This exhibition offers an insight into the experience of Africans in Birmingham since 1950. In the sixty years since 1950 Birmingham has changed beyond all recognition physically, economically, socially and culturally. Migration from Africa has played an important role in these changes and this exhibition offers an insight into the experiences and contributions of Africans in Birmingham during this period.
The exhibition presents some of the outcomes of The African Heritage Initiative, a unique project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has conducted extensive research to uncover and narrate the previously untold stories of African migrants: why they – or their parents – came to Birmingham; their experiences when they arrived; their subsequent settlement experiences; and their achievements and contributions within their adopted society as well as their aspirations for the future.
The project’s aim was to encourage African migrants, young and old, who are living and working in Birmingham, to share their stories in interviews, through which an historical record of modern African migration, and the integration of African migrants in Birmingham, could be developed. The project aimed to build upon existing research and attempted to develop a picture of modern African migrants and their integration in Birmingham in order to enable common and divergent experiences among the African Diaspora to be identified and understood.
The stories recorded through the African Heritage Initiative, some of which are presented here in this exhibition, are important, not just because of their ability to inspire and empower, but also because of the risk that the heritage and history they reveal may be lost. There has been no previous attempt to collate the heritage of recent African migrants in Birmingham on the scale attempted through this project. The archive that has been collected represents a unique and important record, expressing the values, attitudes, and thoughts which together form the history of the past experience of Africans in Birmingham, and it is crucial that these are recorded and preserved if we, and future generations, are to properly understand a heritage, which has been both central to the recent development of Birmingham and also a microcosm of the wider experience of African migration during the past sixty years.
After World War 2 there was a huge demand for labour to assist in the reconstruction of the country. A significant source of this labour came from amongst the nearly one million Africans who had fought for Britain during the war, as well as the large numbers who served in the merchant navy.
The immediate post-war migratory period was underpinned by the 1948 Nationality Act which gave members of the Commonwealth, as sovereign subjects, the same rights of entry and abode as British citizens. Initially the principles behind the Nationality Act had almost universal support amongst the political parties. Although the Nationality Act was enacted by the post-war Labour government of Clement Atlee its principles were supported by the subsequent Conservative government of Winston Churchill in the 1950s.
This political consensus, however, was not replicated on the streets. The experience of Africans (and West-Indians, who at this time formed the vast majority of migrants) during the 1950s was characterised by routine racism and harassment. Accommodation, for example, was a major problem for migrants with landlords regularly stipulating that they would not accept black tenants. Indeed, reports at the time indicate that it was not uncommon to see signs outside properties to let stating “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs, no children”…
The demand for labour for urban reconstruction tended to mean that African migrants settled in large urban centres, such as Birmingham, that had been devastated during the war. This, together with the problems of acquiring accommodation, tended to mean that Africans lived close together in some of the more run-down areas, often indeed, exploited by unscrupulous landlords and employers. In London the notorious landlord Peter Rackman extorted huge rents from vulnerable immigrant tenants using terror tactics, and this phenomenon, known as Rackmanism, was prevalent also in Birmingham.
A further consequence of the concentration of African migrants in relatively small and deprived urban areas, their lack of legal protection and their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse was that, in these areas, their presence exacerbated racial tensions. Although overall migration levels remained very small across the population as a whole, the concentration of this migration in a relatively few areas created a perception of massive change within those already deprived areas that in turn created a breeding ground for racial violence. This was exploited by groups such as Oswald Moseley’s Union Movement and the White Defence League which fed on common and stereotypical perceptions of the time in relation to criminality and sexual deviancy of blacks. Many white families displayed hostility towards black families in their areas, and this in turn developed into abuse and harassment in the streets.
The situation came to a head at the end of the hot summer of 1958 when the open hostility towards African and West Indian migrants that had become the norm through the 1950s spilled over into a wave of racist attacks on migrants in late August and early September of that year, particularly in Nottingham and Notting Hill.
