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The man speaking up for equality

INTRIGUED: Dr Ornette D Clennon is asking questions he hopes will help the black community

EFFORTS TO save a community building from being sold have led one Manchester resident to
publish a book and make representations to the United Nations in Geneva.

Dr Ornette D Clennon, who co-leads the Critical Race and Ethnicity Research Cluster at Manchester Metropolitan University, joined forces with local campaigners to halt the sale of the Nello James Centre in Whalley Range and bring the building back into use for the community.

Despite the group being largely unsuccessful in their efforts Ornette was intrigued with the history of the building, which was named in honour of famous author and social activist Cyril Lionel Robert James (C.L.R. James).

“The work of C.L.R. James was inspirational to me because his ideas around the collective power of organised work still holds true today for our communities,” said Ornate. C.L.R. James was born in Trinidad and died in 1989 at the age of 88 in London where he was living. He was a cultural historian, cricket writer, and political activist who was a leading figure in the Pan-African movement.

James published many notable works, which received widespread acclaim, including Beyond A Boundary. Ornette claims that the book is very much of its time in its examination of British colonialism; ‘But I couldn’t see how it related to us in the modern day’.

It was, however, his journals of Postcolonial Writing that captured Ornette’s attention. “They were so vivid in description. His social commentary gave more than just an insight, it was like being transported to that time in history,” he said. “There are so many parallels between his critical evaluations of that period and what’s happening now with Brexit.”

As part of his ongoing research Ornette has looked at the contributions made to society by other grassroots activists and his book The Polemics of C.L.R. James and Contemporary Black Activism book highlights examples of contemporary black activism in south Manchester.


He contrasts them with events that surrounded C.L.R. James and his activism between 1935 and 1950. Following on from this research Ornette has been invited to speak at the United Nations’ Regional meeting for Europe, Central Asia and North Amer- ica, organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The meeting, taking place later this month, will provide an opportunity to reflect on ways that governments from Europe, Central Asia and North America in partnership with equality bodies, national human rights institutions and civil society, might pursue programmes for development in the future.

“It is really important that we equip our grassroots community organisations with the monitoring tools that can provide solid evidence of how their work advances the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for social justice,” Ornette said.

He feels that reporting mechanisms of this kind will give authorities such as Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights better opportunities to monitor how the United Kingdom is managing the Human Rights of its BAME citizens.

This is the second of five regional meetings as part of the awareness raising campaign for the International Decade for People of African Descent. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is organising these meetings to focus on trends, priorities and challenges at the national and regional levels to effectively implement the Decade’s Programme of Activities.

Meetings are also an occasion to exchange good practices. As a result of a proposal put forward by Ornette and other experts future meetings will focus on reparation, the colony legacy that we are still living under and community monitoring of grassroots organisations.

“Grassroots organisations should have a reporting mecha- nism that enables them to feedback to the UN about the work that they are doing,” he said. Ornette’s recommendations were used to inform the Working Groups of Experts on People of African Descent, established to study the racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora.

They are keen to discuss the community monitoring tool that has been put forward by Ornette and he will lead the way on the development. “I want other researchers to use the tools that I have put together and adapt it to their own situations, because the more we can measure our grassroots activities across the world, the better. We can then use this data to ask for help in situa- tions where our human rights are being breached.”

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