Letter To The Earth

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This letter was written and delivered as a speech 28/8/20 at #CultureDeclares Bristol.

When my elders and even me at times start talking or tell stories we often start from

here (arms stretched wide) it’s hard to reduce even the most recent and

immediate truth to here (an inch). But I will try my best to bring us to the crux as I

see it, as I feel it, but at the same time it is not really possible to cut this our long

story short – a story that has been panning out over centuries and brings us here

today in the world on the brink of societal and environmental collapse.

History has now caught up with us manifesting in many ways – storms, floods, wild

fire, disaster, black lives matter, and the reparations movement. We are also

experiencing what I describe as a Lady McBeth syndrome unable to rub the blood

off our hands – well I’m here to say that we can put whatever guilt aside, but we

can no longer run or hide from our painful truths – we must face them in order to

reconcile with what has happened and its legacy. This must happen or I predict a

great reckoning that I believe is on its way / already begun.

Bristol has the second highest tide in the world and is famous and infamous for

many things and is a significant city on the world stage. Did you know that it is

highly likely that Columbus passed through Bristol? Yes…. Columbus symbolically

was the beginning of the end was he not? So much so that some First Nation

Peoples describe his interference as the First World War – if that was the First

World War then the truth is that war has yet to end and whilst it has always been a

contested war it is also a war that has yet to be won.

I would love to take this letter from here (arms stretched) and talk about various

origin myths, myths that we came out of the sea or that human life came from

Sirius… much of these stories are lost to us aren’t they, lost like our traditional

practice, lost like the plight of our Mother Earth, lost like many of our spirits that

have become crushed, contorted, manipulated, taken or killed. From abundance to

restraint, understanding and harmony to commodification and destruction.

Dear Mother Earth, please forgive us our trespasses and give us the ability if we

must to forgive those who have trespassed against you. If you deem that

forgiveness isn’t appropriate then please give us the strength and means to save

you and restore you, by, any means necessary. We used to live aligning ourselves

with the seasons and reasons of being and doing. We didn’t always have harmony

its true that is part of human nature but surely there was a better time? We are all

visitors to this time, this place. passing through with a purpose to observe, to learn,

to grow, to love…. WE must remember that we are spiritual beings on a human

experience and whist here caretakers of you our Mother Earth. Life is a blessing

and we are here to contribute and be happy – but no one can be happy until you are

happy, and we know that you are unhappy yet resilient. Our sacred waters and air

is polluted, and the soil and land pillaged and plundered, this destruction is a great

transgression against you.

Our human expression and beyond words communication through our great gifts of

art, music, dance, theatre…. is at our core our essence of existence and stands us

out from other species. Creative expression that elevates communicates and

uncovers the soul and spirit of our humanity. It is like we are stepping through the

dance of our lives, but just marking it in a holding move, a simple move that can be

learnt and understood by everyone – as we learn the choreography for this great

dance that will be a victory dance, but only if we make it Carnival style and a mass

dance and endeavor to get everyone in on the line up.

Let us reflect for a moment let us humble ourselves and hear and see the

messages that we have ignored, all living things deserve respect: The buddlea still

fights through the concrete, the seagulls still comment from their perspective of

overview, the white flower of the bindweed grows rampant in the face of the traffic

and pollution, and we, we still rise to meet another day.

People often ask why is the movement so middle class and white well I refuse that

because we all know that indigenous communities and global south communities

the world over have had a fight on their hands for at least 4 centuries – I believe it is all about where your look and who gets platformed and prioritised and who doesn’t,

and amidst it all I want to thank the ‘middle class whites’ for using the your privilege

and finding a way to get in the way. But guess what it isn’t enough. We have to go

back to go forward. We must humble ourselves as newcomers to the party of

humanity, of life and actively seek out guidance. We must centre those who have

for generations been earth protectors we must seek forgiveness and council from

First Nation Peoples, we must know when it is time for us to speak and when it is

time for us to listen. We must know that we cannot move forward without their

guidance. We are the dancers but they must be the choreographers, we are the

movers but they hold the movement. We are the rhythm but they are the drum that

must drive us.

Finish my sentence: As it was in the beginning : So shall it be in the end. And we

are close to the end. Dancing on the front lines towards the end with our holding

move. But it isn’t the end is it? Let it only be the end of the last four centuries, only

the end of that deadly chapter. On this day in 1962, Martin Luther King gave his ‘I

have a dream speech’ incidentally the same day the Bristol Bus Boycott received its

victory. The speech was hedged on equality and unity, well today my dream is that

those with extreme privilege and those with none may come together, that those

who hold corporate and institutional power and those that are indigenous holding

knowledge and wisdom may find a way to come together. However that coming

together cannot mean meeting in the middle because there cannot be a

compromise of terms here and we cannot be reduced to the word of ink on a page

we must reclaim our indigenous humanity and recourse to the higher powers,

reclaiming almost lost traditions that are in balance with our Mother Earth. WE

MUST KEEP PUSHING forwards, we may not be able to take everyone with us.

Cold, spiritually defunct shallow hollow beings will fade to nothing in the new world

but not us we will dance, dance on, dance together. We will dance until the very end

and after it. Looking around today I want to believe in someway that we are the

dream, we are the change we need to see, and yet our movement can’t just declare

it must demand. And everyone involved must understand that little will be

successful unless we are able to pull together the climate emergency with the

global poverty and inequality and racism emergency, and if we do not put first

nations people at the centre.

