent our flat. Living next door to one of the largest ports in the country, stolen goods were in ready supply. Our estate was full of its own Del Boy clones and dealers trying to make a living. Televisions, pirate videos, fake goods, drugs or whatever you required could be delivered to your front door for the right price without you having to leave your home. Nobody, however, was going to give any public ratings, because talking to anyone beyond your circle or crew was forbidden. Inevitable adolescent tensions appeared in our gang and, like many boybands, we split up.

My local, The Giant Goram, like other pubs that acted as social clubs across the country, has disappeared as we now suggest a ‘Netflix and chill’ instead of a rallying cry of ‘Cider I up, landlord!’ Loyalty, straight-talking and a pragmatic no-nonsense approach to life are values I learned from living on that estate and still hold today. These values were identical to those I inherited from my family who were part of the Windrush Generation. When they arrived, they didn’t get homes for heroes, just signs that read ‘No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs’. Excluded from council lists, some ‘parderned’ together in informal cooperatives to buy their own homes so they could make a major contribution to Britain after the Second World War. I went to evening classes in secret, self-taught myself about my black culture, gained confidence, discovered who I was and dedicated the rest of my life to become all that I could be. I chose to ‘move out’ as a career beckoned belatedly at age 25. In addition, circumstances and maturity changed me from an estranged father to a lone parent caring for my son and a fresh start was demanded. More irony came as I became a trainee housing officer in Hartcliffe for my landlord Bristol City Council in 1991. I turned my life of living in council housing into an 18-year career, rising to the rank of senior housing manager before redundancy in 2009. Clint Eastwood was our Hollywood hero back then and I describe my time in Lawrence Weston as ‘the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. The reality for a skinny, small, black kid on the brink of adolescence without immediate family or friends meant life was tough, but it was also the making of this man.

Poets Urban Word Collective at Bradley Stoke Library 22nd October w/ Roger Griffith

Roger will be hosting Urban Word Collective at Bradley Stoke Library, Fiddlers Wood Lane, Bradley Stoke, South Gloucestershire, BS32 9BS – 22nd October 2019 7.30-9.30 

Get your FREE ticket here http://bit.ly/UWCSGREN breaking news the event will be opened by Bradley Stoke Mayor Tom Aditya

Pearl Kofi for Black History Month

South Gloucestershire Race Equality Network and South Gloucestershire Council present Urban Word Collective a diverse collective of storytellers and musicians. The event takes place at Bradley Stoke Library, where they will be performing poetry and music. The event is hosted by Roger who will providing context for Black History Month and a selection of readings.  The event features poets Fellow Dread, Pearl Kofi with African Drumming by Rubba. 

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/urban-word-collective-bradley-stoke-library-tickets-74683579597