Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A force for change: Molly Williams & Lieutenant Walter Tull

Written by Nigel Williams Chief Fire Officer- Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Change can be driven by many things a selfless act and terrible events and unfair laws – in each case it is an individual’s reaction to events that can be a catalyst for positive change.

I want to pay tribute to two individuals who have been a force for change – making each of our lives better and fairer by their actions and example.

As you would expect my list starts with a firefighter.

Molly WilliamsFirefighter  

Women have been firefighters for longer than most people realize: in fact, for almost 200 years. The first woman firefighter we know of was Molly Williams, an African American woman who was a cook with Oceanus Engine Company Fire House in New York City in 1815.

One wintry day in 1818 Molly heard the church bells signalling a fire, she rushed to be of help. This time, however, it was not food that was needed, but extra hands as sickness had severely limited the number of men who responded.

Molly did not hesitate - donning a leather fireman’s hat, she pitched in to help. And help she did. She helped to pull the heavy tanker to the scene of the fire, passed water on the bucket brigade, worked on the pumper, manned a hose, and pulled down parts of burning walls with a hook.

In the end she received the highest compliment she could hope for from the Fire Captain: “Molly, by golly, you’re as fine a fire lad as any!” From then on she was known as volunteer number 11.

Her story is told in a children’s book – “Molly by Golly” – the Legend of America’s First Female Firefighter.

Her heroics are recorded in the African American Firefighters Museum in Los Angeles.

Today, women play a significant role in the fire service around the world.

I am incredibly proud to follow in her footsteps and I hope Molly, looking down, is proud of me and my colleagues.

Since 2014 marks the 100 anniversary of WW 1 it is only fitting that we celebrate the achievements and bravery of the UK’s first black combat officer.

Walter Tull – British Officer

Walter was also one of the first black professional footballers – playing for Tottenham Hotspur. When war broke out he volunteered for the 17th Middlesex, called the Football Battalion because of the number of players in its ranks. Once again he found himself the only black man in the team - and he proved himself all over again. By the time he finished his training he had been promoted three times

After one daring night raid, in Italy in which Walter led 26 men across a swirling river and brought them all back unharmed, he was mentioned in dispatches for “gallantry and coolness under fire”. 

Senior officers recommended Walter for promotion and he won his commission in May 1917 although military regulations - forbidding "any negro or person of colour" being an officer.

He became the first Black combat officer in the British Army. In contrast with his fellow officers – most of whom were from well-off families and public school-educated he was a working class orphan.

Lieutenant Tull was killed leading his men during the second battle of the Somme in 1918. He was such a popular officer that when he was wounded several of his men made valiant efforts under heavy fire to bring him back to the British trenches at the some cost of their own lives. However their efforts were in vain.

He was recommended for a Military Cross but never received one. Campaigners are calling for the government to posthumously award him the medal.

His accomplishment and sacrifice are being recognised and celebrated as part of the commemorations of the centenary of WWI. His portrait with a backdrop of infantry soldiers going "over the top" will feature in one of a set of six coins to remember the sacrifices made by many during the war. 

To-day our armed forces have 670 black and ethnic minority officers and racism is condemned. 

Lieutenant Tull I salute you.

A force for change: Dr Minns.

Written by Jo Wilson - Director & Diversity Consultant - Unity in diversity CIC 

It is not just one, but many people who have inspired me through my life. 

As educators,  I feel it is important for  us to make the younger generation aware of our arms reach heroes, in the hope that they too will feel that they could achieve

If I was to ask "Who was the first Black Mayor of Gt Britain?"
You may answer, John Archer, elected Mayor of Battersea 1913.

But in fact  it was noted, that nine years earlier, in 1904, "Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns, a  coloured man from West Indies, (Bahamas) was elected Mayor of the borough of Thetford, Norfolk". 

Dr Minns, did so much for the town of Thetford including Campaigning for the rights of the ordinary people who were suffering from the appalling conditions of the work house. He made it his duty to improve their health and Wellbeing. This alongside his role as a Magistrate and other responsibilities required of a Mayor. 

He was an educated man, who came as an immigrant to the town of Thetford and  gained the respect of the local community. A realistic notion and personal to me as my father Simon Gordon also had a similar journey.  He too, an educated man, came as an immigrant from the West Indies and won the respect of the local people, both as a businessman and for the contribution he made to the local community.