 

In closing this letter to the Earth / this speech, I not only take strength & inspiration

from those that paved our way but I actively acknowledge that we have to go back

to go forwards & we must centre & stand behind the original Earth custodians

whose wisdom & knowledge is needed now more than ever. We can do this, we

can reconcile our humanity & save the planet, but only if we are truly willing to

listen, learn, humble ourselves & take the necessary action. I’m minded of Faith

Bandler the Australian life time activist like me multi ethnic but always championing

her indigenous heritage and people Her words “Dear friends, much pain has been

endured in the past, and that pain is no longer designated to hopelessness. It’s time

to move the process of reconciliation forward with a little more speed. That is the

task. If not now, when? If not us, who?”

 

Let us continue to stand together, act together, create together. Let us continue to

Poetry Today

Friends of St Pauls Library keep the literary heart beat going by moving free sessions online, under the excellent tutor and award wining writer, Akulah Agbami.  Akulah is also delivering a weekly online writing course that journeys through Africa and is highly recommended.  Tonight we explored a variety of techniques that included using water as a theme, editing our work with a thesaurus and using photography as a starting point.  We wrote a number of poems and I have joined a few lines here from what I wrote, which was in part inspired by a photograph in this article: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-20-women-new-faces-photojournalism

 

Discarded 

Forever the rug will be in recollection 

A piece of woollen dermis, jettisoned

Why is the dusk so thick with forgetting?

With Sirius in plain pageantry

 

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A bright star taken from the window of my inside door

The nocturnal sky nude to thine eye

A Winters tale, astray

Horizon scorned and scorched red with a Shepherds threat

Who were you?

Meditate on the outside of the Earth

My Grandmother drank Irish Moss

Remnants from the Ocean’s bed 

Hearsay and old wives tales

Now, all you’ve got in all that we’ve lost

The rug curls

This fraternity that transmits denotation

Interrupted like a rinse in the river at moonlight

Concealed, covert and requisite

Take the pail and drink in partnership at this juncture

At this vista

Hues allied in coalition. 

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Horse whisperer Oscar Scarpati in the farmyard with a wild foal in Villa de Merlo, San Luis, Argentina, on July 27, 2017. Photo by Erica Canepa taken from artsy.net.

UPRISING 2020 commemorative film released 40 years on from the St Pauls Riots

#CargoUprising2020 A perfect snap shot into the St Pauls uprising of 1980. A visually cool & creative execution of archive footage amidst, ‘there at the time and still around to tell the story’ voices; contemporary scenes and allusions to ongoing struggles. Furthermore under the umbrella of the Cargo Movement the creators have deliberately or not, placed the event within the global context of inter generational Afrikan peoples resistance that can be traced back to at least 400 years.

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Main man Lawrence Hoo behind pioneering collaborative Cargo project & UPRISING 2020 film

In response to the film I have also created a brief work  2/4/80/20 Mix Blk&Wyt to make grey concrete/Gamble Lean/Yng Balogun : ‘I know my name’ that can be viewed here

Of course Bristol was the first city to ‘go’ followed by Brixton and Handsworth in 1981 and a host of others around the country over the coming years. Handsworth Songs is a film that could be screened alongside the new short which could further connect communities across the country.  A quote that always stays with me from that film:

FOR THOSE THAT HAVE KNOWN THE CRUELTY OF BECOMING, LET THEM BEAR WITNESS TO THE PROCESS WHERE THE LIVING WILL TRANSFORM THE DEAD INTO PARTNERS IN STRUGGLE.  With a very good number of those around in the 80s still around, and furthermore still very much in St Pauls, I’d like to think that younger members of the community ally with their olders and the olders to elders to better understand our collective journey.  This is something that Uprising 2020 achieves very well through the visual representation of age.

I have shared this article before but the Uprising 2020 has inspired me to revisited it. http://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2010/12/st-pauls-uprising-bristol-1980.html?m=1
Interesting to note that the article claims that out of the 134 arrested 88 were classed as Black 46 White. Black and White mix to make grey concrete.

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2020 Digitally edited work by Cleo Lake 2012

The article cites two sources of information the first an extract from the book Uprising! The Police, the People and the Riots in Britain’s Cities by Martin Kettle and Lucy Hodges(London: Pan Books, 1981) and I pull the following quote:

‘The extra-parliamentary left has followed its traditional opportunism towards black struggles. At the march commemorating the anniversary of the death of Blair Peach the ANL [Anti Nazi League]— ever sensitive to fashion — had a black youth from Bristol on the platform.’  

WHO WAS THAT YOUTH?????????????????????????????????????????????

The rest of the article goes on to quote from a young activist Dianne Abbott writing in politically anarchic magazine The Leveller. Words that ring very true today:

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Dianne Abbott & late great Bernie Grant 1980s

 

Just when it had become fashionable for world-weary, elitist, metropolitan lefties to claim that class struggle was somehow ‘old-wave’, the Bristol race riots have put it triumphantly back on the political agenda in its most classic form – urban insurrection. The riots confirmed that the front-line is still where it has always been, which is not in animal liberation groups or whatever happens to be the current O.K. cultural preoccupation. The front-line is located where people are in struggle; where working people under all types of pressure, racism, capitalism in crisis, clash with the forces of the state.’

