I think I speak for most people when I say, nobody expected 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic tied with the murder of George Floyd by American police officers and the subsequent anti-racism protests across the UK, the US and the rest of the world has created what one would call a perfect storm. 2020 has allowed Northampton and the county as a whole to show us who it is, who the people are in their hearts and real the definition of community. I started this year thinking about the Windrush Scandal, as that injustice has continued through the pandemic with the prolonging of the government’s hostile environment policies.
Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned report published in March (just as we went into the first lockdown) struck a note for me, as members of that Windrush Generation would also have been caught up in the Coronavirus pandemic, a contagion that has disproportionate outcomes against Black, Brown and ethnic minority communities. Being nominated for this award really took me by surprise, as it was totally unexpected. I have come to realise that what people and in some cases me myself have defined as activism, is simply doing what I think to be right. The moral thing.
Pushes for equal rights like Black lives matter shouldn’t be political but they are by their nature. Whether we’re talking about Votes for Women in the early 20th century to workers’ rights with the Miners Strikes in the Thatcher era as well as the Poll Tax Riots… or even the narrative around race with Stephen Lawrence. All movements for equality have inspired me and continue to do today, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the pushes for gay rights and trans rights both now in the 21st century but also the movements from which it started dating back to Stonewall in 1969.
International Men’s Day encompasses men from all parts of society, an intersectionality of experiences: Black men, white men; gay men, straight men; trans, autistic, working-class, middle-class, immigrants, refugees… an intersectionality of experiences all worth exploring and celebrating. In the process of my activism if you want to call it that, and pushing for equality; especially in the buzzword of 2020 ‘anti-racism’, many have come to see me as a role model. First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents for showing me what activism looks like.
My parents that survived the 1980s for me to be here (not everyone was so lucky. That decade is the closest this country has to a Civil Rights-era level event. My mother growing up in Northamptonshire which back then was its own battleground in terms of racism, and also my father from Lichfield, Staffordshire having numerous experiences of racism in Birmingham and Handsworth.
They lived and survived, so I could live and survive, and my grandparents for making that trip from the West Indies… members of that Windrush Generation that give so much and take so little. People like me are my ancestors’ wildest dreams but we also have much farther to go.
So, thanks to them. I want to thank Hannah Litt, Emma Shane, Josh West and the members of Amplified NN who have come out for their community, also as activists in their own right. I want to thank Paula Bowles and Manos Daskalou, the senior lecturers of University of Northampton’s criminology department, for standing by me and supporting my work during my time at Waterside and still continueing to do so now, as colleagues and my friends.
I also want to than Anjona Roy and the team at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council for supporting things I have done, both as a director at NREC but also when I was at the university, and prior. I would also like to thank Rebecca Clark, Karen Adams and team at Black Lives Matter Buckingham for welcoming me into their ranks and really for allowing me to push for change in that community as well. If this pandemic has shown us anything, I think it’s that we need to stand by our words and principles.
We all need to be leaders in our communities. Too many leaders and authority figures are the embodiment of “do as I say, not say as I do.” In this award, I have tried to encompass the opposite. Stand with your community where possible and I will end with a quote from the famous slave abolitionist and human rights campaigner Frederick Douglass…
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And as Douglass said again, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I graciously accept this award but we need to keep it pushing.
Thanks very much.