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 

Black History Month 2019 – Roger Selected to curate Booklist 2019 by Libraries West

To mark Black History Month 2019 LibrariesWest have launched a reading list featuring books chosen by Roger Griffith (@rogerg44 ), a successful West of England author, social entrepreneur and local radio personality. The book list features authors from around the world featuring writers lived experience. Roger has selected, biographies, poetry, history, current affairs and books for young people. Roger said “This is a very personal list of books that will challenge people’s thinking and help understand the rich and varied lives from across the African diaspora. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did selecting this list! Please let me know what you think and feel free to let me know your personal favourites and why.”

One of the 19 book selected for Black History Month ’19 The Booker Prize nominated Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

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An Ode to the Champions League Final Spurs V Liverpool

MORE THAN JUST A GAME
AN ODE TO THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL 2019 SPURS VS LIVERPOOL
These two clubs forged from working class stock
Today both seek glory from that beautiful big-eared pot.

Many believe the semi-final drama is far from complete
As the teams prepare to expunge the bitter taste of recent defeat.

In Klopp and Pochettino, we have two new zen masters
Keen to respect the traditions of Shankly and Nicholson many years after.

They are producing new dynasties in their own image
Turning potential into results with swagger and steel to deliver much damage.

This season Liverpool buried their legend Tommie Smith, who could kick you in the head
Whilst Glenn Hoddle this time performed off-field miracles to rise from the dead.

To Madrid the fans travelled from Anfield and White Hart Lane
Whilst across the world their clans will share the joy and the pain.

Cockney versus Scouse, opposites here do not attract
But this is a match made in heaven, that much we do know for a fact.

Yet from Toxteth to Tottenham they rose up together in insurrection
To fight for their view of human rights during an almighty 80s rebellion.

Though their communities have much changed, one thing remains the same
For us both; Football is more than just a game.

May the best team win, que sera sera and all that
For me a life-long Spurs fan, that is just too much chat!

You’ll never walk alone! Come on You Spurs! These are our angel sung anthems
But only the football gods know which team they will crown European Champions.

ENDS

By Roger Griffith on the train from London to Bristol on way to White Hart Lane
1st June 2019.

BBC Film: The Macpherson report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence 20 Years On

A father and son reflect on their experiences with the Police over the decades the short BBC film  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p071qg5j

The 24th February was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Macpherson report, which

The murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence

controversially found the Metropolitan Police to be “institutionally racist.” The inquiry examined the bungled police investigation of the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death in a racist attack in London in 1993. The report was damning about the Met’s failings – and critical of the policing of black citizens nationally. On Reeta Chakrabarti spoke to three fathers and their sons about the report’s impact and legacy. I was delighted to take part in the film with my son Laurence.

Daily Mail headline

I worked on an official response to the Macpherson Inquiry in my role for as Race and Housing Officer when I was at Bristol City Council in 1999 from a Housing perspective and to tackle the issue of institutional racism. Fascinatingly this continues to be a controversial term yet remain a factor in the continued blocks to improving the lives for many Black British citizens.

My son Laurence in interview with BBC News

Making the film brought back traumatic memories of police violence and harassment of myself, friends and black men up and down the country. It was of a different time in the UK’s history but having ‘The Talk’ with your son about how to deal with the Police in Britain or America is something that brings the issue of race and racism home in every way.

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama – 10 Years On

Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Barack’s Obama’s inauguration which sparked my book. My American Odyssey. Here is part 1 of what I felt that day from my book My American Odyssey From the Windrush to the White House.

In January of 2009, I was in Washington DC  the United States of America for the inauguration of President Barack Obama and 80th anniversary of the birth my hero Dr Martin Luther King.

I had personally told about fifty people I was going, but word had spread throughout the Ujima and the community for which I work within as a volunteer on various programmes. ‘Say hello to the President for me,’ a colleague said, ‘Wave to us on TV!’ another said. And the ubiquitous ‘get me a T-Shirt!’ were among many comments, I received but the heart-warming, ‘Go document history Roger!’ touched a raw energetic nerve.  I was surprised and heartened by these comments. Two years earlier I had written my own version of Letters of America, writing of my excursions in the Deep South of America on what was then a personal pilgrimage from where Dr King took his first and last breath in the world. I had travelled to where he was slain by a sniper’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee to where he was born on Sweet Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia and in between walked in his footsteps where he lived, marched, preached and was jailed. I recorded a few passages of what I saw and experienced of the struggle for civil rights and human dignity. It appeared people were eager to hear more about them and my travels including those outside of my initial circulation list.

Thus, encouraged by friends, colleagues and family but without the incentive of a waiting editor, a blog- space, or the inclination to post it on a social networking page (this was pre Instagram and Twitter). I wrote a few more passages about those events of January 2009. I added some comments about America, witty asides on its social mores, customs and its similarities and peculiarities with its former colonial master the United Kingdom. On the historic morning of the swearing-in of the first Black President, I duly sent my first piece home, content that I was writing for a few interested well-wishers and I had done what I said I would do ‘document history,’ then headed to the heart of Washington to witness another chapter of my unofficial American odyssey unfold.

