Explore, learn and be inspired at the Black Cultural Archives
“Founded in 1981, The Black Cultural Archives collects, preserves and celebrates African and African-Caribbean history and culture in Britain” and the grand opening of said archives given £4million by the Heritage Lottery Fund and housed in a restored Georgian property on the aptly renamed Windrush Square was surely another historic moment that will be reflected within its walls.
“Founded in 1981, The Black Cultural Archives collects, preserves and celebrates African and Africa-Caribbean history and culture in Britain”
The day was always going to be special but the the perfect Caribbean weather brought everyone to Brixton, as Mr Cee Comedian told me while I was filming the official BCA documentary of the day “the sun is blazing and anointing us all” and it really felt that way as a sea of people gravitated toward the square to sap up the positive energy. Proceedings on the day included talks from Tunde Garrison the son of the late Len Garrison the original founding member of the BCA who tirelessly collected articles originally stored in his home before finding a modest residence for it in Brixton. Paul Reid the director of the BCA who has been instrumental in the changing fortunes of the archives in the recent decade; and Dame Jocelyn Barrow who has devoted many years fighting Race Discrimination, broken glass ceilings as the first black woman to be a governor of the BBC, pioneered the introduction of multi-cultural education, is a Patron of the BCA and officially opened the space. Dame Barrow therefore was a fitting choice when you also consider that the inaugural exhibition is entitled Re-imagine: Black Women In Britain.
The Windrush Square celebration included performances from Floetic Lara, Alexander D Great and Akala who told me that the young people termed as disengaged from society should not be described as so and finally there is a space that offers the information that reflects them; hip hop performances from Jonzi D and Mechanikool; and speeches from academic Dr Hakim and historian Professor Gus John among others, all compered by the most excellent journalist, presenter and host Henry Bonsu.
I got to interview the likes of Baroness (Doreen) Lawrence campaigner and founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust; Kwame Kwei-Armah actor, playwright, singer, broadcaster and BCA Patron; former Arsenal football star Sol Campbell who has been involved in securing some of the blue-chip companies supporting the BCA; and siblings Zadie Smith (author) and Doc Brown (actor and comedian) among others. What came through from all of the conversations I had with both well known and regular folk was the sense of pride that those who have contributed to British culture are finally getting the recognition in a space befitting of their memory. That this space while a place to recognise the black British experience must also be embraced by white and other ethnicities. That an educational space offering tangible examples of the history desperately lacking from the curriculum is now easily accessible and that as per the tag line of the archives this really is a place to explore, learn and become inspired.
The day was truly a beautiful one. Never have I seen such an outpouring of support for an opening of this nature – it was a roadblock affair whether or not officially. Queues snaked around the building people desperate to glimpse the opening exhibition and perhaps to have the chance to say ‘I was there’ on the first day and those not trying to enter the premises were rewarded with entertainment, inspiration through music, talk and laughter; it was such a colourful crowd and the vibes were uplifting. The small amount of animosity I came across was from a gentleman frustrated at the prospect that he couldn’t gain entry to the archives and another annoyed that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson was not present, I can’t help but think he had a point.
Overall though – the day was brimming over with positivity as anticipated by host for the day Henry Bonsu who Tweeted me last week stating “It will be an evening of history and celebration, recognition and elevation, not just 30 but 2000 years in the making” and that it was. Let’s ensure its future is secured by supporting, visiting and donating.
Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain delves into the remarkable history of Black women in this country and spotlights some of their inspirational lives and contributions to British society since the Roman era. 24 July – 30 November, free admission.