 

 

A Dance Manifesto & Re:Generations Manchester

Today is Election Day and aside from casting my vote I am avoiding everything else. Wake me up when we’ve had a change of Government already (fingers more than crossed). With a little more energy, capacity and followers I would love to have danced my way through campaigning – believing as I do in the power of dance to shift realities both individually and collectively. This week Dance UK also released its Dance Manifesto which clearly sets out the commitment required by the Government (which ever it may be tomorrow) to invest and give all children the opportunity to dance.

Dance Manifestos

It seems a long long time ago since I was a then ADAD (Association of Dance of the African Diaspora) Trailblazer in 2014. Now merged with Dance UK under the umbrella of One Dance, DAD (Dance of the African Diaspora) significantly contributed to staging another very successful Re:Generations conference at the Lowry Manchester a month ago in November.
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The Lowry is a fantastic modern inviting if but maze-like venue. Having it filled with black artists and black dance was a moment. It didn’t take much time until I saw familiar faces, old acquaintances, dance legends, pioneers and new talent. I chose to attend the breakout session entitled ‘Dance Symbolic Signification & meaning-making in the Digital Age’, a presentation and panel facilitated by my Trailblazer mentor Dr H Patten. Key discussion points for me were raised through Dr S Kwashie Kuwor regarding Dance research and the issue of representation.  His presentation explored themes that touched upon cultural appropriation, language and what is lost in translation. What is lost when dance is on film?  Is it ok to copy dance without its full context? Could we invoked certain energies unwittingly by doing so? Whilst some more academically minded were set upon documenting and verifying information in the established Eurocentric methods, I concluded that particularly with regards to what we could term ‘sacred dance‘ as opposed to ‘secular dance’, perhaps it is not something that is for academia or representation because it lives in the moment and beyond much of our understanding of the spiritual realms. How could something so profound possibly be represented or narrowed by the English language even?  If sacred dance was to be represented then everyone agreed that it should be documented by those from inside the culture.

Then on to Kwesi Johnsons workshop and presentation on augmented realities and dance. It was good to reconvene with him and we are set to collaborate on a number of exciting projects. 

Other highlights of my time at ReGens included Zab Maboungou and Danse Nyata Nyata from Canada on the international mixed bill. 

Industrial, nuclear, clinical, unison, highly stylised with incredible percussion, the work carried an urgency with it and seemed very very NOW despite having been made over 20 years ago.  Audiences were captivated and the spine tingled when the more percussive movements came out.  Zab also closed the conference with a few words including a heartfelt  mention of the role of minerals and in particular coltan from her beloved Congo – how could we have a conference set on digital and only mention it at the final hour? I later showed her my Fairphone mobile which she was encouraged by. 

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Alongside dance pioneer Zab Maboungou and a member of Danse Nyata Nyata from Canada & with Natasha Player Dance Pavilion Bournemouth

Then on to a  masterclass with Francis Angol ‘Embodied Flow – Articulating the Articulations Masterclass’ which I absolutely loved. It was contemporary yet with a Caribbean flavor that held rhythm and pulse at the center.  It challenged me and I want to do more. I felt the most alive I had for some time and it certainly rekindled something in me.  The dance studio was great – wonderful windows and mirrors a good floor it was such a joy. 

The evening concluded in the main theatre with Kalakuta Republik a furious, sexually charged, dynamic, abstract dance theatre work clashing and influenced by politics and Fela Kuti choreographed by the Belgian – Burkinanan Sege Aime Coulibaly.

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Kalakuta Republik by Faso Danse

Artistic Leaders Retreat 

The overall benefit of the 2-day retreat which followed the conference for me was the opportunity to generally reflect, network and get to know fellow artists in a little more depth. We all had shared experience. We had two facilitators one focused on the theory of change which in some ways was a little too theory-heavy. The other was more practical and helped us to consider the business side of being artists and in particular pricing and knowing our worth individually and collectively. It was quite surprising how hard many of us found it to pitch what we do in a concise way – possibly because many of us wear so many hats.

Overall the opportunity to attend booth events in Manchester massively reignited my commitment to dance and continuing with my career in the arts. Thank you to Theatre Bristol for supporting my trip.

Massive #EUGreenWave for Bristol

I am extremely disappointed to have got so close but not to have been elected to represent the SW and Gibraltar in the EU missing out by 0.2% of the vote or something silly. However as a party our main campaign was to re-elect Molly and we did that in fact as a party we have had an amazing result across the UK and Europe with other highlights including the election of Magid Magid for Yorkshire and the Humber. The Green vote in Bristol was huge in fact 20,000 votes ahead of the next contender – as we possibly head towards a General Election, that is very encouraging and is something that can definitely be built upon.

The #GreenWave is one that is wholly deserved. Its been a long time coming but it demonstrates that Bristol and further afield is ready for political change, this is a turning point in politics. Beyond the celebration of getting Molly re elected is the difficult reality that beyond Bristol and as an overall result, Brexit party headed the election in the SW it is a particularly tough and a difficult pill to swallow being beaten by Ann Widecombe… So the work now starts towards a #PeoplesVote and to #StopBrexit but in the knowledge that we have a battle on our hands.

