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Victims of slavery remembered at City Hall

POWERFUL: Performance poet Nairobi Thompson

THE VICTIMS of the slave trade were remembered at an event that brought together members of the public, the mayor of London, and figures from community organisations and the creative arts yesterday.

The proceedings at City Hall opened with a performance from London Adventist Chorale who also sang spirituals throughout the evening.

Henry Bonsu, the MC for the event, guided attendees through the programme of performances and speeches, and encouraged them to show love for those who took to the stage.

The event was held to mark the 500th anniversary of the start of the transatlantic slave trade and UNESCO’s International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (Thursday August 23).

Actor and artistic director of The Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah read from The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and the keynote speech was given by professor Patricia Daley, professor of human geography of Africa. AkomaAsa Performing Arts Academy also took to the stage.

Writer and performance poet Nairobi Thompson powerfully recited her poem Burning Churches, from her unpublished collection Chronicles of Colour.

The poem was full of striking verses, including: “For you never truly understood that we are royalty – kings and queens no matter what our faith may be. Whether found in ancestral whispers or scholarly discoveries, we are always destined to be free.”

PICTURED: Patrick Vernon

Patrick Vernon read an extract from the memoirs of writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. He also took the opportunity to recognise Torrington’s work to ensure the government recognised the contributions of the Windrush generation.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who partnered with The Windrush Foundation, co-founded by Arthur Torrington, to organise the event, delivered a speech that recognised the legacy of slavery in the capital.

Khan said it was a privilege to host the event and that the middle passage was a journey that had come to symbolise the human capacity for cruelty and depravity. He described it as one of the darkest chapters in the history of our world.

The mayor reminded those in attendance that Ken Livingstone, London’s first mayor, apologised for London’s role in the slave trade 11 years ago.

LEGACY: Sadiq Khan said we can't divorce the past from the present

He told the audience: “We can’t simply divorce the past from the present and pretend that centuries of organised racism, organised violence and organised trauma hasn’t left deep and lasting wounds.

“The shameful episode of our history has cast a long shadow with the legacy of slavery still visible in the wealth and grandeur of the buildings that define London’s skyline – and let’s be frank, in many of the social problems that still blight our African-Caribbean communities today. While men, women and children in our city are free from chains, too many remain shackled by poverty, deprivation and a lack of opportunity and this isn’t down to chance, it’s down to the historic justices we’ve inherited but failed to adequately address.”

After the event, Bonsu said on Twitter: “Props to you [Matthew Ryder, deputy Mayor of London for social integration, social mobility and community engagement] and the whole Mayor of London team for investing in this day. Very pleased to have witnessed it and hope it becomes a fixture each and every year.”

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