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Community organisation celebrates 50 years of activism

ACTIVISM: Bini Brown is regarded as a community hero

IT’S A place in Handsworth referred to by locals as simply a number, but when people say ‘104’ everyone knows exactly what they are talking about.

This is because 104 Heathfield Road has been the nerve centre of the African Caribbean Self-Help Organisation (ACSHO), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this August.

Bini Brown, the man behind the movement, which is the UK’s longest running independent black organisation, remains the tough-talking community activist renowned for pulling no punches.

Now a grandfather now, Brown was 14 when he first became involved in the forerunner of the ACSHO, the Afro-West Indian Study Cycle.

“We called it that because in those days we used to spend our evenings studying global issues that affected our community,” said Brown.

He added: “Racism in the early 1960s was everywhere – in schools and the workplace, but our parents were all ambitious for us and wanted us to do well in this country.

“Some of them were Garveyites and I remember at the age of 14 being taken into Hudsons Bookshop in New Street, Birmingham, where I was bought The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. And that’s what we all read – I’ve still got the book as I gave it to my youngest daughter.”

It wasn’t until 1971 that the ACSHO moved into 104, which used to be a maternity hospital – Brown swears the ghosts of babies still haunt the building. Before that time, the group had bases in Barker Street and Leonard Road and people’s front rooms.

But with help from the Cadbury family who were Birmingham Quakers and philanthropists, Heathfield Road became the group’s permanent home.

CELEBRATION

This is where a three-day celebration of the ACSHO’s work will he held from tomorrow (Friday 1st August until Sunday.) There will be plenty of exhibitions and photographs for visitors to view.

It was also the home of the first Saturday school that was ever held in the UK. Education is still an important part of the group’s work today.

Brown said: “In 1967 we had a lot of hassle from the authorities about the school – we seemed to be under constant attack, but the important thing was we changed kids’ mindsets. We instilled self-pride and made them realise they didn’t have to be a mechanic or a dressmaker like their parents – they could be scientists, a bio-chemists, teachers and doctors.

“Only the other day I was in my doctor’s surgery and a man came up to me and said ‘Hello Mr Brown, do you remember me?’ And it turned out this guy, who went to our school, now trains GPs in how to run their surgeries.”

But as a staunch supporter of Pan Africanism, Brown is most proud of changing people’s way of thinking, making them proud of their African heritage and history before the days of slavery.

Birmingham communities have always played a leading role in marking Africa Liberation Day (ALD). In 1977, to mark ALD, Handsworth Park hosted one of the biggest all-black crowds to ever gather in Britain.

Brown remains a frequent visitor to Africa and is involved in projects in the Congo, Uganda, Ghana, Bukina Faso and Tanzania.

He added: “We’ve had plenty of fights and hassle over the years. I remember we were firebombed in Leonard Road, bullied by the police and Special Branch. In those days we had no mobile phones, but we could mobilise a crowd of 500 within minutes.

“However, we never lost sight of trying to educate and enlighten the next generation. And that’s what we are celebrating at 104.”

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