Friday, December 06, 2013

Mayflower, YMCA, 'Youth Work', Racism, Young Offenders - my Mandela Journey

Yes - I feel tearful at the moment.
Nelson Mandela hit me hard today
watching/listening to ordinary people reflecting
on the man - the great man.

I was watching CNN last night.
Often do to get a different perspective
from all the UK TV channels.
Then the news broke about the great man's death.

So I need to write
I need to reflect because
I have a journey within me
I have a log jam of tears
within me.

My first encounter with a black human
was when me and Mrs Beautiful
went to live and work in a Young Offenders Unit
in Cheshire in the mid 60's..

All Manchester boys.
I loved them much.
They were a pain to live with.
We were residential houseparents to 15 boys
all between 14 and seventeen.
All sentenced by the courts.

There was mixed race and black young uns
amongst our family
 and amongst the 120 in the whole of the school.
I came face to face with the cruelty of racism there.

In Londons East End in the mid 70's
I came across a massive bitter violent kind of racism.
Defending the rights of all young people
against bullying and outright violence
was fearful years for me.

I lived in fear often as I tried to stand for justice
including the equality of all whatever colour of skin.
The front door of the Youth Club was sprayed with racism.
My car was also sprayed with those bitter letter
NF = National Front - the EDF of those days.

Those were also the Thatcher years.
She did not support the anti-apparthied movement.
I became a member of the Anti Apartheid movement.
I also did courses led by passionate black women and men.

So many people lived out hate towards anyone who was different.
I didn't do HATE
I believed in LOVE
Because LOVE does a better job.
But it was tough in a community with massive deprivation factors.

But I did get various bodies to join the anti Apartheid movement.
Mayflower, FYT, Greenbelt Festival, YMCA ..............
(even though we found out the charities were not supposed
to become members of 'political' organisations.)

When I moved to work at Romford YMCA in 1985 it was a different scene.
Many of those 150 living in the hostel were of differing races and colour.
BUT I was told to take anti-aparheid posters 
and anti - Thatcher posters off my office door by a Board Member.
(Some 'Christian' Organisations didn't seem to be bothered about
the WORLD they were supposed to love - like their divine boss.)

Family - I remember Mrs Beautiful and me taking the Sheilas - Joy and Ann
to see the movie 'CRY FREEDOM' in the West End of London.
It moved me to tears.
It moved me to become more of an activist.
It's vital our children know about Mandela.
It's important our children can see a bigger picture and become .....

In line with anti-apartied policy we avoided all S African produce.
Mrs Thatcher didn't agree with all that stuff.
I wrote to Tesco's and other large supermarkets
asking them to remove their fruit and any other products from sale.
I got all sorts of replies as I stirred the pot.

I know the current government leaders were active in those days too
As young adults in public schools, David Cameron PM and mates,
they were leafleting to hang Mandela
whilst I was battling to love all around me BUT 
also look at the bigger picture.
Love is not just about the something we do to those we know.
It is about SHALOM 
It's about the social and the cosmic.

In 1981 I started the ROLLING MAGAZINE at Greenbelt.
Then the VERY STINKING LATE SHOW at Greenbelt.

Picture a BIG TOP TENT
rammed with 2000 young people in it.
Day time all the latest music to dance to
interrupted by 
wild games
live bands/artistes
and loads of interactive crowd games
sharing buzzing together
in a non-stop fast moving experience.
Into that ALSO was injected my passions for
anti poverty/apartheid/deprivation/violence
all the stuff I lived with.

The Late Show was 5 nights every Greenbelt Festival.
the Video by THE SPECIALS.
It became a theme song 
along with 
'LET THE DAY BEGIN' by The Call.

Was you there?
Do you remember?
was there a lasting impact?
Already Catherine Obbard has facebooked me
to say how she remembered the Greenbelt main-stage
with 30,000 BHP's as I played the video and all singing
Such passion for justice - with energy and action.

So we lived and worked on.
Romford YMCA notice boards were sprayed NF
because we had an image of a black child
enjoying the YMCA play facilities.

I remember in 1990
sitting on the rug at home with the Sheilas
watching the TV as Nelson Mandela was released.
He had been in prison 27 years.
I will ask them about their memories.

In 2010 I was invited to go to Cape Town South Africa
with a Norwegian Folk High School called SUFH.
I have been facilitating learning in that beautiful place for 20 years
and I was invited to join them on their African experience.
Thank you Oyvin and SUFH.

I facilitated sessions between Norwegian and local young people
bringing them together with activities and dialogue.
In Bush Camp - in schools and informal contexts.
I led some gangs training with local young men and women.
I sat on pavements in a township where 'blacks and coloureds' were dumped
by the Apartheid regime - talking with gangs members 
who have their front upper teeth removed as a sign of membership.
And I hung out in the dusty alleys of Blikkiesdorp the TIN Town.
Extreme poverty - survival level.

AND I visited Robin Island.
Heard the story in context.
Saw the mans cell -
his 27 year home!
Felt the oppression.

I feel I have journeys in my understanding.
And feeling.
The journey so far
has inspired a everlasting fight
against deprivation and poverty
believing that deprivation and poverty
imprisons the spirit.

Walk on Nelson Mandela.
Thank you for the impact you have made in the world.
The inspiration 
The modelling you have offered
to so many
and to me.