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Obama puts black Britain in the ‘yes we can’ mood

CHANGE: Obama puts Black Britain in the ‘yes we can’ mood

I BELIEVE Barack Obama’s 2012 Presidential victory and his inauguration will have a major impact on the development of black politicians and community activism in Britain in the build up to the 2015 General Election.

This victory is in many ways more important than 2008. Despite systematic campaigns by the Tea Party and the right in America to dehumanise and vilify Obama, he has risen above it to become the 16th US President to serve two terms.

In Hackney, and elsewhere, I meet young people who relate to Obama and the American civil rights movement. That is not surprising. For some reason, American civil rights history is on our national curriculum but our own history of black struggle is absent. The Windrush Generation is relegated to a discussion that takes place every ten years.

That is why we need to campaign not only for Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano to be kept on the national curriculum. We need additional historical figures like Septimus Severus, the Roman Emperor who was the equivalent of a Prime Minister back in AD 200.

Black activists and politicians are not yet convinced that Britain is ready to elect a black Prime Minster in the 21st Century. Their cautious opinion is based on personal experiences of racism and sexism in the selection processes of political parties and the lack of power sharing at all levels of decision-making even where diversity and the black contribution to political debate and leadership are valued. A black Prime Minister is still as unlikely as a black person at the helm of the England football team, the Royal Opera House, the Director-General of the BBC, Doctor Who or even James Bond.


The real gift of Obama’s victory is a sense of collective hope at grass roots and community coalition politics. I question whether my generation has done enough to pass on this legacy of political and community campaigning from the 1950s to the 1990s. I believe the Windrush Generation must also equally take their share of the responsibility as they still hold on to their power, status and knowledge. They have not briefed us or shared and given us the leadership opportunities.

Perhaps they didn’t have the confidence, mutual respect or dialogue to pass on the baton, sometimes until their deathbeds, so that their children could feel empowered. Inter-generational learning is necessary as is creating sustainable political agendas for all generations.

That is why Barack Obama’s inauguration on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech has the capacity to restore and energise our self-belief and confidence in the idea that we can achieve despite the challenges that we face as a community at a personal, national and international level.

2013 has to be the year to put our differences aside and work together to influence change and advocate for a better quality of life in our schools, hospitals, employment opportunities, and housing conditions.


The campaign to keep Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano on the national curriculum has received over 33,000 signatures and has led to Britain’s own ‘Yes We Can’ mood.

Just imagine if we converted this energy and passion to influence the selection of more black and minority ethnic candidates or deciding who gets elected as our MPs, MEPs and councillors over the next two years.

So, yes, let’s celebrate Obama’s inauguration but also start planning for a better tomorrow and legacy for our children and grandchildren.

Patrick Vernon OBE is a councillor in Hackney, a member of the Mary Seacole Campaign Group and founder of 100 Great Black Britons.

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