It is also of note that many non British European citizens were not able to vote – despite being eligible and informed they could only to be turned away at the polling station. There were further issues regarding members of teh Romanian community where it seems demand to vote could not be met by the one allocated polling station. These all have implications to democracy.

We drove a good campaign with the limited time that we had. It was actually a real challenge for me to honour and compete all my duties as Lord Mayor and find time to campaign. Whilst our overall campaign was ‘Re-elect Molly’ I’m extremely grateful to everyone who helped with my element of the campaign especially Evoke photography, New England design and Jack-Arts, all the volunteers especially Heather Mack who went above and beyond to secure this result for the party. Respect also to all the other Green candidates on the SW list for all our efforts and to other new Green MEPs who were successful. AND everyone who voted for Me / Us 💚

End of Term as Lord Mayor

Bristol. Thank you for the love and respect that you have shown me wherever I have been. Thank you for making it clear to me that the role of Lord Mayor doesn’t have to be a tired and fading one but that it is important and relevant across the whole city and beyond. Thank you, Bristol, for being the best place to represent.

And along with my Lady Mayoress Bianca Durrant and other consorts, represent we did.

South Bristol was one of my focal points for the year and I am proud to say that I made it my duty to visit as many schools as I could primarily in South Bristol but right across the city too. I was honoured to initiate a visit to three South Bristol schools with record-breaking Knowle West balloonist Brian Jones.

I’ve listened to readers on the reading recovery program, I’ve read stories to classes, I’ve given out certificates and attended aspiration days and have wondered how many year threes have gone home and said to their parents or careers when I grow up I want to be a Lord Mayor or when I grow up I want to have rainbow coloured hair! I have really enjoyed school assembly Q&As and watching faces light up when I talk them through the regalia history and civic buildings well it doesn’t always light up at that bit but it does when we get on to unicorns!

People asked me throughout the term ‘what do u want to get out of it?’ a question that kind of annoyed me as actually its what do I want Bristol to get out of it rather than myself. I came with a few ideas but no agenda other than to do my best to engage as widely as possible.

A clear highlight was returning to my senior school of Colston Girls 20 years after leaving to give the keynote address at the annual Commemoration. I had for the years prior been an activist demanding that the school stop the celebration of enslaver and people trafficker Edward Colston.

Unicorns – one of the last things I did as LM was to get a Bristol inspired unicorn tattooed live at M shed – what a symbol and an achievement no not just getting inked live but inked by Skin Deep. Skin Deep is one of Bristols oldest tattoo parlours positioned as it is now on Old Market I would often walk past as a child with my mother usually on the way to the post office or something. I always felt nervous walking past as at that time it had racist associations. So it was actually more symbolic that over 30 years later I would come not just to be inked by that parlour but that I should be the Lord Mayor of our city. It shows that whilst we still face challenges in society, we have definitely moved forward as a city in many ways.

On top of set engagements and civic duties like fortnightly citizenship ceremonies and the like, with the support of Lady Mayoress, we have also tried to push ourselves to do more

A good example was taking the opportunity to stage a Windrush to Carnival variety show at Hippodrome with a raft of acts across genres generations many of whom might never have played the Hippodrome and likewise much of the audience might never have attended the venue
The event raised over 2.5k for Sickle Cell.

Bianca and I compared the show and moonlighted away from the role by still in ceremonial chains when we doubled up as backing dancers on the night for ska band the Black Flames so this along with performing a dance routine in robes at the Bristol Comes Dancing event, and more recently being one of 2 lords a leaping when Peaches and I did a Morris dance at Mayday celebrations, so I managed to get the dancing in there!

The experience has been something that money cannot buy and a one in a million experience that no one can take away from us. I will miss the parlour but I walk away with a mini statue of me and a great lion painting and leave office on a high joining the exclusive club of former Lord Mayors and as an award-winning Lord Mayor honoured as I was on Saturday with the Dr Paul Stephenson special recognition award at Bristol Diversity Awards.

I will end with the words I gave in my acceptance speech…

Its been a dream to represent the city that I was born in and that I love

There are lots to look forward to this year St. Paul’s Carnival, Pride, Grace Jones on the Downs, and the Specials at Harbour Festival. The Specials returning after decades to a sold-out show got me thinking, not just pondering whether I will still get a free ticket but that for me Bristol is like the ska and two-tone band. Being a Bristolian is more than Skin Deep and Bristol is a two-tone city plus, we have always been a pan European city and we are a snapshot of an example of what it means to be a leading city in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

It is black and white and everything in between

It is ancient and modern young and old

It is able-bodied and disabled

It is gay and straight and everything in between

It is male and female and everything in between

It is vegan and locally sourced hand-reared meat eating and everything in between

It is all of these things and more

This city was, is and can continue to be a leading city, whether that’s engineering, creativity, sustainability, tech, race relations or equalities.

Our diversity is our strength and innovation is our blueprint.

The Colours of Remembrance

I am still in reflection mode after a huge Remembrance Day service commemorating 100 years since the end of WW1.  I have learnt and felt so much and yet still struggle to make sense of the enormity and scale of that war – its millions of casualties, the horrors and violence, the trauma and pain, and also the unflinching sense of pride and service.  It has been an honour meeting so many veterans and The Royal British Legion volunteers over the past few weeks, I have nothing but admiration and respect for them.

