Proud and Pleased. Announced today 22nd March I have been awarded Lord Mayor’s medal by Bristol for my volunteer & social activism work. Thanks to everyone who has supported, worked with or helped me to contribute to others greatness.
100 YEARS OF WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE IN BRITAIN – Westminster, London, England, 1918:
Its 100 years since women gained the right to vote in the UK! In 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed as the first piece of legislation to allow women the vote in the UK. It represented a landmark achievement in the struggle for women to gain equality that had been taking place for centuries signified by the Suffragettes Movement. We join with many others around Britain and take inspiration from their achievement.
FREDRICK DOUGLASS 200th birthday. Born February 1818 Virginia, USA
Fredrick Douglass was the most prominent African-American of the 19th century. He was born on a brutal slave-plantation in Virginia in 1818. Slaves were prohibited from education but he self-taught himself to read and write before escaping. He became a writer and a leader of the anti-abolitionist movement. He was famed for being a brilliant orator talking to packed audiences in Britain and Ireland about his lived experiences of the ravages of slavery.
Douglass was an ardent supporter of the feminist movement that would lead to the women’s vote and universal suffrage for women. He was the first Black man to visit the White House itself built by slaves where he counselled Abraham Lincoln on race and politics.
He also visited Bristol during the 1840s where his speeches enthralled Victorian audiences. Douglass’ freedom had been purchased by abolitionists. Britain had ended the Transatlantic slave trade in 1807 however slavery still flourished in the Caribbean (1833) and USA (1865). His famous phrases were “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.’ and “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”
HEADS OF COMMONWEALTH SUMMIT – 16th April 2018
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018, also known as CHOGM 2018, is the 25th meeting of the heads of government of the 53 Commonwealth nations. It will be held in London from 16th April and the theme is ‘Towards a Common Future.’
It will also be the first CHOGM held following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, a decision which has resulted in calls for Britain to strengthen its ties with and play a greater role in the Commonwealth.
Prime Minister Theresa May thinks the summit will set out a bright future for the Commonwealth, adding: “As we prepare to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, we are reminded of the unique and proud global relationships that we have forged with the diverse and vibrant alliance of Commonwealth nations The UK has a long standing and firm commitment to the Commonwealth and to the values it upholds, of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the UK is committed to working with all members not only to reaffirm these shared values, but also to re-energise and revitalise the Commonwealth to cement its relevance to this and future generations”.
For some these words demonstrate that Britain is still keen to maintain its influence over its former empire, whilst for others new international trade is part of the Brexit deal they voted for. But what does this reflect for the Commonwealth citizens who have migrated to the UK from their former British colonies with a history of living under the shadow British Empire and hegemony?
The summit will see the UK take over as chair of the Commonwealth until 2020 however this will be the final summit that Queen Elizabeth will preside over. The Queen saw many of her citizens that her predecessors had colonialised arrive to help rebuild Britain after World War II from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. She also presided over their wish for self-rule and independence. These include the famed Windrush Generation from the Caribbean who called Britain the motherland, whilst soldiers like the Ghurkhas died in wars for King, Queen and Country. The Commonwealth has also contributed much to the UK bringing commerce, wealth as well as pride and celebration through sport and culture.
From the conquered to the vanquished, from Brexiters to new settlers from those Commonwealth member nations what is the future of the Commonwealth and how relevant is it to Britons today?
What do we think we know about migration?
Join us for a panel discussion to have your say on topics such as how did migration affect the Brexit vote? How do we deal with its impacts on communities? And even, who counts as a Bristolian now?
Event starts at 6:30 PM at the Mshed, 1st March, 2018
Chaired by Rob Mitchell, Creative Media Producer, the panel speakers are:
- Roger Griffith, broadcaster and writer
- Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow in School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol
- Artjoms Ivlevs, Associate Professor of Economics at UWE
- Pierre Shepherd, Head of Research at Leave.EU
The event is sponsored by UWE Bristol and University of Bristol the link to the event is here http://bit.ly/2DmPI5K
Bringing the community together and finding ways to collaborate and support each other is the inspiration behind our name, Ujima, given to us by our founding Director Kevin Philemon. A Swahili word, it translates as “Collective Work and Responsibility”, the third of the seven Kwanza principles. Keeping that principle at the heart of our purpose, we have been on an evolving journey from our origins as a positive action project to become a leading Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] led arts and media organisation embedded into Bristol’s wider cultural ecology. In the article “Why Bristol needs to face up to its past before it can enjoy its future’’ the Bristol Post announced plans to work in partnership with Ujima on a series of City Conversations to progress how Bristol as a city reflects on its relationship with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and closing some of the divides in Bristol.