The 1960s was a decade of massive social, cultural and economic change in the UK. The austerity of the post-war years began to give way to economic growth and a new confidence. By the end of the decade international travel was easier and more common than ever before and, together with the increasingly prevalence to television, this led to a steady breakdown in the deferential social values of earlier decades. This in turn led to new social and cultural phenomena and, increasingly, a new permissiveness that steadily transformed the UK from the rather staid and traditional society of the 1950s to a confident cultural and economic beacon to the world, reflected perhaps particularly by the success of bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The permissive 60s, however, were perhaps always rather more of an urban phenomenon than one that necessarily permeated the entire nation. Outside of the urban centres and young the social changes of the 1960s were profoundly unsettling to many. In some respects, therefore, the 1960s were foreshadowed by two famous statements by Harold Macmillan, the Conservative Prime Minister between 1957 and 1963. In 1957 Macmillan presaged the economic growth and confidence that would characterise the next decade with the phrase “You’ve never had it so good”, whilst in 1960 he signalled the beginning of the decolonisation of Africa with his famous speech in Cape Town in which he declared that “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”
Macmillan overrode the opposition of many within his own party and in the country to grant independence to most of the UK’s African colonies, a process continued by his successors Alec Douglas-Home and, for Labour, Harold Wilson.
Independence for the African colonies, however, combined with the continuing racial tension that had characterised the 1950s, began to break down the political consensus in regard to equal citizenship rights for Commonwealth citizens. With the citizens of the former colonies now citizens of independent nations rather than crown subjects the argument for equal citizenship rights appeared weaker and politicians were increasingly aware of the strength and vehemence of anti-immigrant sentiment among their electorates.
The economic growth of the 1960s, however, continued to provide a demand for migrant labour and the former colonies remained an obvious source of that labour. Governments from both the main political parties, therefore, tried to balance increasing restrictions on immigration with the need to meet the demand for migrant labour and to address the racial intolerance that was threatening political discourse and public safety. The Commonwealth Immigrants Acts in 1962 and 1968 replaced the automatic rights of Commonwealth citizens with a work permit scheme designed to place increasing emphasis on “skilled labour”. This was intended dramatically to reduce African and Caribbean migration, since the qualifications of even skilled Africans were generally not recognised in the UK.
By the middle of the decade the Wilson government introduced the first Race Relations Act, to mitigate the increasing levels of hostility displayed to African migrants but there remained a vociferous and impassioned debate about African migration, a debate in which Birmingham was at the centre.
On the 28th April 1968, at a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham, a prominent member of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, Enoch Powell, made his famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in which he condemned what he perceived to be the unwillingness of migrant communities to “adopt British standards” and predicted that the Race Relations Act and the presumption of protecting multicultural practices at the expense, as he saw it, of integration, would provoke sooner or later large scale violence. Powell’s speech was significant not just because of his standing as a senior politician but because of its location in the midlands. The Labour government had a tiny majority and was vulnerable particularly in Birmingham and midlands to pressure on its core vote due to anti-immigrant sentiment. A further Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1968 made the initially temporary restrictions of the 1962 Act permanent and also further restricted the right of migration of those without clearly identifiable family links to the UK – so-called “partials” – in a move that was clearly designed to keep African migrants out.
By 1970 there were some 1.4 million non-white residents in the UK, compared with a just a few thousand in 1945. Many of this 1.4 million were, of course, by now second generation. The 1970s therefore represent both a period of development and one of change compared to the challenges of the 1960s.
On the one hand the 1970s were a period of economic stagnation, of rising unemployment and a general lack of economic confidence in the west. In addition, in Africa, the early euphoria of independence was being replaced by increasing instability, economic collapse oppression and civil war. Whereas the 1950s and 1960s had been decades in which there was demand for migrant labour in the UK, firstly to enable post-war reconstruction and then to fuel economic growth (in a period where net migration was still negative), the 1970s was a decade in which the “pull” factor of the need for labour was replaced in part by a “push” factor in which instability in Africa encouraged inward migration.
