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Generation next in society

GROUP POSE: Woolley at the front with future leaders at Birmingham Council House

SCHOOL GOVERNORS, councillors, magistrates and MPs of tomorrow were in the spotlight at the launch of a unique civic leadership programme which encourages those from ethnic minority backgrounds to step forward and have a stake in their own community.

The unique scheme, organised by Operation Black Vote (OBV) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust, has selected 40 dynamic BME individuals from across Birmingham and Wolverhampton who are keen to develop a public role.

And as Simon Woolley, OBV director, welcomed the new generation during a reception at Birmingham Council House, he said: “You will inspire a nation of young African Caribbean, Asians and other ethnic minority communities to look up to you as leaders and role models.

“For them to be able to say ‘that’s my brother up there being a magistrate, a school governor or a councillor,’ is something that’s been missing for too long.

“Things like this do not happen overnight. It takes like-minded people to recognise and be honest that things are not quite right. We are not in a society where the colour of a person’s skin doesn’t matter. We are not in that place – but we can be.”

He went on to praise Birmingham as ‘a fantastic multi-cultural metropolis’ adding: “There is still more to do. Until there are more talented people like you in high office, something is desperately wrong.”

The West Midlands’ Civic Leadership Programme, which involves 28 people from Birmingham and 12 from Wolverhampton, is the first such programme to be developed outside London.

Currently, BME individuals are woefully under-represented in public and civic institutions.

Those who have been selected in Birmingham will now be fast-tracked into community leadership roles, but Woolley had one word of warning:

“When you get to the top, you don’t say ‘I’m quite brilliant, don’t you know.’ No, you say ‘I am up here because people supported me. My role is to serve and to build a greater public service created from a diverse community.”

SPEAKER: Simon Woolley delivers his speech

Woolley praised community ‘warrior’ Desmond Jaddoo, founder of Birmingham Empowerment Forum, for continuing with his unrelenting campaign, making sure members of the black community are registered to vote.

He also praised Dr Joe Aldred, who with Jaddoo, helped Woolley launch the national voting registration campaign in Birmingham last October.

Councillor Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council admitted there was ‘some disappointment’ last year when the city’s newly formed council Cabinet contained only one ‘non-white face.’

He said: “There was a demonstration and some angry reaction to this, but since then I have been in contact with OBV and made it clear that the council wanted to see some change. We have already made some small steps in the right direction.”

While former council leader Mike Whitby and head of the Conservatives, said Birmingham was a global city with a local heart that celebrates its cultural diversity.

He said the leading role he played in signing the Jamaican Olympic track and field team to make Birmingham their pre-Olympic training camp before London 2012 last year was one of his proudest moments, especially when Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake ‘bigged up’ Birmingham to the world.

Single mum Sharon Thompson, who is now a magistrate, said: “When someone first encouraged me to think about being a magistrate I thought ‘I can’t do that. I’m just a mum. I’m not Rumpole of the Bailey.”

But after attending an OBV seminar she had ‘an injection of inspiration’ and has never looked back.

She said: “It empowered me. Our ancestors fought long and hard to get us to where we are now. We must not lose sight of that vision.”

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