In the first of a series of blogs as the Executive Chair of Ujima Radio CIC I will give some background to that article, describes future work with a range of cultural partners and sets out the vision behind our Year of Change ahead of our 10th anniversary year in 2018.
‘‘Operation Black Vote recently published a report called The Colour of Power stating that the UK’s Media and Arts is led by a white elite. This follows several studies and reports on the issues of inequality in Britain and Bristol, including one from the Runnymede Trust titled Bristol: a city divided? As the Creative Producer and Chair of Ujima Radio, and as a Black man who has fought against racism all my life, this story is as a familiar as it is depressing. Not one single Black person is a Managing Director of a major TV broadcaster, not one is an Editor of national newspaper, nor is there one CEO at any of the top 20 arts and culture organisations in Britain. This despite Black culture being at the forefront of music, arts, fashion, film and culture and the media, arts and culture sector presenting itself as being more forward looking. Added to this are inclusion gaps with discrimination against women, LGBTQ+, people of faith, those with disabilities, key age groups, and those who are financially or socially excluded coming from lower income backgrounds.
Ujima Radio reaches its tenth anniversary in July 2018 and we will celebrate this occasion alongside a number of global landmark anniversaries. These include the 50th commemoration of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, 100 years of the women’s right to vote and the 50th anniversary of St Pauls Carnival in Bristol. Also we wish to significantly herald our Black elders by celebrating the 70th anniversary of ss Empire Windrush journey to Tilbury Docks from Jamaica, whose symbolic arrival heralded the influx of Caribbean migrants. Those who came to Britain to help rebuild the country after World War II thus changing the face of Britain then and now in sport, culture, politics and music. We aim to mark these occasions by working in partnership with cultural and community organisations and businesses to influence to act as a catalyst for change. These include continuing work with our artistic partners Bristol Old Vic and embarking on a new relationship with the Bristol Post. We wish to transform the way race and inequality is viewed in Bristol and beyond. This will be a bold way of moving the conversation forward to a series of actions that provide solutions. We not only want to celebrate the achievement of ten years of broadcasting with a social purpose but also share our stories and provide a meaningful series of debates, discussion and events that lead to action which inspires, engages and empowers and to stimulate long-term change.
The Arts Council England investment has allowed us to begin to build an infrastructure at Ujima, develop and support artistic talent, put on a range of events from Sisters with Voices with St George’s Bristol to a family arts and culture fun day with Circomedia. This way of working brings new audiences and community members to Bristol’s institutions including Watershed and Spike Island. This supports our ambitions to be more than a radio station. Our social action projects create employment and training working with UWE Bristol students whilst our Green and Black projects with University of Bristol and Bristol Green Capital Partnerships have provided a different way of how to involve communities. All of this has Ujima’s principles at its core; working in partnership to create opportunities. Our work as an associate company of Bristol Old Vic has led us to visioning 2018 – our 10th anniversary year – as a Year of Change for them. In return they have created new dialogues which have included the Bristol Post editor Mike Norton and from his article you can see the impact of those conversations and partnership working. Ujima and I are keen to engage many voices in the Kwanza principles of collective responsibility and challenge Bristol’s institutions to make real changes to involve and include Bristol’s diverse wonderful communities to play their part in changing Bristol.’
Bristol Post Editor in Chief Mike Norton is a guest on my show Bristol’s Big Conversation on 11am this Thursday 16th November on Ujima Radio. www.ujimaradio.com if you have ideas email email@example.com or Twitter @rogerg44
callled Black History Month is vital to fight against the daily injustices of racism all year round’
And come to my event on the 26th of October!
Titled My Journey for Justice: In Search of a King
19.00-21.45 (15 minute interval) at the Watershed
Price £6.50 full / £4.50 concessions
In this special event to mark Black History Month, I will take you through my journeys to justice. I plan to talk of my travels in America, where I discovered a shared heritage through slavery and identity from the civil rights struggle. Highlights include seeing the inauguration of Barack Obama and visiting the scene of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. Griffith connects this personal story to the Caribbean and the Windrush generation that brought him to Bristol. I will also give insights on current race issues, readings from his book My American Odyssey: From the Windrush to the White House and a brand new poem.
