This month, speaking at an event entitled, ‘Free at Last’ at the Southbank Centre, the journalist Gary Younge invited the audience to consider the nature of history. Since moving to the States from Stevenage, Younge has extensively researched and written about the African-American civil rights movement, and in conversation with fellow journalist, Hannah Pool, he shed light on some of its forgotten heroes.
The title of Younge’s talk refers to the final line of Martin Luther King’s seminal ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which concluded, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”. In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the speech, it’s right that much consideration has been given to the importance of King, and Younge talked extensively about interviewing King’s friends and advisors who gave their first-hand accounts of how the speech came to be. But Younge also used his talk to highlight people like Claudette Colvin who was the first person to resist racial segregation on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, a whole nine months before Rosa Parks, but who then became pregnant out of wedlock, and Bayard Rustin, a leading activist for civil rights who was openly gay. Both are examples of people who had pivotal roles in the civil rights movement but who have been all but written out of the history books because their personal lives didn’t conform to the traditional Christian values which were central to the movement.
As Black History Month draws to a close, it seems an appropriate moment to contemplate the nature of history and history makers. Using E. H. Carr’s quote, ‘History means interpretation’, Younge underlined that the ‘facts’ of history are made by ordinary people with their various biases and agendas. The fact that history is not independent of the people who decide what does and what does not enter the historical record means that often, the things left out are as interesting and important as the things left in.
Last night the Tambassadors left Tamarind Towers and decamped to City Hall where Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was hosting an event to celebrate black entrepreneurs and the contribution of black businesses to society. After an introduction from the Chair for the evening, Tim Campbell, founder of Bright Ideas Trust (and the first ever winner of The Apprentice!), an esteemed panel of black businesspeople including Ade Sawyerr, Damon Buffini (co-founder of Social Business Trust), Natasha Faith (co-designer of LA DiOSA, Young Ambassador to The Prince’s Trust and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund), Sonia Brown (director of the National Black Women’s Network) and Ric Lewis, spoke about their experiences in the world of business and gave their advice for the audience of experienced businesspeople and young people looking forward to business careers. On the subject of embracing failure as well as success in business, Mayor Boris Johnson was typically entertaining, noting, ‘A man called Chumba Wamba once said, “I get knocked down but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down!”’. The assembled audience was too polite to point out that Chumbawamba were in fact a band comprising at least eight members in 1997 when the single from which he was quoting, Tubthumping,* hit the charts . . . !
It was heartening to see so many young faces in the audience and we hope they were as inspired as we were by the panellists and news of the work being done by young black businesspeople to provide opportunities in their communities. One of the main issues voiced was how to break through the barriers that prevent black businesses from penetrating markets outside of their traditional consumer base to compete on a global stage. Whilst there are no easy answers to this question, the panel were in agreement that the explosion of connectivity provided by communications technology is a golden opportunity for black businesspeople to take their products and services to billions of consumers around the world.
Tim Campbell brought the meeting to a close perfectly by explaining that the biggest concern for black businesspeople should be the biggest concern for all businesspeople: to provide the best quality product possible. At Tamarind, that has always been our biggest concern and it will continue to be as we move into the next 25 years of the imprint.
*The irony of the title of this single is not lost on us . . . An unintentional blunder or a really clever joke? You decide.