It is the platinum anniversary of the UK arrival of the first cohort of roughly 500 men and women from the Caribbean region, in response to the British government’s invitation to the healthy, young adults to help in the post war rebuilding effort. During the 20 years, after the arrival of the first wave of Windrush pioneers in June 1948, several more people of Caribbean background responded to this call.
The records show that almost 200,000 migrants from the Caribbean region responded and they proceeded to take up work in the brand new National Health Services (which also was formed in 1948) as nurses, doctors and ancillary staff.
Some took up employment in the transport system in London and other urban centres. Others worked in factories helping to rebuild the manufacturing base; and others worked in the construction sector rebuilding homes and offices destroyed by Nazi bombs during World War 2. These are the people who came to the UK from the Caribbean region, to strengthen the local workforce; these are the people we are remembering when we speak of the Windrush generation.
It is common knowledge that life in the UK was not a bed of roses in the time of the Windrush generation. They knew that work was scarce in the Caribbean islands of their birth, and many had children who were dependent on the money they could send back to family members who were caring for their children. Consequently, they had to make a success of their enterprise to the unfamiliar and distant “mother country”. The Windrush generation found that accessing work was not as challenging as accessing a place to live. For this reason the Windrush generation expanded the “pardner” system of group saving, which helped them to raise the money needed to purchase homes.
It is common knowledge that the state schools were wrongly assessing the abilities of the children of the Windrush generation which resulted in too many being relegated to low sets which trapped them in pathways which led to second class qualifications, and low paid jobs. The Windrush generation responded to this assault on their children by developing thousands of supplementary or Saturday schools, which changed the academic trajectory for significant numbers of their children.
It is also common knowledge that the workplace was another hostile environment for the Windrush generation, and the development and growth of churches led by ministers from the Black community provided places of refuge, and fellowship, and spiritual fortification. All of which helped the Windrush generation to become resilient, and hopeful of a better future.
In 2018, some 50 years on from those tough and demanding two decades, we can state with a deep sense of pride and cultural esteem that the Windrush generation succeeded in the creation of a robust platform on which today’s Modern Black Community is built.
Indeed, it is their fight for racial equality and justice that paved the way for legislation; thereby forming the basis of our current Equality laws in the UK
Today it is clear to see that the descendants of the Windrush generation have found common cause with the descendants of migrants from several countries in Africa, and the Dual Heritage descendants from both Caribbean and African parentage to create the Modern Black Community. Members of the MBC may be seen in both Houses of Parliament (such as Lord Herman Ouseley and Lord Victor Adebowale in the Lords; and Diane Abbott, MP and Helen Grant, MP in the House of Commons); and in local government as both elected councillors and career professionals in social care, education, the Police Services, and National Health Services.
Other MBC members are well placed in Civil Service departments, and in private sector firms (such as Sir Kenneth Olisa, who is also the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London). Some MBC members are millionaires from a variety of sectors such as Lewis Hamilton in F1 motor racing, Jessica Ennis-Hill in athletics, to Sir Damon Buffini in merchant banking; from property entrepreneurs like Fitz Thomas, to the high tech entrepreneurs like Piers Linney, the founder and CEO of Outsourcery. And some are medical professionals like Professor Frank Chinegwundoh, and university professors like Gus Johns. It is without doubt that members of the MBC are now contributing to virtually all aspects of life in the UK, including the aristocracy to which Emma McQuiston became the UK’s first marchioness from the MBC a few years ago.
For these reasons, today’s MBC owes a debt of gratitude to the Windrush generation for their enterprising spirit, their fortitude, their creativity, and for their will to succeed against the odds. It is for these reasons why they rightly should be seen as the symbol of the start of the MBC in the UK, which now stands at more than 3 million British citizens; all of whom are proud to be contributors to the ongoing robustness and prosperity of the UK
An example of the resiliency of the MBC is the social enterprise known as Reach Society which was founded in 2010 by Dr Dwain Neil, Mr Rob Neil, OBE, and Dr Donald Palmer, and which also won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2017 for its voluntary work. Its vision is to ensure that every young person in the MBC makes an emotional connection with at least one professional in their community, to be encouraged, motivated and be inspired to choose pathways to success, and to increase their sense of cultural esteem.
Reach Society’s cohort of professionals have visited schools, colleges and community groups; and have led workshops and organised careers conferences in order to inspire young people. It has so far impacted more than 12,000 young people, and it is just one example of the confidence in the MBC.
Other examples of MBC confidence is the Seventh Day Adventist Church which is managing more than a dozen schools and a theology college; the Excell3 organisation which is managing roughly two dozen mentoring franchises and the King Solomon International Business School for the development of young people, aged 5 to 19; also the Amos Bursary which prepares high achieving young Black men before they enter high value universities to successfully complete their studies. Wherever we look in the UK, there is evidence of the MBC taking responsibility for its affairs, which augurs well for the future; character is destiny!
Dr Donald Palmer
Donald is an Associate Professor of Immunology at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Immunology at Imperial College London. He is co-founder/co-director of Reach Society, Chair of Governors of a school in North-West London and a Professional Mentor for Amos Bursary.
Dr Dwain A. Neil is a co-founder of Reach Society and its chairman. He is the director of Leriko & Associates, a management consultancy. He is a co-author of 3 books published by Reach Society Publishing; and a father of four children, three boys and a girl, who have completed their studies in high value universities and are working.