Windrush, Grenfell and Civil Rights: The Legacy of Community Organising in North Kensington
“Never accept the bread line, fight for what you want.”
Recently, Migrants Organise gathered over one hundred community members and local leaders at the Tabernacle to reflect on the rich history of community organizing in North Kensington which, in the 1950s, was the new home of the Windrush generation who fought to protect their rights in the face of a hostile welcome in the UK.
Since the Windrush generation, the area has seen migrant communities make home here and have made the area what it is. Such communities, from Moroccan, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese background, came together to organise and create a new organisation – now Migrants Organise – in the fight for justice and equality.
The Grenfell tragedy in June 2017 has left a profound impact on the community, and Migrants Organise community organisers Maymuna Osman and Didier Ibwilakwingi-Ekom have been working with North Kensington residents to address the injustices affecting their lives. Emma Dent Coad’s report on economic inequality was a great first step in pinpointing the divide in the borough. We believed an important next step was to create a road map for enacting future change.
This event focused on the value of sharing our past stories, to engage new generations, to root us to our past and present and build new possibilities. It was about how we can continue the tradition of organising for equality, and justice in our home of North Kensington.
The event began with a screening of Colin Prescod’s documentary “From You Were Black, You Were Out,” which chronicles the mobilisation of the Windrush Generation, in Ladbroke Grove in the 1960s and 1970s – the age of ”No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’.’
Colin described the documentary as encouraging people to ‘have the courage to take on the injustices in your community as they affect you.’ The documentary celebrated the legacy of struggle and organising, and the birth of UK’s Civil Rights Movement; from the Mangrove Nine to the beginnings of Notting Hill Carnival which happened all in our neighbourhood.
The film applauds the Windrush Generation for their struggle for housing, legal representation, community cohesion and the right to be seen, heard and celebrated. Significantly, migrant community groups were pivotal in ensuring the community spaces under the Westway – spaces fought for by community groups- yet are now much contested, an issue brought to light post-Grenfell.
Our organisers, Maymuna and Didier, brought the debate to life by hosting a panel of five community leaders: Matthew Phillip (Director of the Tabernacle), Niles Hailstones (chair of Westway23), Colin Prescod (filmmaker and Chair of the Institute of Race Relations), Isis Amlak (local anti-racism activist), and Shamime Ibrahim (member of the RBKC Youth Forum). The panel connected history to the present day, with Niles reflecting on the ‘need to pass our history, the baton, to all generations to build our communities.’
The panel spoke about how, as Colin put it, ‘racism is something that changes in order to survive.’ Understanding the hostile environment, the Windrush Scandal, and the uncertainty of Brexit as some of the many challenges currently facing borough residents, the speakers offered the audience some hope. Niles emphasised that we ‘have the opportunity to change things…shift the paradigm.’
The speakers also emphasised the need for youth organising, to, as Isis put it, ‘show the country who we are.’ Panellists highlighted the importance of connecting older and younger activists and considered tactics for doing so. Shamime, a youth activist, reminded the audience that young people are already disrupting adult spaces and that they “ARE politically active.” It is up to the North Kensington community to build upon this youth activism, both past and present.
Comments from both the panellists and audience members reflected how a unified community has the power to resist the injustices of Grenfell, follow in the footsteps of Amelia Gentleman in investigating the Windrush Scandal, and mobilise against the hostile environment. One attendee, Medina, who was born and raised in North Kensington, told us the event reminded her of the need to protect the culture of the area and highlighted that it is up to young people to ‘determine the future of our community.’ Another attendee, Pamela, said the work of the panellists highlighted that there is great organising already going on in North Kensington today!
We thank everyone who attended the event and encourage those interested in getting involved in organising in North Kensington to contact Didier (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Written by Erin Mysogland