This is not to say that pull factors were entirely absent. Despite the less favourable economic conditions migrant African workers were still in demand in areas of the economy in which British citizens were becoming less willing to work. The growth of generational reliance on the welfare state discouraged Britons from work in physically demanding and unappealing jobs such as manufacturing, cleaning and the care industry, and African workers frequently filled these vacancies, often working in poor conditions and with few rights.
In this context the 1970s saw the continuation of the immigration policy established by the late 1960s, of tighter immigration controls balanced by increased attention on development of legislation to improve race relations to ensure that first and second generation migrants were not subject to abuse and discrimination.
The 1971 Immigration Act further limited the right of British passport holders born overseas to migrate to the UK, unless they both had a work permit and could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK. This clearly was intended further to reduce African migration. A year later, however, a major crisis in Uganda in which the dictator Idi Amin expelled 83,000 Ugandan Asians, many with British passports, forced the government to have to admit some 28,000 in a matter of months.
In 1976 a new Race Relations Act was put before Parliament which, for the first time, made indirect discrimination illegal. Prior Race Relations Acts had prohibited incitement to racial hatred and direct discrimination (such as directly excluding Africans from consideration for jobs or accommodation) but the 1976 Act, closely modelled on the Sex Discrimination Act, went further in placing an obligation on employers to treat workers equally and to outlaw indirect forms of discrimination. The Act also had much stronger enforcement mechanisms than previous legislation.
The motivation for the act as a balance against tougher immigration controls was memorably summarised by the Labour politician Roy Hattersley who said “integration without limitation was impossible, and limitation without integration was inexcusable”, but a further motivation was certainly a growing awareness of the responsibility of society to ensure that the children of migrants, born and brought up in the UK, were not excluded from opportunity.
Whilst the elections of the 1970s were dominated by the major political crises of the time – in particular the miners’ strike and the three day week in the 1974 election and subsequently the oil crisis and economic stagnation, Enoch Powell remained a very significant influence on politics and on the development of policy; his criticism of the admittance of Ugandan Asians and of the 1971 Immigration Act as too soft permeated the decade and ensured that immigration remained a significant political issue.
Although the 1970s were in reality a decade of much tougher legislation restricting inward migration to the UK, the popular perception remained one of excess immigration and racial tension and this perception was a continuing political issue constantly stoked by the rhetoric of Enoch Powell who presented himself as the voice of the popular consensus speaking out against a more liberal political consensus.
By the end of the 1970s, however, the new Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher, had sought to reposition the Conservative Party more directly as the political voice of that popular consensus. In a television interview in January 1978 Thatcher allied the Conservatives as the party that would deliver real reductions in immigration. The Labour Government, meanwhile, had introduced virginity tests for Asian brides and its Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, had agreed, in the same year as Margaret Thatcher’s television pronouncements on the subject that the purpose of immigration control was to stop “coloured” immigration.
In this political climate it was no surprise therefore that the subsequent Conservative government introduced further legislation in the form of the British Nationality Act, 1981. This Act redefined British citizenship, significantly weakening the residual citizenship rights of Commonwealth citizens and thus further reducing the opportunity of many Africans to migrate through family or work connections with the UK.
As in the 1970s, the 1980s saw relatively low levels of inward migration but the severe recession of the early part of the decade, combined with the hostile political rhetoric, provided the context for an explosion of discontent among the black urban youth. In 1981 severe riots in Brixton in London, and Toxteth in Liverpool were matched by riots in Handsworth, and Handsworth was also the scene of a major riot in 1985. In each case unemployment and perceived victimisation of ethnic minorities by police were significant factors in the discontent.
The effect of the riots during the first half of the 1980s, however, was to focus the Conservative government on the need to support urban regeneration, and reduce racial tensions and distrust of the police. To this end through the recommendations of the Scarman Report into the riots, the Urban Regeneration initiatives championed by the Conservative minister Michael Heseltine, and the reforms to police procedure in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, concerted efforts were made to support the integration of and the creation of opportunities for African and Caribbean migrants and their children.
