Wednesday October 6th saw an all female line up of artists, performers and activists take to the stage at St Georges Bristol to pay tribute to the lives of three amazing women. Organised by members of the Ujima Collective, Sisters With Voices (SWV) was a stunning event packed full of entertainment and emotion, and it was indeed an honour to be invited amidst a rostrum of female talent and community friends, to give thanks for the lives of Miss Leotta Goodridge, Miss Carmen Beckford MBE and Miss Princess Campbell MBE and more widely to female activism and strength in general.
Out of the three it was only Princess Campbell who I knew personally, having worked with her in my role with the Malcolm X Elders since 2008 in which Princess played a pivotal role in motivating others, raising funds and telling people what was what. She was a true activist with a terrific sense of humour and I miss her terribly. I had met Carmen Beckford in 2013 at the St Pauls Carnival for which I was Chair that year. In many ways given Carmen’s involvement in Carnival and dance she would be an obvious idol for me and indeed she is. I never had the pleasure of meeting Leotta Goodridge in person but I often saw ‘the Queen of St Pauls’ and I have since become more aware of all the amazing work that she had done.
All hailing from the Caribbean region (Jamaica and Guyana), all three women were icons of change and although no longer with us, they along with notable other transatlantic heroines remain with us not only in spirit and legend but also as partners in struggle as we see a new dawn rising here in Bristol by way of new movements ranging from the surge in the number of black female councillors; ‘Bristol is the New Black’ initiative; the multi award wining Ujima radio and even via connections to field changing publications such as GalDem. These new landscapes could not have happened without the earlier movements and pioneers in the circle of change.
Our Bristol icons of change rest with other transatlantic sisters such as Claudia Jones. Nicknamed the ‘Mother of Caribbean Carnival’ born in 1915 in Port of Spain Trinidad Claudia migrated with siblings to join parents in Harlem, New York City in 1924 and joined the Communist Party at 18. A political prisoner and subsequently deported from the US to the UK in 1955, Claudia wasted no time in doing what she could to improve the life conditions of the black community and others in the UK, going on to found The West Indian Gazette in 1958 and a little later the world famous Notting Hill Carnival. Her contribution to community and activism is immense and her contribution to the socialist and the communist movements is highlighted no less than being buried next to her hero, Karl Marx, in Highgate Cemetery, North London.
It is at times overwhelming to attempt to measure up against such women who selflessly went beyond what was required of them. Who knows truly what their inner struggles were as I am increasingly becoming aware that actually you cannot do it all or really have it all -in fact more often something needs to give, sacrifices have to be made. It is unlikely that any of them set out to do what they did, rather it was an inner irrepressible drive to serve their communities, seek justice and to challenge the status quo.
Rosa Parks was another ‘unplanned activist’ who didn’t wake up thinking she would instigate a boycott and a law change by refusing to give up her seat in the black section of the bus when the white section was full. It was rather that she had had a busy day was tired and needed to sit down which she was entitled to do. Very quick plug that I will be playing Rosa Parks on the 22nd October on the Bristol Bus in the M Shed – free entry, the play Clara and Rosa is around 30 minutes. I leave you with a quote from that play:
‘It’s good to have heroes. To have idols. I got my own – we’ve all got them, or at least we all should. Gives you something to go after. But they’re just human beings, doing the first thing that comes into their heads at the time. I mean, I wouldn’t even’ve got on that bus if I’d seen who was driving it… People do what they got to do not always what they want.’