As Lord Mayor I chose to wear a red a black and a white poppy and the police horses who escorted me wore purple a colour used in tribute to the vast numbers of animals killed at war.  Many weeks prior I had informed council officers of my intention to wear the three poppies.  The black poppy something I first discovered in 2014 at a Black British History education conference in London.  The idea of wearing the black poppy which I have done for the last three years was unproblematic but there was a sense of nervousness with the white that I failed to really understand.  The reason why I choose to wear a white poppy is because I am committed to peace as are so many other people that I have met.  Symbols for me are important they represent intentions and are the starting point of action.

 

The Peace Pledge Union supply the bulk of white poppies and this year I have also noticed a few knitted ones along with the purple at various displays. Some anonymous soul had left a white wreath with a single black poppy on the cenotaph Sunday morning which was allowed to remain thus being the foundation wreath in a sense this year albeit unofficial.  Fellow Green Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid also went against convention and officer advice to not only wear a single white poppy but he also laid a white wreath alongside the red.

 

On my invitation,  Peaches Golding the Lord Lieutenant and Marvin Rees Mayor of Bristol, joined me in having black poppies within our wreaths that we laid on the cenotaph. I felt this was important especially during year four of the International Decade For People of African Descent with its tagline of Recognition Justice and Development.  It is painful to reimagine the treatment of those from other countries who supported the war effort both whilst in service and once it was over.  Historian David Olusoga has written quite extensively on the matter with a recent article entitled ‘Black soldiers were expendable – then forgettable’ 

 

Of course sadly the treatment of British soldiers too over the years has been less than ideal, some of whom would struggle financially and otherwise today were it not for the Royal British Legion and the annual poppy appeal.

Yesterday we reached the centenary of the armistice from ‘the great war’ the ‘first World War’ a bloody affair that cost millions of lives. The call of ‘Never Again’ has fallen short. We must give more commitment to peace.  Blessed are the peacekeepers.  But maybe peace starts within oneself. ‘War’ can be big or small, if you cannot find peace within yourself, home, family, community then can there be peace in the wider world?

Wearing a poppy or not and the colour of the poppy is a personal choice.  I will continue to support the Royal British Legion and I will probably wear a red poppy next year but I am not certain.  I expect I will wear a black poppy next year.  I have been left feeling exhausted as a civic leader and a little disillusioned in terms of the likelihood for world peace.  But I have to push my mind to imagine a day when war globally becomes extinct.  When as a country ‘we’ cease to prioritise large investments into things like Trident, and where ‘we’ no longer supply regimes with arms.  I wish the business of war to end. I will continue to advocate for ongoing PEACE and so next year whilst I am in doubt as to what colours of remembrance I will wear, I know that I will definitely be wearing the white poppy and I hope a growing number of people will do the same.

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Cross laid on behalf of the War Widows Association.

 

Inauguration as Lord Mayor of Bristol 22/5/18 Speech

Elders, Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Fellow Councillors, Council staff and all the distinguished guests, family and friends, May I begin by Thanking you Cllr Leslie Alexander now Deputy Lord Mayor not only for serving Bristol well in your year but more personally for allowing me to join you and shadow you on a number of engagements and for giving me some handy tips and I look forward to continuing to work together here and there over the year.

But what is a Lord Mayor? My earliest memory of Lord Mayor can be seen in this photo. I can’t remember who the Lord Mayor was at the time but I was no more than 4 when they visited my nursery school. We made the three cornered hats and large golden paper chains donned round our necks. We looked more like like a motley crew of Bristol pirates, and I guess that’s what most people think of when they think of the Lord Mayor, no not pirates but the chain the robe and possibly the triangle hat with black feathers. Cllr Alexander did mention that school children do ask where’s your hook?!

 

In fact being mayor is of course a huge privilege and responsibility – it’s a role of representing the city, of being Bristol’s ‘first citizen’ for a year. I’d like to thank some of the people who got me here – my parents Anne Cormack nee Campbell and my father Melbourne Hezekiah Lake. And the teachers who helped me – those at the nursery, and those who followed at Easton Road Primary Mr Hills and Mrs Willgress and Miss Pinner. Education plays such an important part in helping us reach for the future – I was lucky enough to be exposed to varied ideas, experiences and cultures which enabled me and my classmates one of which is my Lady Mayoress Bianca Durrant- to travel in our imaginations. I recall our head teacher playing a plethora of classical music at most assemblies Fanfare for the common man comes to mind, I enjoyed country dancing, and one teacher, Mr Hills – a man with a beard, long brown hair brown, brown cords, plaid shirt and sandals with socks,  played the guitar and sang us Caribbean songs like ‘tingo layo’ whilst playing the guitar, and read us Anancy stories. My secondary school of which I had made up my mind to attend from the age of 5, from The school currently known as Colston Girls I wish in particular to thank and give credit to Mrs Hook and Mr Butcher.