A Black man... paving the way for others like you and I.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Our dream is to bring beauty to the world

On the dark stage of the Theatre Royal, on a magical night of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, a light sculpts the shape of Sidiki Diabaté. He holds and tunes his kora. From silence the first notes emerge as a warm voice through a growing feeling of commotion.  His fingers dance on the strings of his instrument and a sweet composition vibrates in the air as a lullaby. 

After his first song, Toumani Diabaté appears on the stage and sits on the second chair. They look at each other, father and son, and without speaking they start to play, tuned on the same melody in a bind of notes which ties the spectators. 

It is a sequence of songs; then silence is broken by the clapping of the audience.  The spectacle goes on for around one hour. Then Toumani Diabaté takes the microphone and with his smile gives thanks to the spectators. He says: “Thank you England for adopting me. I’m a Camden boy! I arrived here from Mali in 1986; since then I have been living here and travelling around the world with my music.”

He looks at his son and states: “Our dream is to bring beauty to the world.”

The African Kora music is beauty which penetrates hearts. Kora is an instrument made by a half calabash covered with cow skin and strung with fishing lines. It is played using only four fingers on twenty-one strings whose sound is smartly combined in one time by the players. 
He continues: “The most important thing to me is to bring this music from the past. This is the free jazz of the tradition. Listening to the music you might feel like dancing or just to close your eyes and dream with the melody. What we play is all about peace and spirituality.” 

The last song the duo play is called Lampedusa. “We wrote this song thinking of the 300 plus Africans who passed away trying to reach the costs of Lampedusa in Italy, last October 2013. We were lucky to get a chance of working, of getting a VISA. But now everything is difficult. If you don’t have a VISA, if you don’t have money you are nothing. This is very sad,” Toumani Diabaté concludes.  

The last notes sound like all the words of those who were lost in a sea of hope. 

The end is a noisy clapping of enthusiastic spectators while Toumani and Sidiki leave the scene.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Black History and Modernism in Twentieth Century Art

Written by Danny Keen

Creole Dancer, Henri Matisse

I studied fine art in 1960s “Swinging London”. In that era Black Culture rushed through the establishment like a refreshing breeze. Once again the Zeitgeist dipped into Black History to find the name that defined the times. The term “Swinging” was itself a word that was borrowed from Jazz, similarly the 1920s and 30s were called the “Jazz Age”.  A black person studying fine art at that time was in a lonely position. As far as I knew I was the only one. What I had in common with my white fellow students was that we were all reaching for something new. We were trying to break free of the straight jacket of the establishment.
The first time I walked into an art school I was impressed by “Beatnicks”. These were people who had long hair, dark clothing and carried bongo drums and guitars around with them as they walked about in sandals reciting “Beat” poetry. These people were “hip”, but they were soon overtaken by “Hippies” as the coolest “cats and chicks” around. It seemed to me that generations of young people were liberally dipping into Black Culture to define themselves. The “Beat”, the “Hip”, the “Cool”, the “Swing”, the “Hip Hop”, the “Groove” are elements of youth style that have derived from Black culture.
And so it was in the visual arts. Starting with Paul Gauguin in the nineteenth century modern painting was developed by artists dipping into the great well of Black Culture for their inspiration.  When I was a student “New York Abstract Expressionism” was considered to be the cutting edge of the visual arts. The leading light of the movement was Jackson Pollock who had died in a car crash some years earlier. Pollock, in common with his contemporaries, immersed himself in Jazz music.  In the 1940s Pollock produced “action” paintings using the improvisational approach of jazz musicians. This put him at the forefront of a new generation of abstract painters. At exactly the same time Henri Matisse in post war France created his “Jazz” series using his cut out technique. These late works were done in his old age, and placed Matisse at the forefront of twentieth century modern art. In the opinion of many experts these late works allowed him to overtake Picasso to become the master of 20th century painting.  Picasso spent his late years retreating into sexual fantasies blended with Greek mythology, but Matisse reached out into the dynamic world of jazz to produce abstract pictures that were right on the cutting edge.
Both great masters dipped into Black Culture for inspiration. Picasso collected African art all his life. Matisse made several visits to North Africa and collected carpets. They both experienced a great event that sent shockwaves throughout the Parisian art world. Josephine Baker’s arrival in 1927 made an instantaneous impact that was culture changing. The “Jazz Age” had arrived. Pandora had opened her box and Paris was never the same again! The proof of the great black entertainer’s influence on the French art world is in the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern. I recently paid homage before it. Matisse’s major late work “Creole Dancer” is a testament to Josephine Baker’s charisma. 25 years after she first arrived from America she was still casting her spell over the great master.
What is it about Black History that allows art experts to overlook its influence? The pundits who write about art are the victims of a prejudice that puts Black History in the box marked “Primitive”. Yet every where you look Black History is the prime force for change throughout modern art, literature, music, dance, politics, sport and culture! It is the task of those us who know better to take Black History from the box marked “Primitivism” and put it in the one marked “Modernism”.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Cubana Jamdown

