Hackney’s Windrush Day celebrations miss great opportunity

To praise unsung heroes for a fair and inclusive borough

By Thomas L Blair 20 May 20019 ©

Hackney borough’s annual June 22nd celebration for local people will be shaped in transplanted Caribbean style. Tasty food and drink, and a cricket tournament.  The event at Stoke Newington Town Hall marks the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, says Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble.

Admittedly community and cultural events play a key role in bonding hard pressed people. But I am in awe of the courage of the Windrush pathfinders. Many worked the dirty and difficult London Transport lower grade, poorly paid jobs on shift work and long hours. Vast numbers settled in the poorest white working class Hackney districts.

Hence, the emphasis on jollification risks undermining an historic purpose: rendering praise songs to past heroes for fair wages, homes, health, schools in an inclusive borough.

 Sam Springer, a Barbadian, linked together pride in heritage and political change. In a monumental feat, arriving in London ‘I was so cold I slept in pyjamas, trousers and socks. The only thing I didn’t sleep in was shoes”, he recalled. Yet, he rose from a bus driver to become the first Black Mayor of the London Borough of Hackney in 1982.

Gus John fought against the systematic underdevelopment of Black youth in Hackney. Born in Grenada, he was Britain’s first black education director. This street-wise academic is a well-known writer, education campaigner, consultant, lecturer and researcher.

Unsung hero Winston Pinder, a popular youth worker pushed back against racist stereotypes. A strong minded man from Barbados, he often clashed with the authorities as he tackled problems like police harassment head on.  And at 80 he was awarded a “people’s title” at Hackney Community College.

Trinidadian Marxist and Pan-Africanist C.L.R. James told the difficult truths of illiberal democracies and colonial regimes. His name adorns the first new library in Dalston, Hackney.

Notably, they fought to empower the borough’s Afro-Caribbeans, Africans and peoples of colour. Therefore, Windrush Day celebrations should carry forward three main points.

Protect public sector workers’ right. Promote good education and jobs for youth. Seek fresh assurances for compensation and redress of grievances for the elders.

On these grounds, Ms Bramble and organisers of the Windrush Day celebrations can advance the progress of race equality and justice. Badly needed in a borough that many say is “too white, too male, and too distant from the borough’s most longstanding residents”.

Essential Background notes

Organisers of the 22nd June Windrush Day events can draw on a £500,000 grant available to charities and communities for commemorative activities [Hackney received a paltry £10,000]. The communities minister, Lord Bourne, said the annual celebration will help to “recognise and honour the enormous contribution” of those who arrived between 1948 and 1971.

The move comes after the Guardian revealed how members of the Windrush generation and their children have been wrongly detained and deported and others denied access to healthcare, work, housing benefits and pensions. Some members of the British-Caribbean community have been left destitute by government policies that require employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other agencies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.

The Windrush Foundation’s director, Arthur Torrington, said the announcement was a moment of great satisfaction.

“It will cement in the national consciousness the important contribution of those who travelled from the Caribbean to Britain 70 years ago to build a better life and participate in making Britain a stronger nation,” he said. https://windrushfoundation.com/

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