I grew up in Easton and enjoyed a great community spirit – from sharing delicious food with our next door neighbours, the Kaliks, at Eid, to enjoying the reggae played by Mr Jimmy at all hours across the road on a Saturday night – this was in a pre noise pollution monitoring or asbos era; Mrs Clark and her sister two dear pensioners spoiling us with treats at Christmas, the comforting sound of Bristolian being spoken loudly as long standing residents discussed business and gossiped back and forth and in and out each other’s houses. Bill Ivor and Bills elderly mum at the end of the street who adored my sister and I and who actually unofficially adopted us as her Granchildren just before she died, and we being very young and not knowing what that meant used to address her by saying ‘Hello adopted gran’… Joan an eccentric woman who supported our family endlessly; Early days woth the Selassie family just on teh cornet who remain close family friends; The Weetons next door with the immaculate hedge, Dennis with his pond of carp; and last but by no means least Mr and Mrs Smith in fact my Lady mayoress’ grandparents who provided us every summer without fail a share of their allotment harvest of plums and beans and various other produce. That was my street, thats where I grew and thats where I learnt. I cant say that I would have made it here today if I hadn’t of grown up there.

And I hope besides some of the challenges my own family have experienced that my own children may reflect in as a positive way on their child hoods. Thank you to my three children Ashante Romany and Fitzroi who try to support me and I am very proud of you all but must tell you that you must do more around the house to quite literally pick up the pieces this year! I notice we had a Fitzroi in – 1958 Fitzroy George William Chamberlain – but not yet an Ashante or Romany at least not in name but who knows maybe in tribe.

Looking back on our history in this city and the one of Mayor and later Lord Mayor it stretches back 800 years and is now into 802 years. The first Lord Mayor was in 1216 a Mr Roger Cordewaner – I didn’t want to ask any one how to pronounce that because  didnt want to be corrected as its so much fun to say!  I hope my year wont be full of getting peoples names wrong given that I am set to meet hundreds if not thousands of people.

The first woman was elected as Lord Mayor in 1963 Deputy Mayor Cllr Alexander was actually the 10th ever woman to be Lord Mayor given that one woman served twice, so that makes me the 11th female Lord Mayor in the 800 year old legacy.  The others were and I list to honour them

1963 Florence Mills Brown

1968 Mercia Evelyn Castle OBE, JP

1971 Mrs Helen Bloom

1986 Mrs Joan Jones

1989 Mrs Kathleen Minnie Mountstephen

1994 Mrs Claire Margaret Warren

1995 Mrs Joan Barbara McLaren (dd 08.01.10)

1996 Mrs Joan Barbara McLaren

2001 Brenda Patricia Hugill

2015 Clare Campion-Smith

I hope tradition remains and allows for our names to be etched into stone amidst but in no way over shadowed by all those men’s names. I am a change on the wall a name on a brick but never just another brick in the wall. I, probably a bit like our New Duchess of Sussex if I may for a second compare myself to a royal princess, probably have very little in common with our early forerunners and for obvious reasons none of them that I can unearth were dancers!  I am bringing some changes to the position – I am different from my predecessors – I am a dancer. For the last 10 years been the dance leader for the most incredible group The Malcolm X Elders Forum who meet weekly as a social club, providing activities and a hot lunch giving people a weekly dose of engagement and something to get out of the house for.  They have not just provided me with work and support when I have needed it but they are my friends. My own father was a proud African man born in Jamaica and sadly passed away just hours after my 10th birthday. Engaging with the club also gave me an opportunity to re engage and learn about my roots and culture and is a testament to the power of intergenerational activity – something I look forward to developing this year.

It is of course an honour for my elders and my community at large me being first citizen of bristol in the same year as we celebrate 50 years of the St Pauls Carnival and 70 years since Windrush docked. It is testament to the distance travelled.  So today I stand here quite possibly as my ancestors wildest dreams. Well unless thats my ancestors on my mothers side Clarence Church Campbell and Pearl Bailey aka Big Bill Campbell and Peggy Bailey sweetest voice of the West.

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Big Bill Campbell and Peggy Bailey ‘Sweetest Voice of The West’. My Country and Western singing pioneering entertainers and racist grandparents.

My grandfather was  Scots Canadian. He had served in the airforce. And he is credited with pioneering country and western music in the UK.

My Canadian grandad who fought & survived at Vimy Ridge WW1

My Scots Canadian Grandad who fought and survived at Vimy Ridge WW1.

He along with his rocky mountaineers also popularised the phrase ‘Mighty Fine’. But he and my maternal grand mother were also racists.  This is an uncomfortable truth and a painful one when as a child the photo that my mother sent to her mother of my sister and I was opened then returned because of the colour of my skin and because the colours of my our skins did not match.  In fact my mother was constantly confronted with questions and phrases such as your kids really confuse my kids….

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My sister and I with a recused greyhound from Eastville racing track

 

History is complicated and full of paradoxes standing here as i do as a proud Bristolian Scots woman of African and Caribbean heritage. I have explored my African roots visiting Ghana several times and more recently Benin and Togo – I do hope there might be an opportunity to travel in my year I look forward to visiting Bordeaux one of Bristol’s oldest twins or maybe somewhere a little warmer or more likely colder especially as travel in office is to be self funded these days and rightly so perhaps… so looking for my roots, maybe ? No. Yes!  Scotland it is! Tracking down and calling in or calling on or heaven forbid calling out for some reason the Dukes of Argyle. Chiefs clans and castles all sounds very romantic and a far cry from diamond socks with with jeans tucked in a la Bristol circa 1991. It’s a long way to travel Scotland mind, I wonder if you can do it on one charge in a Tesla that’s a top of the range electric car?.. If not then I am minded of that wise thing a man once said I think on an advert ‘I ain’t looking forward to the journey home neither!’