Black History Month Cubana Jamdown at Café Marzano11th April 2014
Well the fundraising for Black History Month continues to gather momentum with another fantastic night of great music and food down at Café Marzano, Norwich. By Julie Inns

We are really lucky in Norfolk to have such a diversity of talent ranging in ages, origins, abilities, styles andgenres and a lot of it came together on the 11th April to create one perfect storm of awesomeness!!

Before the music even kicked off people were getting in the spirit by tucking into Danny Keens amazing food. A true feast was laid out which can only be described as Caribbean with a twist, fusion food at its best with curry, chilli, chicken, pasta, salads and cake.

The evening kicked off with brilliant bossa nova star Zara who certainly got the audience in the mood with a couple of easy listening jazz/samba inspired songs. 

Accompanied by the amazing Cuban percussionist Jose Ferer and his Cubanda bandSimon Brown (recently back from Havana) on piano and all the way from SaoPaolo Brazil, Sambarista Duda and Caspar James on Caribbean calypso.

Sahra Gure was next up and with a voice that just stops you in your tracks and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention,  belting out a few of the jazz standards. 

When you hear this girl sing it’s hard to believe that she is still only 17 years old – once to watch in the future for sure.
After a quick pit stop the music started up again with very talented Danny Keen.   Danny is not only a fantastic cook, talented painter but also plays a mean piano. You would have to have a heart of stone and feet of cement not to get toe tapping along to his mambo shuffle.

Local talented songstress Ashley – Kate followed with two outstanding jazz performances, firstly with her version of Billy Holidays That Ole Devil which was a lovely romantic version which lulled everyone into a nice cosy love filled haze to be quickly shattered when she then blasted the roof off with Etta James’ I just wannamake love to you! http://youtu.be/woqjYhFrJ5s 
The evening ended with Jose Ferer and his Cubandaband, Simon BrownSambarista Duda and Caspar James jamming away and winding down the evening.
All good evening was had by all and over £700 was raised to support events and activities for this year’s Black History Month in October.

There will be many more night like this over the coming months so keep your eyes peeled for monthly events details. The next gig will be on 23rd May from 7.30pm at Cafe Marzano, The Forum, Norwich. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A question for high street brands: why shouldn't blackness mean beauty?

Today we want to bring to you an interesting article written by the NBHM's Literary Events Organiser Claire Hynes and published on The Guardian.

Here you can find the original article:

A question for high street brands: why shouldn't blackness mean beauty?  

"I decided fashion adverts need holding to account, after my five-year-old daughter started worrying her skin was too dark"

Black & White Face - Artist Alexander Khokhlov. (From the web

'It seems a battle must be fought against the powerful and pervasive message that a white western appearance is the way to go.' Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian. People associate successful black people with having lighter skin, according to new research. A study from San Francisco State University found that high-flying African Americans were falsely remembered as being several shades lighter than they really are, and it concluded that our memories comply with stereotypical ideas that associate "whiter" skin with favourable characteristics.

If my daughter's experience is anything to go by, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. My five-year-old could be a poster girl for post-racial Britain. She has honey-coloured skin and Leona Lewis-style corkscrew curls. Strangers stop me in the street to comment on her good looks. But since the age of three she has complained about her appearance. Her hair isn't straight enough. Her skin isn't pale enough. And white characters in books, she tells me, are "better" than characters with black, brown or beige skin.

If my daughter undertook the famous Clark doll experiment, in which children choose between a white and black doll, I'm sure she would, like those studied, name the white one the nicest, while the black doll would be the bad one.

The other day, she showed me an iPad image of a black dress-up doll. I asked her if the doll was nice. "No she's not nice," she said. I asked her why not. "OK, I'll make her a bit more lighter skinned first." She got to work tapping the screen. When she finished, the doll's skin was white. "Here, I made her nice," she said.

Black friends tell me their girls express similar thoughts too, about what constitutes niceness and beauty. Yet we've all given them multiracial books and toys and tell them regularly how gorgeous they are. It seems a battle must be fought against the powerful and pervasive message that a white western appearance is the way to go.

So how are the minds of children – and adults – being influenced, or rather infected? Perhaps we should consider the aspirational images around us.