The lecture is followed by a special showing of Britain on Film: Black Britain from Come the Revolution.
Britain on Film: Black Britain 12A
MOVING MONUMENTS IN BRISTOL AND AMERICA
Events in Charlottesville, Virginia were a sickening reminder of why the past always remains present and can never be forgotten to prevent the same mistakes being made in the future.
Having wrongly predicted that Hillary Clinton would triumph, I’m now watching with both humour and horror as the Trump Tsunami devastates Washington DC and America.
Trump is and always has been a bigot and as far as I’m concerned just added to his rap-sheet and has a history of racism. In 1989 he called for the death penalty for five Black youths who had been wrongly convicted of rape. Then there was ‘Birtherism’ and his pathetic claims that President Obama was not born in America thus making him an illegitimate president. His candidacy began by calling Mexicans rapists and chants of getting Mexico to pay for a wall they had no wish to build at his Nuremburg style campaign rallies. So I was not surprised that he found it difficult to denounce the oldest terrorist group in America, the KKK and other white supremacists.
In Bristol with the Colston brand and resulting controversy still refusing to dissipate we appear to be at a similar crossroads over monuments. Be it slavers in Bristol or America do we remove the past, celebrate them or historically update them within a 21st century context?
One of the most influential books of my life was written by author Gary Younge. In No Place Like Home (1997) he first made me aware of these issues and also the good, the bad and the ugly of America from a Black-Briton’s viewpoint which influenced me to not only visit but write too of my experiences.
Visiting in 2012, much of Virginia appeared untouched by modern life. Its present-day inhabitants give the impression that it is just the way they prefer things to remain, which would meet with the early English migrants’ approval. Their successors, the rebellious Founding Fathers of America, produced an elite group of men who would control not only the region, but also America and influence the world. The Virginia Dynasty, as they became known, produced four of the first five US presidents: Jefferson, Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe. All inherited plantations from their fathers, all of them kept slaves.
I had been drawn first to Monument Avenue in Virginia’s State capitol of Richmond by Gary Younge’s book. Monument Avenue is a wide boulevard with a grand central esplanade dividing the traffic shuttling in and out of the city. There I came face-to-face with the past in the imposing stone civic tributes chosen by the city’s fathers.
The first monument was of Richmond-born tennis player Arthur Ashe. Ashe overcame the authorities banning him from playing against white boys of his own age, by leaving Richmond to gain a scholarship in California, and becoming World No 1 and Wimbledon champion. Ashe became a prominent civil-rights campaigner and also fought against Apartheid. He died tragically of Aids, from a blood transfusion in 1993.
Moving along Monument Avenue I am met by towering testaments to the Civil War. The stone edifices of General Robert E Lee, General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis lead you into Richmond.
Gary Younge wrote: ‘Monument Avenue felt like the cultural and political equivalent of putting a huge statue of Adolf Hitler and his sidekicks up on Kurfustendam Platz in Berlin – not as trite comparison as it might appear, given the number of blacks who died in slavery.’
Much of Monument Avenue today is based in a diverse multi-cultural neighbourhood, with many of its inhabitants passing beneath these monuments that are declaring their adoration for men who would have kept their ancestors enslaved.
My search for answers to the historical contradiction between freedom and slavery continued to President Jefferson’s former home, Monticello, seventy-two miles away. He designed his sumptuous twenty one room three-storey neo-classical mansion house and it is replicated in his monument on the Washington Mall. It is cited on a mountain-top with panoramic vista across Virginia to the nearby university town of Charlottesville where Heather Heyer was murdered.
President Jefferson’s plantation was a network of gardens, buildings and farms that raised a variety of crops and animals that were tended to by over two hundred slaves. There is plenty of evidence that President Jefferson was a benevolent owner. In keeping with the thinking of the Virginia slave-owners. He viewed slaves as we would children, unable to live independent lives of their own. He also had long relationship with a slave, Sally Hemmings and they had children together. I walked amongst some of the slaves’ quarters built below ground so not to spoil the view. Though the trade in my ancestors leaves me with a heavy heart, in order to understand and tell their story. It was here and places like this I began to piece together the origins of how the Transatlantic slave trade flourished and its links to Bristol and Britain via USA and the Caribbean.