I’m keen to explore the international relations Bristol enjoys – we’re twinned with a number of places. I’ve been informed by officers in the twining department the necessity of economic benefit when considering new partnerships and well preferably tangible links…. so I’m not yet sure what might be in it for Bristol as such or what tangible links we might have with Scotland, well apart from at least half of the public gallery is more than likely part Scottish – Campbell in fact is a surname found more widely in Jamaica than Scotland itself and we of course share the soltare style flags.

Thinking of heraldry I am so proud of my City the city where I was born and I think it is truly something special that we have a unicorn in our symbol – a unicorn a sepant and the scales… I do intend to incorporate this into a hair do at some point or an outfit somehow by the way both I and the office of Lord Mayor are open for sponsorship with Cllr Stevens already backing a few hair dos – i’m not sure if thats a problem or do I set the rules now as first citizen?  The role doesn’t come with a manual just a load of anecdotes, conventions and very little budget! Clive which one next?  Serpent unicorn or scales?  I’m not sure yet how to show justice we will have to come back to that one, so let’s go for a medusa inspired style and I will try to turn anyone to stone who doesn’t obey the traffic lights. You see my other role is to Chair full council and councillors must limit their speeches to 3 mins although today it’s 2 mins…

The heraldry or the symbols of Bristol which date to 1569.  The significance of these various items is recorded in the City Audit Books of this time:- and I quote the Unicorns will only do homage to men of virtue; (shrugs) the arms in the crest signify that good government depends on wisdom (the serpent) and justice (the scales) and that these are divine gifts from above.

Many are called but few are chosen – I realise that I have been chosen and whist this may for some be timely I would suggest that its actually later than we think so in the song words of Gaetano Alberto “Guy” Lombardo and his Royal Canadians we had better enjoy ourselves.

Joking aside Part of the role is a diplomatic duty and is this is also something I look forward to – welcoming various delegates to Bristol and continuing to some of our international partnerships with places such as Bordeaux and start to build new ones that perhaps resonate with some of our historic ties. As I alluded to – twining relies heavily on vested communities taking an active role in pulling things together so I have every faith that many of the people here today will support the over due call to link and one day twin cities in Bristol with Jamaica.

Closer to home I will enjoy connecting across Bristol with various communities learning new things and seeing new places – I will also span the breadth of the city and will be connecting in a meaningful way organically and inclusively across all walks of society – from Filwood community centre, care homes, schools, to Merchants Hall and beyond I believe that I can be a bridge and a major asset to the city. I look forward to working with new groups in new ways, including via one of my passions – dance.  It is my intention to invite dance artists and guests to lead a few moves in future full council meetings – so with respect I think its only right that I address and recognise perhaps the most experienced Lord Mayor in our midst none other former LM Cllr Peter Abrahams who has served three times – Cllr Abrahams I have one question for you – how is your cha cha cha?!  I know Cllr Hance is into flamenco and going back to my roots i’m imagining a mosh pit of politicians and I’m scouring the crowd not looking for any ravers but rather …. a line dancer…. come on get on board for Strictly come dancing full council, we could try and literally sweat our assets and encourage more views on webcast a text donation line maybe…. We must find times to have fun and I will be sure to have a fun year.  I honestly believe that Bristol can be a beacon and lead the way on how we can co exist together and be part of the collective narrative. So you have heard a little more about me your Lord Mayor for the year, I can’t promise to take the title from my maternal grandmother as the sweetest voice of the West when chairing full council but I pledge to be firm and fair. I welcome the public gallery of citizens posing questions making statements seeking clarity providing insights and holding this council to account. But I do believe in order and progress. Let’s channel together the notion of good governance through our founding principles of wisdom and justice and then maybe for me it would indeed be mighty fine if we may think of our cousin island of Jamaica firstly as a cousin and secondly in doing so be inspired by and heed their motto that out of many we can be one Bristol, then and only then the spirit of the unicorn may be bestowed upon us and then I know the true magic will happen.

Thank you all, please in a moment join us for teas and coffees next door in the conference room. After the break I will come back here to Chair full council, guests you are very welcome to observe this what will be a debate on our constitution. Otherwise you are cordially invited to enjoy socialising in the writing room and I will join you around 5pm, but you can start as I mean to go on with dancing in City Hall.

#JAmnesty Campaign  launched amidst deportation threat to community elders 

The Commonwealth Games is underway and we are fast approaching Windrush @ 70, but there is a less than celebratory spotlight being placed on sections of our British Caribbean community by the Home Office.

Since the end of last year I had become aware of a small number of elders and others who had concerns about letters they had received from the Home Office. No one had contacted me directly, all cases were presented to me via friends of those in need of assistance. One such person was described as an elderly Jamaican woman who like many others had arrived in the UK with parents on their parents passport in the 1960s when many were invited over to become nurses to support a failing NHS and take on other jobs that desperately needed filing. This lady had not been back to Jamaica, had lived here all her adult life, worked here, had children here and made her home here in Bristol. Now she was seriously unwell with stress from being informed that she have no right stay here. Bristol Refugee Rights also raised the alarm more recently informing me that they had seen a number of people seeking advice on the matter with anticipation that those effected were probably more widespread.