The 1990s saw the start of a major shift in migration patterns from Africa. For much of the 1970s and 1980s inward migration to the UK from Africa was in the low thousands annually, but the numbers of African migrants increased significantly during the 1990s (to between 10 and 20,000 a year).
For a number of African countries – such as Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the 1990s were a decade of large scale civil war. These wars, together with economic crises and famine, were a significant factor encouraging migration.
The 1990s, therefore, were a decade in which asylum and refugee migration became a major issue in a way that they had not previously. Prior migration from Africa had been principally work related but the combination of war and the increasing availability of international travel allowed refugees to seek asylum further afield and the UK, with its established migrant communities, was an obvious destination.
Refugee migration provoked increasingly vitriolic rhetoric in the popular press during the decade and was a major issue in the 1997 election with the Labour Party keen to portray itself as equally tough as the Conservatives in their proposed responses. This rhetoric became a constant backdrop to the decade, with an associated rise in far-right anti-immigrant groups such as the British National Party and with continued concern over institutional racism towards black citizens, revealed most strikingly in the MacPherson Report into the police investigation into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Despite the frequent negative portrayal of asylum based migration, refugee communities, although often having less historic affinity with their host nation, have demonstrated a resilience and a community spirit that provides a positive model of self-help in constrained times.
In Birmingham the Sudanese community, for example, formed a community church linked with the Balsall Heath church centre and have organised a charity called Sudan Emergency Relief to assist the famine stricken area in Southern Sudan. Members of the community were also involved in the Midlands Refugee Council that is today known as Refugee Council.
Birmingham, therefore, offers a striking example of the positive contribution that recent African migration has been able to bring to the city.
The wave of refugee migration which began in the 1990s intensified further in the early 2000s, reaching a peak of 30,500 in 2002. In the period from 1998 to 2007 there were some 171, 500 asylum applications from African refugees. This level of refugee asylum clearly resulted in massive political pressure on the Government, particularly in the context that the media was portraying asylum seekers as “bogus” on an almost daily basis.
The story of migration in the 2000s, however, is not solely one of asylum. As the economy entered an unprecedented period of economic growth and as the Government invested significant sums in enhancing public services, especially the NHS, the demand for migrant labour that had reduced during the 1970s and 1980s was once again significant. In addition to the need for unskilled workers, there was a new demand for doctors and nurses to staff the expanding NHS.
Furthermore, the 2000s saw a rapid growth in student migration from Africa. UK universities were actively encouraged to seek fee paying students from overseas.
The new levels of migration were not solely the result of UK based demand, however. Africa itself was changing rapidly during the early years of the 21st Century. Economic and social development has led to a new age of aspiration for the young of the continent. Whereas migration from Africa in earlier decades was typically males seeking work, (often, prior to the restrictions of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, with the intention of returning home), recent years have seen a new trend in migration. Now, non-refugee migrants are likely to be educated and seeking skilled work (often more highly educated than the UK average); and migrants are at least as likely to be female as male. One of the consequences of the trend towards the social emancipation of females across Africa is that females are both themselves likely to be educated, and likely to be seeking further education, as a gateway for future careers and self-determination either abroad or back home in Africa.
As a consequence of these trends the number of people from Africa with work permits increased steadily from some 4000 in 1997 to a peak of 15,700 in 2002, with still 10,000 annually by 2007. Similarly, there are now many thousands of students from Africa enrolled on higher education courses in the UK – the majority in Masters Courses.
The story of migration in the 21st Century, therefore, is not just one of refugees fleeing a troubled continent but also one of an increasingly confident and educated migrant group seeking further skills education and opportunity. It is far from clear whether these latter migrants are as likely to settle as their predecessors, indeed, there is evidence to suggest that many such migrants see themselves as temporary visitors – enhancing their skills but with the long term aim of deploying those skills in their increasingly confident home countries.
Recent years have seen avenues of migration for Africans increasingly severely restricted by legislation in parallel with increasingly unrestricted migration from other European countries. This perhaps reflects an historic refocusing of Britain’s role in the world from world power to European partner. Its consequence, however, is that those African migrant communities, both new and old, now co-exist with other European migrant communities.
