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New Black Cultural Archives are worth their wait in gold

GAME CHANGER: The newly opened Black Cultural Archive in Brixton, south London

IT'S BEEN a long time coming, but London's Black Cultural Archives has been worth its wait in gold. It's spectacular opening in Brixton last week was testament to the fact (if testament was needed) that we are here to stay and that black history will forevermore be an intrinsic part of British history.

Up until now that has been up for debate. Because we don't constitute the kings and queens and prime ministers and chief justices and other lawmakers or war makers that ultimately history concentrates on, our stories have been marginalised if not expunged entirely from British history. But the BCA will put that to rights. Now, ALL our stories - yours and mine - are fundamental to the experience not just of black people in this country but also to that of white people who, at the end of the day, we relate to.

The Black Cultural Archives is a game changer. In just one move it has become the premier black institution in this country, a permanent legacy to our contribution to this country.

As you can hear, I for one am extremely proud. Because this has what it has all been about. To tell our stories in our own words of our experiences, so that our children and our children's children should be in no doubt about where they find themselves and the battle ahead of themselves.

And to think I was one of the ones who doubted it will ever see fruition. When the late Len Garrison came to this very newspaper's offices when we were based on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton to tell me of his 'dream', I was your typical sceptical newspaper hack who only believed in nightmares.

Believe me; I have seen so many 'permanent' institutions of black presence in this country bite the dust. Who remembers when the roundhouse building that behemoth of culture in Chalk Farm in north London was handed over to a black theatre group to administer black drama in. What a shambles. They were given millions to renovate the place and they did 'jack' with it. As I recall they didn't even open their doors. And if they did it was for once or twice and then that was it. It was an embarrassment. Proof that we could not organise the proverbial urinating contest in a brewery.

And that was not all. Who remembers the Common-wealth Institute when that was a permanent home of black expression in the heart of Kensington? Whatever happened to that? And most recently the Africa Centre in Covent Garden bit the dust too. You would have been forgiven for thinking that inch by inch, brick by brick, our permanent legacies in this country were being eroded.

No doubt one or two of you will point out that whereas we had our markers in the posh parts of town, permanent black legacy has now been relegated to Brixton. But don't watch that. Brixton would be the rightful home because despite the influx of all sorts of people there and the so-called gentrification, Brixton is still the black capital of Britain, and it is to the SW2s and SW9s that we as a people flock for cultural oxygen. So the archives is exactly where it's supposed to be.

I don't doubt that it will flourish as long as Director Paul Reid who has guided it to this great moment is steering the ship. And I trust beyond that that he will mentor his successor so that the flagship of black experience stands strong for generations to come. Indeed forever.

Now, though, it's up to us to use it like we need it.

On behalf of all black Britons, big up to all of you who worked on this project over the last 25 years and saw it through to fruition. You are an inspiration to us all.

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