Immigration law changed in 1971 and whilst those here pre 1971 are able to stay here, the issue has arisen in part due to both the rising ‘hostile environment’ matched with difficulties in finding or securing evidence and papers confirming someones length of time here.

 

In June it will be 70 years since Windrush – the ship that brought a wave of Caribbean immigrants to the UK. Eager, proud and ready to work, this Windrush generation were met with hostility, hate and sub standard living conditions but non the less worked hard not only to improve their economic conditions and that of Britain but they also embellished British culture and left a huge cultural legacy. Their contribution like that of their ancestors who were colonized and enslaved enabled the modern development of Great Britain, from fuelling the industrial revolution to sound system culture, language and food – the contribution has been immense and it makes it all the more difficult to not take offence to these latest actions by the Home Office.

I work with a large group of Caribbean elders every week and I was eager not to wait until a friend or neighbour had a letter from the Home Office before taking action, so with consultation from others I began the petition calling for an immigration amnesty.  As well as being a local councillor I am also affiliated with both the Afrikan Connexions Consortium (ACC ) and Greens of Colour UK (GOC) who both support the petition and campaign along with the Malcolm X Centre. For the ACC, the petition is an element of the Stop The Maangamizi Campaign. Preventing these deportations, implementing the immigration amnesty and allowing these people to stay and rightly benefit from the contributions made by themselves and their enslaved and colonized Ancestors to the building of Britain, is a necessary step toward Reparatory Justice.  Patrick Vernon has also launched a Government petition also calling for an Amnesty.  We hope that this double pronged approach will ensure the justice we need for our elders.

https://www.change.org/p/home-office-we-demand-an-immigration-amnesty-for-commonwealth-citizens

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/216539

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VICTORY: Commemoration without his name or his flower

Last night I saw confirmation of the rumours that the Colston Girls School annual commemoration will drop all mention of Slave Trader Edward Colston and his favourite flower.

This comes after 2 years of campaigning by Countering Colston.  It has particular importance to me as an ex student with memories of Commemoration held first Friday of November.  At first it was simply half a day off school, the wearing of a stupid hat and the hassle of finding a bronze Chrysanthemum  and I actually enjoyed singing the Te Deum!  Well as I grew I  understood more that as a person of Jamaican descent I should not be giving thanks to this man.  When I began to challenge and question I was shut down – WE HAD NO EDUCATION EVER ON WHAT EC HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN.  The scars stayed with me for a longtime and after leaving school in 1998 it was only in 2015 that I attended Commemoration as ‘an old girl’ in protest and as an observer.

Inspired by recent presentations and conversations by Dr Catherine Hall and Claudia Rankine, I wrote this poem in response to the news which is a draft and personal expression.

 

Name no more 

I am so glad that his name is to be dropped as is his bronze chrysanthemum because I never needed to pluck the petals to know you loved us not,

But to be real I’d also sooner see young whites from nowhere demand that the statue fall

because until then I won’t see that we have actually moved on or gotten over the last hungdreads years wars

Coercion cohesion coercion

So much loss grief sorrow and confusion as anti immigrant and austerity are packaged and peddled out as new endorsements on the deadly agenda

That callous disregard, greed and exploitation effects the many for the few

More people should question their heroes and gods

Spit out the dinner that you were fed on your knees

That toxic soup of fear, difference and beaten out gratitude for their society

They never gave us shit we always had to take it

White man white woman my brothers and sisters in lower classlessness

remember who you were

Was there ever a good old day ?

You boiled a stone

Attended mass for bread

Took the starver bun with lowered eyes then back to : as we were

On their plantation of capitalism

Working to death and left only with debt, cancer or obesity

As defined by a cash crop

Out of Afrika – we are all connected but these last ones in seem adamant to end us all

You started with her                                                                                     

But now that whiteness obscures into

A slum district of the mind

And dehumanises and separates and carves and cuts and leaves so many dead         

When did you die?

You were standing in 1831 and in the Southmead riots but now I don’t see you so tough

That EC thinks he helped to civilise my folks in Jamaica

Jamaica the in between worlds of imagination and conversion

‘Saving us’ from the markets on the continent that Long accounts would have traded in our death as a more valuable commodity than our life                                                     

Seems in stark contrast with the crest of Canynges or the vegan realities, does it not?

What would Queen Scotia of Ireland and Scotland say birthing you as she did from far off lands the daughter of Nephatiti

My electric ginger braids are a tribute to the embers of identity orgasmed out in the heat of a moment of love between all that I am

My universality touches moons on a cycle reclaimed from rape

Rebirthing perhaps the great wrath that is within us as

We call our children back

And yet again forgive the trespass

On this line of no in between there is no middle ground

You are not better than me

Your elitism and greed was a curse pending retribution

I can fantasize about your remorse

But I cannot piss on your grave today

I can hold a toast against you or with you for them

For the millions whose blood have paved these streets and for the duped and subdued amongst us

Who with their lives prop up the ‘yous’                                         

And continue to be drowned on a global scale or murdered as your war fodder

You had your chances: crown clergy lords and politicians

It is time to step aside

Your world ending whiteness

Your fading legacy at last

It will soon be over

And as it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end

A corner turns where we will rise to face the sun, bathe in the moonshine, smell the trees, praise the rivers; hold hands and heal together for out of many we are one and one day you will be out of commemoration and memory.