Hope In Unity: With support from Poet Ben Okri, North Kensington Youth Remember Grenfell

On June 14th, one year since the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower, the people of North Kensington came onto the streets to pay their respects to those affected by the tragedy. Decked in Grenfell Green, members of the community were joined by people from neighbouring boroughs, from across the capital, and still further afield, to remember the 72 people who lost their lives.

The silent march – ultimately attended by around 5,000 people – was the culmination of a number of other memorial initiatives being run side-by-side in the community in the weeks surrounding the anniversary. Amongst the arts events, get-togethers, meals, and vigils was a poetry and spoken word event aimed at giving young people a platform and means to engage with the community, share their feelings, and make their voices heard.

Coordinated by Migrants Organise and other local organisations including Baraka Community Association, African Women’s Care, Congo Great Lakes Initiative, The Venture Centre, and The Gate Theatre, the common theme – as with all other memorial events in the community – was of hope, unity, togetherness and resilience.

Poet Ben Okri, supporting young writers in North Kensington.

The young people of North Kensington joined together to put on a powerful show to a receptive audience of over 70 people, who had gathered at the Venture Centre in North Kensington. The evening opened with a broadcast of a special video message from acclaimed poet Ben Okri, who through his journalism and creative writing, has been a vocal supporter of those affected by the Grenfell disaster.

Congratulating the young performers, and reiterating the role that writing can play in overcoming trauma, uniting communities, and as an act of resistance, Okri said:

“I’m very proud that you’re uniting and having this event about the most monumental thing that has happened to us as a community.  It’s not easy writing poetry about your deepest feelings and fears, about the difficult and sometimes terrible things that have happened to you. But in doing that, we are making ourselves stronger. Poetry reminds us that one person’s person’s life is as valuable as another – it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are. It reminds us of the really basic fundamental rich humanity of every human being – that are are all here, and we are all free to be here to sing our song and make our contribution.”

Okri’s message was followed by a special performance of his poem ‘Mental Flight‘, performed by actor and performer Thalissa Teixeira:

“Only free people can make a free world.

Infect the world with your light.

Help fulfil the golden prophecies.

Press forward the human genius.

Our future is greater than our past.”

London-based rapper, spoken word artist, and community organiser Potent Whisper also captured the audience’s attention with his performance highlighting the inequalities in our society.

The evening was an important reminder of the strength and togetherness of the community in North Kensington and the hope that the young people have for their future. A poem by Ibtisam Muhamud from Baraka encapsulates that feeling:

“Happiness is sunshine and beaches

Happiness is watermelons and peaches

Laughs and giggles echoes in the air

Kindness and love spread everywhere.

Cartwheels and somersaults in the park

Cats meowing, dogs bark

Finally Friday is family movie night

As Saturday comes the proud sun shines bright

Freedom! Freedom at last

I just wish this summer will last

Happiness is sunshine and beaches

Happiness is watermelons and peaches.”

Migrants Organise is supporting residents in North Kensington, including young people, and migrants and refugees, to take a lead role in campaigning and decision-making on key issues affecting the local community. If you are interested in learning more about civic participation in North Kensington, want our support, or would like to get involved in future events, please contact our North Kensington Organisers, Maymuna Osman (maymuna@migrantsorganise.org) or Didier Ibwilakwingi-Ekom (didier@migrantsorganise.org).

For more information on recent activities in the area, see our blog posts here and here

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