Whilst I listened to the President’s words on that famous afternoon on a bitterly cold but sun-blessed day, I realised that there was within his words a message of hope for everyone not just the 300 million locals, he was addressing, two million of which were packed into the Washington Mall around me. Each word, phrase and cadence of that extraordinary orator carried a signal to be or become a better person and to do your bit for another. After the tears of joy dried on my face, I was hugged for what seemed like the thousandth time by another total stranger congratulating me for being there. I returned the compliment as to be amongst those two million was to be part of a select club whose numbers, I’ve no doubt will swell with exaggeration. I thanked them warmly, my English accent cutting through the sub-zero temperatures like a bullwhip. ‘Oh, you’re British?’ they replied smiling. ‘Yes!’ I replied, sounding more like Prince Charles than Dizzie Rascal or even Huggy Bear. ‘Oh, we didn’t realise there were black people in England?’ I smiled politely long used to this oft-repeated ritual concerning my identity in America. In fact, rather than be annoyed or offended by it, I had learned to use this so-called slight on my identity to my advantage. My accent in America had opened more doors than I care to remember, be it an extra helping of food from a silver-haired waitress, a discount in a shop or car rental agency or getting my too often pieces of overweight luggage waived through by a perpetually smiling sympathetic attendant.

Later on, I sat in a bar on the famous Capitol Hill, where more shady deals have been completed than in the notorious drug ravaged streets of Washington a few blocks away. Many of the throng had left for warmth or to prepare for the evening’s numerous balls, whilst I thawed out by nursing a medicinal supply of brandy. I watched again President Obama’s words on a TV screen in the corner not only with pride but also with newfound meaning and poignancy. Had the future, my future, really had opened up I wondered? I looked at the poised individual on the screen. No longer had Hollywood had to cast Morgan Freeman or Dennis Haybert from 24 in the role of Black President – he was in the chair and, what’s more, the real deal.  Here was a man without corporate sponsorship, family patronage like the Kennedy’s, Bush’s and Clinton’s or lengthy political experience, who had managed to get elected to White House on his terms.  I reflected on my joy of not only witnessing this and of how it was going to change the landscape of history for future generations but also how it could change mine too. I listened closer to the President’s words. ‘What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility…’ the President pronounced. The words swirled in my head. All of my personal history and that of my story parents and their forbears seemed to converge and speak to me. ‘You need to tell your own – after all what’s the point of all those notes you’ve been making over the years?’ I heard them say. ‘I gotta’ story to tell,’ the beginning of the rapper Notorious BIG’s record started in my head. ‘Tell their story. Your story. Our Story.’ More voices swirled in my head. Not just of the fight against racism and social injustices, not just of America idiosyncrasies and not just of how my parents came to be in England in the 1960’s but put it together into a whole story from my own personal perspective.

My old insecurities swam to the surface. I had been often rightly chided by friends for  hiding my light under a bushel. I’m not famous, a respected writer or a celebrity, just stick to what you know my old negativity said joining in the debate. But deep within me, I knew if I had followed that logic, I would be freezing somewhere else right now. Maybe I would still be painting the old Severn Bridge which links England with Wales, as I had eighteen years earlier and not re-trained to become a Housing Officer, starting a journey of hard work and study which had led me to leave that cycle of unemployment, deprivation, violence and anguish. That journey of personal development continued into management, learning other skills and has rewarded me with the modest personal trappings of car, mortgage, etc. It also led me to be able to fund my own dreams of witnessing something I honestly did not believe I would see in my life-time a black President, even if he was on a jumbo-tron and a tiny spec on the steps of the distant Capital building. ‘It’s time to put away such childish things...’ President Obama continued. I looked round the bar its patrons getting misty eyed again. I knew President Obama could do almost anything but now he was reading my mind.  ‘Tell their story, your story, our story.’ The voices chanted again.

I consider myself to be Black-British, a term I have only been comfortable with since the mid-nineties. Before that I was Afro-Caribbean without having the maturity to understand that label and before that simply, ‘first generation.’ This was the term given to immigrant families’ children who came invited from the British Commonwealth to be born within the mother country’s borders from the Windrush Generation.  Our voice has struggled to be heard much less understood. Too often I have seen a well-meaning Professor or scholar patronisingly explain the experience of Black-British life and society. Too often I have hollered at my TV screen or put down my newspaper and muttered ‘that’s not right…’ or ‘what about…’ and ‘they forgot to say…’ Sometimes I’ll be inspired like when reading Gary Younge’s excellent book No Place Like Home and bang my fist against a table and say ‘yes that’s it!’ or more tellingly, ‘I wanted to say that…’ But far from decry the skills of others. I realise the President’s words were aimed in my direction. My insecurities mostly stemmed from a lack of education and any significant qualifications until my mid-twenties, but they should not stand in my way and it was time to find my own voice. I have learned through the documentation of the past from stories, books, films or writings from Vietnam, the holocaust or Iraq, there are thousands of different tales, accounts and stories all with a voice of their own, all valid compositions of history. Dr King was thirty-nine when he died four years younger than me. Barack Obama is President at forty-seven, four years my senior and of course he was the 44th President of the United States. Now that had a powerful, beautiful symmetry to stir me into action as history swirled around and within me. President Obama was now striding down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to his new home, savouring every moment of the adulation from around the globe as he walked hand in hand with his beautiful wife Michelle. The world’s expectations were on his shoulders but for now he was basking in the achievement of his dream the living-smiling embodiment that you can be anything you want to be.

