To this day I’ll never forget the conversation I had many years ago with a local politician, who’s name I can’t remember, but his words have scarred me like a overseers lash.
“Tell your black community”, he said in tone of deep sarcasm, “thank you for never voting.”
“Why would I tell them thank you for not voting?” I eagerly and naively enquired.
Anticipating my response he quickly pounced. “Because I don’t have to waste a moment of my time going to the estates where you live, and I don’t have to knock on their doors. As far as I’m concerned they don’t count.”
On reflection I’m still unaware if he was a downright racist, or just a brutally honest politician who wanted to tell me the stark reality of British politics – unless you’re voting you have no skin in the game of power politics.
In a democratic society political power is ultimately about the number of votes you can muster.
Our system of ‘first past the post’ means you can win power with a handful of votes, or by just one vote.
The same applies for the fight to lead the country.
If you’re a candidate for prime minister and you have more votes than a rival the keys to 10 Downing St are yours.
That’s the simple mathematics.
But it’s the power game around those numbers that can literally save lives, or open up meaningful opportunities, better education, housing, and employment.
Let’s flesh this out a bit.
Imagine the almost daily headlines changed from: ‘Local youth stabbed in postcode gang violence’, to ‘local man becomes Nobel Prize recipient for medical breakthrough discovery’.
In both news stories the individuals are black.
The difference is the political policy landscape they both inhabited.
The first is one in which newspaper editors and opinion formers write narratives about a crisis within the black community, where black boys are somehow born violent, or that black culture is violent, and that only the black community can solve current issues such as youth crime because our young people are the prime cause of it.
In this scenario there is no debate about the need for politicians to take a holistic approach to tackling persistent race inequality.
The second scenario involves one where we recruited 50,000 black teachers – the shortage we have right now.
If black boys and girls responded accordingly to these role models who truly believed in them, we could see an increase in the number of students attending top universities.
This would force a policy change on those academic institutions resulting to have a curriculum that was no longer a Western European, white supremacist view of world.
All of this and so much more becomes achievable because, when we become more involved in the democratic process, we actively encourage members of our community to register to vote, we better understand political power – where it lies, how it works and how we can access it.
And with that power we make our demands.
We don’t ask, we don’t beg, we democratically, respectfully, demand justice and equality of opportunity.
The only question remains therefore, as the nation goes to the polls is, what do we demand of politicians?
How will they tackle some of the pressing issues that face our community?
After 25 years of trying to persuade our communities to register to vote, the job today is not getting easier.
In fact, in a Brexit divided Britain, with racism and certain inequalities such as police stop and search on the increase, the work has got harder.
But the truth is, this is not just my challenge, it’s our challenge.
And in the weeks ahead we must engage with those who are cynical about political engagement, and tell them we are acting in a way in which those who do not have our best interest at heart want us to behave.
We are locking ourselves out of the only political power game in town.
And before anyone says our numbers are too small to wield power, I would remind them that this government and previous governments have won on the thinnest of margins.
They have had either no parliamentary majority or very little majority.
The power of the black vote could easily decide 100 seats at a general election.
Roughly translated, if we so decide, we can have real skin in the political game, which gives us the clout to make our demands.
To have racial justice, to be afforded equality of opportunity we have to have more than the Dr Martin Luther King dream, we also have to adopt his plan.
First step, register to vote.
To get started visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote