Wednesday, 28 October 2015

never-ending story

Before I tell you all about our visit to the 60untold exhibition at Goldsmiths University - the most important thing after reading this is that you go and witness it if you can, if you can't listen to the stories of the people in profile on the website.

The 60untold exhibition shares the memoirs of 60 black men and women who were the first generation of Caribbean children to experience the British education system on British shores. This event leapt out from twitter trails as I immediately thought of my Dad and his peers, who are part of that generation. I was raised on the stories of 1960's Shepherd's Bush and how my Dad found himself ripped from his home in Grenada to be submerged and survive in the 'mother country'. Often when hearing the anecdotes or reading novels set at this time we can become accustomed to the weary tales of brutal, daily racism in the education system and the workplace. But what we don't hear is what else happened next? When children and grandchildren have been raised, when careers have been chosen, when (most) struggles have passed this generation still have their stories to share.

Surrounded by monochrome images of sixty people who have positively contributed to our society in a plethora of ways, we walked the small basement of Professor Stuart Hall, Goldsmiths University reading names and discussing the range of employment amongst the names. Luckily for us, curator and teacher Beverley Campbell was on hand to embellish the photographs with some back in the day tales and also to share her views about education then and now. 

I fully believe that if you want to know where you are going you have to know where you come from, and this exhibition opens us the discussion about what came before the generations who were born here in the 1970s onward. It is very easy to gripe and theorize about our situation in society today but it's imperative that younger generations hear and learn from their predecessors. In my attempts to piece together my Grenadian family tree whilst researching for a novel I am constantly getting stuck, struggling to find the documentation or evidence that will reveal the paths my ancestors took. It would be a travesty if this trait continues - if future generations don't have the opportunity to understand where their families have been before them.

The exhibition elevated Dad's past tales to the fore which is always precious time and  I was pleasantly surprised to see names that were authors I had come across during  my Caribbean Studies course. I was eager to hear more from the people we had 'met' on canvas and since visiting I have listened to the documentary of some of the noted faces in the exhibition: women who were incredibly successful in the education sector; Tulse Hill Boys School alumni; and the creators of the TWJ soundsystem. Alongside this there are short soundscapes of each person who relive their journey through the education system and into their professions. I often get frustrated with students who have complained to me about how there is nothing for them to do; to achieve because school or society is against them - and whilst I will not renounce their anxieties I wish they would hear the tales I have heard from this project. I trust that it will give them perspective and drive on what has been accomplished before them in order to grasp the mantle of Black British achievement.

A poignant comment from Trevor Russell (of TWJ) regarding the question of legacy which for me, sums up the importance of this exhibition:

"A legacy has to be recorded and passed on... (it is) only beneficial to those who are coming up... (to) use it as a guidance"

Researching for the novel I'm writing set in the Caribbean I find I am struggling at times to find the historical references that I need because as Russell also noted, there is so little recorded out there. I am thankful to Beverley for this wonderful archive which will exist for our childrens' children's generation.

This post first appeared on : Education