This is an edited and updated extract from My American Odyssey From the Windrush to the White House published in 2015 on Silverwood Books. Roger is an Executive Chair and broadcaster at Ujima Radio CIC and a member of the Come The Revolution Film curators.
Roger was recently retracing some of his footsteps in Sea Islands where the twin sisters of the Deep South the charming Charleston and seductive Savannah reside. But in between these two great American southern cities lie a little known community with familar links to Africa and UK. Here is an extract about the area from his book.
The Gullah Community – a piece of Africa in America
On the coast of South Carolina with the Atlantic Ocean that brought slaves and settlers from Africa and the West Indies surrounding its shores, is a chain of islands called the Sea Islands. I am driving across one of the bridges that link the three islands of Beaufort, St Helena and Hilton Head islands together. This region also known as the low country is virtually flat and full of creeks, marshes and wetlands.
It is also home to one of the most established black communities in America and to which the phrase African-American is fully appropriate. The Gullah community is originally drawn from a community of freed slaves who were taken from various regions of West Africa and stayed to build their own rural community keeping their language and traditions. One of the reasons the African slaves flourished in these Sea Islands is due to the similarity in climate and vegetation to Africa and much of its appearance and stillness reminds me of the West Indies. Its remoteness to the mainland can be attributed to the fact that the only way of gaining access was by boat, until the mid-20th century and in many respects this has helped to preserve the Gullah traditions. It was here that before cotton, rice was harvested using the skills that had been first gained in Africa. At the Penn Cultural Center which showcases the Gullah culture, I view how this self-contained community has kept their strong links of their heritage via oral traditions passed down by Griots or African story-tellers. Wherever I hear the language spoken or written it reminds me of my own West Indian patois whether from Jamaican, Bajan or my own Guyanese dialect. The slaves mixed the various African mother tongues of Wolof, Vai, Twi, Ewe, Yoruba and Mandinka with English into a language so that they could communicate with each other. After slavery ended with the help of some benevolent whites they survived independently by establishing educational facilities that taught industrial skills as well as academic programmes. Dr King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference members often came here to plan their campaigns during the civil rights campaign as this was one of the few places black and white people could mix together in the south. The Gullah community mark the social transitions in African-American life from slavery to emancipation and from segregation to social change. Today their main battle is with property speculators who greedily view their beautiful lowland environment as waterfront real-estate.
Sixty miles along the Atlantic coast I visit Charleston Harbour and feel surrounded by history as the bonds of my past from Africa, the Caribbean and my present in America and Britain become more transparent. I walk past a replica of one of the cannons that fired the first shots of the civil war as the Confederates captured Fort Sumner here in Charleston Harbour. That declaration of war on the Government would lead to the bloodiest war in America’s history but also ended with the emancipation of the slaves. It was here too that Bristolians first set ashore after they had established their plantations in the Caribbean. They brought their African slaves with them and helped to found the practice of the plantocracy of owners, grand homes, slaves and crops which spread throughout the south. African slaves would have arrived in chains and would have taken their first steps on American soil where I stand. Charleston was one of the busiest American slave-trading ports and the centre of the internal slave-trade market long after Britain had abolished slavery. Slaves were first sold openly on the harbour and then when it was thought the selling of human-beings was harming the genteel image of Charleston, sales were held at an Old Slave Mart. I walk into charming Charleston town-centre, stopping to admire the sweet-grass baskets on sale by members of the Gullah community near the Old Slave Mart which is now a museum. There I understood how the sales of the slaves were viewed as mere commodities. The price of an 1860, 20 year-old male slave (the prime age for sale) for instance, would fetch $1500-$1600 (approximately $38,000 or £25,000 in 2010 prices). The slaves would be asked questions based on their experience such as how many rows of cotton they could pick in a day or whether they had worked in a Master’s house. No consideration was given to the splitting up of families or any ties that had been made. A range of instruments of torture are displayed on the wall to chillingly illustrate how the overseers kept order. The financial institutions in Charleston – as they were across the world – were heavily involved, whilst the state of South Carolina collected taxes on the sale of each slave. The slave-trade contributed greatly to the grand infrastructure of Charleston on which its wealth, fortune and fame was and still is being capitalised, just as it had done in my adopted home of Bristol.