It's true that mixed-heritage children like my daughter can often be seen promoting kids' clothing. And Beyoncé features regularly in TV commercials. But take away the cute kids and the celebrity plugs, and the incidence of run-of-the-mill aspirational images involving non-white people is low. Naomi Campbell herself brought attention to Victoria Beckham's 30-strong lineup for London Fashion Week, which included only one non-white model.

I decided to examine the recent autumn and winter clothing brochures around my home. High street brands Debenhams and Joules featured no adult models of colour, although the child models were a multiracial bunch. White Stuff, beloved by the middle-class mummy brigade, featured not a single model of colour. Neither did posh adult clothing company Toast. Or fitness-wear brand Sweaty Betty. Only Boden, which counts Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama among its fans, included a broad spectrum of child and adult models. I emailed three of the companies to ask about the lack of colour.

White Stuff marketing director, John de Chane, couldn't show whether the ironically named company, which has more than 100 UK stores and outlets, had ever used a model of colour. However, he wrote, "we've identified our model selection criteria is a key issue for us to address, and … it's on our agenda to make a positive effort to be truly representative going forward." Yippee! In the year 2014, this 30-year-old brand may actually begin to use models who reflect the society we live in.

Jessica Seaton, director of Toast, replied that her 14-year-old company seeks out women or men "with intelligence and something special about them". She added that on "a couple of occasions" people of colour had been found who fitted this description. Is she really implying that black models simply aren't bright enough? I hope not. And she continued: "If we search for a mixed-race or coloured girl … the models are more overtly sexy, vampish and not at all right for the brand. It's difficult and somewhat depressing, but this is the situation we are faced with." I was stumped by the "sexy, vampish" observation. Are black models being forced into this stereotype (the kind that Lily Allen seemed to be unconsciously buying into in her video last year)? And if so, one can only assume this is because model agencies are only being asked for this kind of black woman, which leads to further questions about how widespread and deep-rooted racism is within the fashion industry.

An unnamed Sweaty Betty spokeswoman gave me a more forthright reply: "We have taken your feedback on board and will definitely try to have broader representation of ethnicities over the next few campaigns." The lack of bumbling was refreshing.

This week it was reported that a Nigerian entrepreneur is trying to counter children's stereotypes by launching a range of black dolls. And as my daughter matures she appears increasingly aware of the positive aspects of darker skin. But I'm not overjoyed about having my job as a parent frustrated. I think it's my turn to do some excluding. I'll be spending my money in future with forward-thinking companies only.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The power of symbol - Sankofa

Often people ask me 'what's that symbol?' referring to the logo of the Norfolk Black History Month. I often say that's Sankofa expecting everyone to know. Of course they have no idea what i am talking about so we quickly move to the next question which usually is 'what did you say?'
So what's Sankofa? 
Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol used by the Akan People of Ghana (and by the Norfolk Black History Month logo). Adinkra symbols are graphic representations of popular maxims or philosophical concepts. Originally they were used to decorate textiles, but they can now also be found on pottery and woodcarvings and in contemporary architectural design.
The Sankofa symbol depicts a mythical bird which holds an egg symbolising the future in its beak. The bird moves forwards while looking backwards to the past. The symbol is expressed in the Akan language as Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki.
Literally translated, this phrase means It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot. However, modern translations usually render it as One must return to the past in order to move forward. In either case, the message of the symbol is that we must learn from the past in order to build a better future.
Celebrating traditions and visual art and image is part of the celebration of Black History and culture. African visual art is often characterised by by single forms that do not only refers to human or animal proportions of scale, but to its psychology both in language, expression, meaning and symbolism communicating complex messages in multiple dimensions responding to the faculty of sight, sound but also imagination, emotion and motivation and religious experience. The Sankofa symbol is a good example of this highly developed art expressed in emotional visual language containing multiple meaning and messages in a single symbol or Hierography. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Black Heritage and Culture

Black Heritage and Culture Norfolk brings together a diverse set of people to celebrate the contribution of Black people, past and present, and it gives everyone the opportunity and confidence to look into and appreciate their own and others’ culture, history and heritage.

Our projects serve as an educational tool as well as an entertaining experience for those who know little of, or are just curious about African, Asian, Caribbean culture and the world connection. Every year we organise a variety of events for different ages and tastes from talks and lectures to theatre and music, from family fun to children’s activities.

We must celebrate Black history, culture and heritage past, present and future to ensure that our past continues to impact, improve, and secure our present, and give rise to our future.