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Protecting the legacy of the Windrush Generation

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL: One of the many photographs on display at the Staying Power exhibition which closes June 30

It is very difficult to quantify the enormous legacy of the Windrush Generation let alone the black presence over the centuries (especially in Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and London).

The contribution covers the spectrum of public life, politics, faith, public services especially the NHS, business, music, food, fashion/lifestyle, sports and the arts in shaping the nature of multicultural Britain. The work of heritage organisations like the Windrush Foundation along with local museums, archives, writers, and community historians have played an important role in promoting and sharing this history and the legacy.

In 2008 after making my documentary A Charmed Life about the life of late Eddie Martin Noble a WW2 war veteran and the legacy of the Windrush Generation I started to write articles, lobby and campaign for a Windrush Day, a public holiday not only celebrating Africans and Caribbeans in the UK but the wider migrant contribution and the benefits of immigration to Britain since WW2.

Over the last several years there has a growing interest from faith leaders, politicians, think tanks, community activists and many other people in public life who now see the importance of a Windrush Day.

To date there has a letter in The Times newspaper, online petitions, Early Day Motion in Parliament, church services, memorials events at Windrush Square in Brixton and other commemorative events around the country.

In Wolverhampton in 2013 a Blue Plaque was awarded to the late Rev Lyseight founder of New Testament Church of God which was the first Black Majority Church to be established in 1953 in Britain.

In June 2015 Simon Stevens the Chief Executive of NHS England will host a Windrush Day event at St Thomas's Hospital recognising the achievements of migrants who work in the NHS and the Equality Diversity Council commitment to tackling race equality in the workforce. Sam King MBE, one of the few survivors of the Windrush ship, has been invited to be a guest of honour.

The current exhibitions at the Black Cultural Archives and the V&A called Staying Power captures some of the essence of the Windrush legacy of struggle and integration covering the period 1950s to the 1990s through the work of photojournalists and photographers. The exhibition highlights the shaping of identity of three generations of Black Britons drawing on the fusion of Africa, Caribbean and African American cultures and idioms in challenging and not always accepting British cultural norms.

Looking at the exhibition especially images of the Black Panthers, race riots, and fighting police brutality you can see and feel the personal sacrifices that we made back in the day? In 2015 are we willing to do the same or are we just complacent, comfortable in our own personal careers and material consumption?

Do we now prefer collective action or solidarity when we read newspapers or watch epic Hollywood films about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or enslavement?
In many ways Staying Power or the history of survival and resilience is even more pertinent in 2015 in an age of austerity where the issue of immigration is just as potent as the Rivers of Blood speech made by Enoch Powell in 1968.

The only difference today is that we see refugees, asylum seekers and EU migrants from Eastern Europe as ‘the other' on the basis that our parents or grandparents were invited visitors here with strong colonial ties as part of the Mother Country narrative which somehow gives us some exemption to immigration policy or migrant media bashing.

That is why the recognition of Windrush needs to be cemented and mainstreamed in the national curriculum, media and public discourse so that we are seen as part of the history of this country and our contribution recognised and rooted for future generations, not just relegated to Black History Month.

So when we do have a future black Prime Minster, manager of the England football team or Director-General of the BBC (even fictional characters like Dr Who or James Bond) the nation understands the narrative and the history of migration and why black people and minority ethnic communities are here to stay and are part of the future of this country.

Patrick Vernon will deliver a lunchtime lecture on July 9th at Black Cultural Archives called From Oppression to Expression: The rise in Black British Print Culture

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