With a history of migrant community going back 60 years the 2000s and beyond, however, also demonstrate the increasing organisation, integration and positive contribution of Africans to the economic, social and cultural existence of cities such as Birmingham. These large historic centres of migration have been reinvigorated by the business endeavours, charitable work, trade and cultural vibrancy of African communities. Africans have brought both new business and new life to the run-down urban centres of the 1980s and have simultaneously reinvigorated ailing institutions such as the Church.
With the African community in Birmingham set to surpass the Caribbean population during the course of this decade it seems unlikely that a history of migration and contribution spanning 60 years will diminish. As a mature and self-confident community Africans in Birmingham are increasingly well-educated, increasingly likely to pursue professional careers and increasingly committed to community involvement to develop themselves and their local communities. What is more, this self-confident African Diaspora is now increasingly ready to reinvest its expertise in Africa itself. The future of migration is likely to be less of a one-way flow from and more of a partnership in which increasingly multi-national families and communities interact more or less equally.
This section introduces some of the key individuals whose stories have been referred to repeatedly in the ensuing exhibition.
Isata Kanneh was born in Bo, Sierra Leone. Isata is the project manager of Birmingham Sanctuary. Her mother is Welsh and her father hails from Sierra Leone. Isata obtained her A-levels at Caldicot Comprehensive School in Wales, her first degree at The University of Warwick, and her Master’s degree at the University of Birmingham. She has extensive experience in the development and coordination of Celebrating Sanctuary events and schools programmes as well as the annual Celebrating Sanctuary Festival. She is also experienced in fundraising, programme development, strategic and collaborative partnership development, budgeting and logistical planning, evaluation and monitoring. She has supported a number of individuals, groups and charities involved with social issues.
Adel Asker is a Libyan Research student with the Languages, Discourses and Society Research Group at the School of Education, University of Birmingham. Adel qualified as an English teacher and taught English in Libya before he came to the UK to do a Master’s degree. He completed a Master’s degree in translation and theories of interpreting and then went back home and worked at the university as a junior lecturer assistant. Adel taught under graduate students at the university, in Libya. In 2008 Adel was sent by his university to do a PhD which he started in January 2008. Adel will finish his PHD next year and his research thesis focuses on “The impact of the learning situation on language learning motivation: An empirical study examining the relationship between L2 possible selves and the L2 learning situation among learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) in Libya”.
Palvika Rathods was born in the early 1980s in Birmingham. Her mother came to the UK in the early 1980s to work as a consultant. Palvika attended school in Birmingham and the 27 year old fashion designer is the founder and managing director of Palvika. The Tanzanian has brought an eco edge to the Birmingham fashion scene, using recycled materials to prove that great style doesn’t have to cost the earth. Her chic shop, located in Piccadilly Arcade, New Street, is full of glamorous goodies with a twist, including fabric from the ends of rolls, which most would just discard, parts from vintage and charity shop finds and even plastic bottles. Palvika took an unconventional route into fashion; she was originally a medical student, before making a new path for herself through a course in Textiles and the Esthetical mentoring scheme. Her designs have been globally inspired thorough personal observations on her travels through Europe, India and Africa and each item in her range is as individual as the last.
Susan Bisani was born in Rwanda were she attained her primary and secondary qualification. Susan started university in Rwanda and due to political unrest, she moved to the UK and continued her studies at Bourneville College in 2000 and then continued to Matthew Bolton College where she did the Higher National Diploma in Business and Finance. Susan attended Birmingham City University doing Business and Administration and then she attended Brasshouse centre which is a language centre. Susan has also attended Birmingham University doing some research training. She started an MA at Coventry University doing an MA in Disaster Management. Susan Bisani acknowledged how important is for her to represent many women in different projects such as teamwork Refugee, Birmingham Refugee Women’s Association. She is currently the project co-ordinator of BNCN which is Birmingham New Communities Network. She have developed partnership with Birmingham City Council, Digbeth Trust, Be Strong, BVSC, Refugee Action, Refugee Council and many other organisations. Susan boast of her community researcher training with the University of Birmingham and she is enjoying her place in Birmingham and she is very happy to represent newcomers or anybody that needs help in starting up charities or refugee community organisations or any smaller group that need to voice their views in Birmingham.