. ‘I gotta’ story to tell.’ I said to myself. My time is now.

 

 

 

Tribute to Aretha Franklin – A Natural Legend

Aretha one of the Greatest voices of all-time

Tribute to Aretha Franklin: A Natural Legend

Aretha Franklin will always remain the Queen of Soul, but her voice, work and accomplishments stretch beyond music. With her vocal sound she conveyed an extraordinary vocal range that no mortal has bettered. Hers was the dominate anthem for female empowerment. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. a battle cry sung with pride by women around the globe. From those seeking better days in a downtrodden relationship to battles in the boardroom.

Aretha was the archetypal preacher’s daughter part of that famed celestial conveyor belt of talent the black church has produced for generation after generation. A voice of angel should convey the entirety of human spirit. Joy and Pain. Love and Sorrow.
Her voice could wow an atheist to pick up a tambourine, raise their head to the sky and sing hallelujah!

Her music also carried the beauty and betrayal the love and loyalty of the black woman. This is the bedrock of strength and foundation that has remained an eternal comfort that we bear testimony to our grandparents, mothers, sisters, aunts, female relatives and friends for us men.

Her legacy for me, will be her extraordinary ability to embrace the voices that ghosted across the generations of her lifetime. From the past she learned from the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson. She inspired her heir to her throne Whitney Houston and paved the way for future stars, Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé. She inspired writers and workers; artists and artisans alike. The accompanying musical inspiration for literary compositions from Terry McMillan and her literary Queen Maya Angelou. From Mariah Carey to Mary J. Blige Amy Winehouse to Adele and Alicia Keys you can hear her vocal influence.

When these diva disciples sing the blues, their voices are more cherished, treasured and loved by us as they express their private pain for our joy. Aretha has made this uncomfortable passage of sharing tragedy a rite of melodic passage.

Her story touches ours as she emerged during a time when the music she brought to life was dubbed ‘race music’ in America. This music could only be played on black radio stations such as WDIA Memphis, the city of her birth and the cradle of soul. It would also become a beacon for integration. Where Sam Phillips would discover Elvis Presley singing music he learned from black musicians and home to record labels such as Stax, Sun and Chess Records. A place forever tainted from the sniper’s bullet that assassinated Dr Martin Luther King. She sang at his funeral and also performed at President Obama’s inauguration which I witnessed.

 

Funeral carriage of Dr King where Aretha Franklin sung at his funeral in 1968

That musical journey contains the power of the negro spiritual sung by slaves in the cotton field. After slavery new sounds were embraced including folk music and country and western which mixed with gospel became rhythm and blues or R&B. This mixing of music styles, races and music broke down more barriers than any politician on the dancefloors and more. The sound and appeal helped to shape the careers of current British Knights of pop music The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry and Elvis all ‘borrowed’ from these sounds of the south. Some dues were paid back by the warmth Aretha and other black musicians such as Otis Redding were given on their unsegregated tours of Europe. This gave these artists much unfettered joy, income and recognition as back in their native south they had to contend with the harsh realities of segregation; entertaining the audiences before leaving out of the back of the building.

At Ujima Radio we uphold this legacy and history today. What was called race music, has subsequently evolved into various guises of R&B, neo soul and urban – whatever that means. Many other music genres have flowered using music of black origin. This is another legacy of soul music that the Queen of Soul has provided inspiration and integration not division. Her work on LGBT issues came at a time when the AIDS campaigning was not championed. Aretha embraced it and was in turn rejoiced by Sir Elton John and the late George Michael opening doors and appeal for future generations.

In Bristol, when Dionne Draper Sings With Soul she invokes the pain of the middle passage.

Sisters With Voices I produced by Dionne Draper and Roger Griffith Oct 16
SWV II produced by Lynn Mareno and Sandra Gordon

When Sandra Gordon and Lynn Moreno deliver their RISE projects they invoke the spirituality of female resilience. And when Kizzy Morrell singer and CEO of develops her proteges at her Studio 7 talent development project, she ensures this heritage is an important as the harmonies. Those women inspired me to give voice to Sisters With Voices a celebration of female talent Ujima has held twice at St George’s Bristol.She leaves us with a legacy that transcended words with her melodies. A voice that could provide darkness and light, love and loneliness reaching to convey the pinnacles of the highest mountain and the depths of the darkest oceans. Aretha Franklin is an inspiration and we remember her as A Natural Legend.

ENDS