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Passionate about politics

VISIONARY: Desmond Jaddoo outside Birmingham Council House

DESMOND JADDOO has devoted the past two years to rally Birmingham’s black community to get involved in civic life, so hearing Rev Jesse Jackson say publicly that Birmingham "resembled the Birmingham of Alabama of 50 years ago" with so few black leaders, must have been a crushing blow.

But the self-styled civic engagement champion is not disheartened.

On the contrary, Jaddoo feels Jackson’s words will spur the community he feels is asleep on the political sidelines.

During Jackson’s recent visit to Birmingham, organised by Operation Black Vote, Jaddoo got the chance to ask the iconic civil rights leader what message he would give Birmingham’s black community, which does not even have a black cabinet member in the council.

“Jackson talked about the time when black people lived under slavery and how they were able to develop a way of existing under oppression,” said Jaddoo.

“He said people became insular, internalising everything, believing they did not deserve any better. He said ‘one thing worse than oppression is adjusting to it – people who don’t fight back have adjusted and become insult-proof.’ This is what we have to change.”

Jaddoo admitted that his journey over the past two years has been eventful, but said “we haven’t even opened the garage door yet, let alone got on the road.”

He first stepped into the public arena by founding the Birmingham Empowerment Forum and standing as a candidate in Birmingham’s elected mayor campaign, which the electorate failed to back.

The former council housing officer is now keen to secure a council seat as an independent and has ambitions of standing for Parliament, but said he is keen to support other African Caribbeans in their political journey.

“With no representation there is no justice,” he said. “Birmingham council speaks of its commitment to making sure the black community is better represented but there is no action of any substance.”

He feels the legacy left by Bert Carless, Birmingham’s first black councillor, has been eroded. Carless was a Labour councillor for Aston between 1979 and 1994 and was well known for walking around his Aston ward after holding his weekly surgeries.

“The first and only black Lord Mayor in Birmingham has been Councillor Sybil Spence between 1997 and 1998. It’s about time we had another one. Time and time again people say to me ‘I did not know about this or that’ – politics has become far too removed from the people it serves.”

But Jaddoo ploughs on relentlessly with his campaigns: voter registration, encouraging people to become school governors and prison visitors – all areas of life where authorities can be held to account.

His regular youth forum meetings are going well and attracting more young people who are showing an interest in politics.

Jaddoo added: “We organised a tour of Birmingham Council House recently and met the Lord Mayor. They found that very inspiring - so few of them had any idea of what goes on within the council.

"I know many people within the black community will say ‘there is not enough of us to make all these changes’ but look at the American Civil Rights movement – that was started by a few. By getting politically involved anything is possible.”

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