Dr Zachariah Bol Deng started his education in his village, Abyei, Sudan; you could call it a bush school and went on to the elementary school. In 1948 he left his village and went all the way to the Southern Sudan in Tonj and attended Tonj elementary school which was actually recruiting sons of Chiefs and he happened to be a son of the Chief of Dinka Ngok. This opportunity was offered by the Director of Education in the Southern Sudan who came all the way from Juba to Abyei and asked for Dr Bol Deng and his brother Francis and took them both to Tonj Primary School, and there they continue their elementary education until 1951. Subsequently he sat exams and went on to the Intermediate School in Rumbek. He stayed there for two years and then went on to Tonj Intermediate which was now open at Tonj itself, where he spent another year and sat for the Sudan School Certificate. Dr Bol Deng then attended Khortaggat Secondary School, from 1953 where he was taught in Arabic and English. In 1958 he easily passed the Sudan School Certificate. Although he wished to get a scholarship to study abroad he started study at the School of Economics in Khartoum, where he spent one year, while the process of gaining a scholarship was going on. Eventually he was given a scholarship to go and study in East Germany. Dr Bol Deng, therefore, went to Leipzig in East Germany to study medicine. His first year at Leipzig was not an interesting one because he had an accident and was operated upon and spent about four months in hospital. However, when he came out of hospital he realised that East Germany was not the right place for him, so he went back to the Sudan where he was offered him another scholarship to go to study in Italy. That was in 1960. Dr Bol Deng, therefore, started medicine again at the University of Padua, which was in fact the first medical school in the world. At Padua, his uncle Bona Bulabek who was a brilliant chap had a car accident and died in Czechoslovakia while travelling between Berlin and Padua, so he had to take his body from Czechoslovakia to Padua. The bishop of Padua, however, refused to have him buried because he died in a communist country. Dr Deng was very disappointed about this and said, “OK, in that case I will take him somewhere else”. He had to take his body to another area to be buried. But then he could not stay in Padua and moved to Bologna, where he completed his medical degree. In 1967 he got his degree in medicine and then from Bologna he went straight, to England were a job was offered in Gulson Hospital in the Midlands. That was his first job, as a House Officer, a Houseman. Dr Bol Deng worked in Coventry for a couple of years doing medicine surgery, and then he decided to change to another hospital to get a view of other places. He worked at Stoke-on-Trent, accident and emergency, because he was told they were a very good department, where he spent about seven months working there. From Stoke-on-Trent he went back to London and worked in various hospitals, both in West London, South London, and North London. While in London Dr Bol Deng specialised in tropical medicine and did a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the London School of Tropical Medicine. After he finished this course, he decided to go back to Italy, where he worked in various hospitals in Bologna. He moved back to London in 1974 and did his Masters in clinical medicine of the tropics. And that ended in 1975 and that was the time when the government of the Sudan asked Dr Bol Deng to come and help them.
The father-of-three therefore, headed the large Juba Hospital in Southern Sudan but the doctor’s efforts to draw attention to the plight of the country amid civil unrest and hostilities were seen as troublesome and he was suddenly arrested and held for six months. With many Sudanese disappearing after arrest, after his release the doctor fled to Britain in 1985 and later became a well known GP. He has supported thousands of asylum seekers in the city and also launched a charity to help Sudan when famine struck in the late 1990s. He has also been a voice for the hardships that asylum seekers face.
Abdirahman Ali was born in Somalia, where he studied physics and worked as a secondary teacher for many years. His wife and children came to the UK where they settled in London. Continued persecution forced Abdirahman to join his family in the UK in 2002 and the family was sent to Birmingham by the Home Office. Still passionate about education, because of the struggles he encountered in Somalia and the rejection from his colleagues in his own country, he decided to train, and then work, as an employment adviser. Having been without a job as a parent, Abdirahman came to know that his vocation in life was to help refugees and asylum seekers in similar circumstances. In 2004, he set up Afro-British Support Services (IMPACT) which supports and assists refugees and asylum seekers to overcome barriers in housing, health, employment, education, welfare and training.
Bertram Chene-Yaboah and his parents came to the UK in 1960. His family settled London, where his father was a diplomat with the Ghana High Commission. Despite the fact that Bertram and his family had to travel to many other African countries he worked very hard and qualified as a teacher in Ghana. Since returning to the UK in the 1980s, Bertram, and his English wife, have settled in Birmingham and he has worked with many schools in the Birmingham area. He currently works as a Cultural Champion and outreach worker with Thinktank, the Birmingham Science Museum and also as a director of Global Arts, and has carried out many arts projects supporting learning in schools and within the community.
Telewane Clotilde was born in Ivory Coast, and moved to the UK in 2005 but had lived in France for many years. She is a hairdresser and the director of The Hands of God hair salon in Birmingham. This is a family operated hair salon to which clients are attracted due to the hairdressers’ skill, their “doctor–patient“ relationship with their clients and their appreciation that hairdressers see their clients in a most vulnerable, sensitive way – in need of maintenance or tender loving care.
Felicia Nwokedi was born in the early 1950s in Nigeria. She came to the UK with her husband in the early 1980s to undertake a Masters programme in Banking in Scotland. After their studies they decided to settle in Birmingham and raise their children, since she already had a sister in the city. Although very interested in fashion and a talented fashion designer, she eventually decided to become an educator so that she could change the education system from within, which she felt ignored the black presence and contribution to society. She attended further training and qualified to become a head teacher. Once qualified she continued to work as an educator for many years during which time she not only raised educational standards, but also encouraged parental involvement in the college where she worked. Indeed, many parents went on to further education and careers within education themselves. Today, Felicia talks about sharing her passion for African culture and fashion with the West. Styles of African fashion have evolved due to the mixture of African and Western cultures and African fashion has influenced fashion throughout the world.
Ade Adeyemo, was born in London in the mid 1960s. His father and mother came to study in the UK after the Second World War and returned back to Nigeria after their studies. Although very interested in journalism and a talented radio presenter he eventually decided to become a civil engineer, following in the footsteps of his father, and has worked as a surveyor for many years. Ade has inspired, mentored and supported individual African musicians and members of his own community in different ways. One of his greatest achievements is as the founder of Afrobeat, the radio programme that brings together the best traditional and contemporary music from Africa and Africans in the Diaspora.
Patricia Okoro was born in Nigeria. She migrated to the UK in the early 1990s to further her education after having previously obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, in English and Literary studies in 1989. She studied further at the University of Hertfordshire where she obtained a Diploma in Higher Education in Nursing. She is now the managing director of Express Vision, a care agency in Birmingham with many employees. Her recent novel Eulogy to the Niger and Other Poems touches upon not only traditional festivals, but also modern-day traffic jams and visits to the zoo. But behind these everyday moments stand the constants of family life and an overarching love of the Niger. The crowd so huge and dense, it seems, the music so beautiful, aggravating and captivating! Patricia Okoro’s poetry calls up vividly the landscape and cultures of Nigeria.
Karyn Tazi arrived as an asylum seeker in 2003 and has gone a long way since then. She is one of the most pragmatic African women in Wolverhampton and has won the heart of most African women in the West Midlands. Karyn is a graduate with a Master of Science in social work. She works as a social worker by profession and chair lady of leading feminist philanthropic charity, African Women of Substance. Karyn has inspired, mentored and supported individual women and their children into education and employment. Karyn is the organiser of the Miss Africa UK Award to honour African women and she has empowered African women to overcome the barriers they might face in realising their aspirations.
Freddy Mutshipayi was born in Congo, where he did his primary and secondary education in French and obtains his baccalaureate. He moved to France, and attended University and obtained a degree in ICT. Freddy has worked as an analyst programmer in France in a big company and when he lost his job he decided to come to UK. In the UK Freddy has undertaken a variety of employment before deciding to set up a new business GPX Ltd which is a freight and money transfer company. This business helps local people in the community to ship goods and money to different parts of the world.
Sedouh LeGrand did his primary and secondary education in Kinshasha, Congo, where he grew up. He migrated to the United Kingdom because of unrest situation in Congo in 1992. He attended Tottenham College in London, United Kingdom and wanted to study Law, and become a lawyer, or a barrister, but that did not work, because it was quite expensive, and that’s what put me off, he said. He later moved to Birmingham and joined Westhill College, and moved to the University of Birmingham. Sedouh only became a full time student because a grant was awarded at Westhill College which has now become part of the University of Birmingham. The course was a four-year programme. That was a BA in Applied Theological Studies, and he completed the programme of study in 2000. In 2001 he started his MA degree and was doing an MA in Applied Community Studies and because of the project that he was working on, it was recommended that he had to move on straight to PhD rather than, trying to finish it because the university could not offer him a supervisor. Anyway I was on MA course for two years, he said. After that he joined his existing department which is the Institute of Applied Social Studies, starting, a PhD in Criminology in 2003 as a part time student. Again, Sedouh pursued a PHD without scholarship. And now I’m nearly there, I’m in the process of analysing and I have produced the first draft of my thesis and God willing, this time next year I will be done.
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Biographical Notes: Project Management
Frederick Ebot Ashu
Research and Development Manager
Frederick Ebot Ashu is the founder and research and development manager of CAASS UK. He also works as a design and Technology teacher in Birmingham. He has a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of Greenwich and he is currently completing an EdD in Education leadership at the University of Birmingham. Frederick moved to the UK in 1999, since he has continued professional development in the field of education. Frederick is dedicated to community development and leadership development.
Development Secretary and volunteer development worker
Karyn is a graduate with a Master of Science in social work. She works as a social worker by profession and chair lady of leading feminist philanthropic charity, African Women of Substance.
Chrisantus has been a community activist, campaigner, volunteer and fundraiser for many years. He has been actively involved in the community through various leadership roles and instrumental in advancing the social, cultural and religious interests of the Cameroon community living in the UK.
Vice Chair Lady
Beatrice is a remarkable individual who strives to help others wherever she can in the community. She has worked as a foster carer for children and vulnerable adults over the last five years.
Victor Etchu Njang
Victor has inspired, mentored and supported individuals and members of his own community. Victor recently graduated as a Business Administration teacher at the University of Worcester and quickly realised his natural flair for community development. One of his greatest achievements was opening a club for the general public interested in African music and food.
A History of Africans in Birmingham
CAASS UK Publication
Piers Road Centre, 1 Piers Road,
Handsworth, Birmingham, B21 OUY
Media Enquiries and Partnership
Frederick Ebot Ashu
Research and Development Director
Mobile: +44 (0) 7720431026
Special thanks to Abdirahman Ali- Impact: Afro-British Support Services, Susan Bisani-Birmingham New Community Network, Helen Lloyd-Oral History Consultancy, Mohammed Al-rahmin- African Community Council for the Regions, Dennis Minnis-Piers Road Resource Centre, Izzy Mohammed and Andy Green-Birmingham Archive and Heritage Service, Jenny Phillimore and Lisa Goodson-University of Birmingham for their time, knowledge and expertise with this Oral History project.
In particular CAASS UK board members would like to thank Aline Afazali, James Omunson, Francois Kayembe, Marcianne Uwimana and Adeline Sede who enabled CAASS UK to carry out interviews and consultation meetings with so many Africans in Birmingham.
Special thanks to the drum, a venue dedicated to promote contemporary art of local communities in Birmingham, Tony Spencer-Arts Development Manager at the Drum. Finally, thanks are due to the Heritage Lottery Fund and our sponsors for supporting this project.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers and copyright holders. Copyright CAASS UK, 2011
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library