I’ve been such a lazy blogger. I said blogger!! It’s been nearly two years since I last posted a blog entry and boy does that seem like long time ago now. Tony Blair was Prime Minister, bankers were revered and celebrated and Jose Mourinho and Martin Jol were respectively the managers of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. So much has happened in the last 20 months, in the world and in my own life, that it’s hard to take in. The biggest thing undoubtedly has to be the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. So much has been said about that historic decision of the American people that I will not add to it here, but back in June 2007 I did not in my wildest dreams believe it was possible.
The highlight in the Griot’s life has to be being awarded an OBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. People’s reactions were very interesting, most were absolutely overjoyed for me and to be honest I found the out-pouring of joy and congratulations overwhelming. So many people said so many wonderful things, mainly along the lines of how richly deserved it was, that I spent the majority of June 14 in tears (yes, I cried). I received excited phone calls from all over the place, including Nigeria, the US and Acton. There were a few alternative reactions however, one was a fella who said that as far as he was concerned OBE stood for “Other Buggars Efforts” and there are two people I considered close who have still yet to acknowledge the award in any way. Then there was my own reaction to the fact that I had been nominated to become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. I loathe the idea of empires, the vast majority of people that are absorbed into them suffer. So how was I to reconcile myself to it? The first thing was to recognise that it was not just an award for me, but also for my magnificent colleagues who have worked so hard to create a truly exemplary organisation. LEAP is special, I have not yet learnt how to describe it to do it justice and it is a place that you have to visit to understand. I often tell my colleagues that they are heroes and I wanted them to know that I knew that they contributed to all the charity’s achievements, so in a way, the “Other Buggars Efforts” man was right. The other thing I did was to make an adjustment in my mind, to the title. By considering it the Order of British Excellence as opposed to Empire, I was comfortable with it and then wished only that my mother was alive to see it. The whole thing was the culmination of quite some turnaround. Here was the man formerly known as Darkie Duper (4th choice MC of Danny King Hi-Power sound system), Stretch from Acton and someone who as a teenager was once told by a foaming at the mouth Policeman that I was “nothing and would always be nothing,” up for a gong. All of this preamble leads me to my main point which is my life has changed from back in the day, I’ve moved forward, not in turns of financial attainment necessarily, but amongst other things in terms of circles that I am able to access. I have gone from moving with the “man dem” to having met the last 2 Prime Ministers, more Ministers of State than I can remember and his HRH Prince Charles 3 times.
Tuesday this week was a perfect example. I was invited to a dinner in a private room in an extremely expensive restaurant in Mayfair. The place was outstanding in every way but it was over-shadowed by the quality of my company for the evening. I very much felt like the odd one out around the table. Try and picture it. There’s me (and if you know me you’ll know I have quite a broad London accent and have still not learnt to be completely comfortable in environments that do not see a lot of Black people), there is a brilliant 25 year old woman who is the head and founder of a foundation that is raising governance standards across a continent and has on her Board people of the quality of the former President of Ireland; there is one of the founders of the world’s first online bank , a man whose new venture has been selected as 2008 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in Davos and then there is our host, the man who is paying the really expensive tab (thank you, mate) who runs an exciting new media company that has access to the corridors of power and who is primed for real success after spending years as a journalist at national newspapers and also being an editor.
It is so obvious why I was the odd one out, right? Absolutely, I was the only one of the three that worked for a charity. It was lovely to be around the table with them, discussing amongst other things Mr Pioneer’s plans to develop and support millions of the brightest children in Africa so that they can achieve their potential. All of us around the table were British and, as I’m sure you guessed, all of us around the table were Black. The strides that have been made by Black people in this country have been huge, and this dinner reminded me of that. Yes, there is still a way to go, but we all too often focus on what we don’t have and therefore forget what we do have…many shiny examples of what hard work, talent and focus can achieve. It is the like of my dinner companions that lead me to refuse to accept the “I can’t do that, because I’m Black” mantra that I often hear from some of the young people I encounter in the course of my work. I refuse to collude with their belief that their hue is in and of itself a barrier to them progressing, it is not, despite the existence of racism. Young Black people in Britain have something that we never had, which is living proof in whatever field that they may choose to think of, of Black British achievement. A firm foundation has been laid and I both encourage and expect our young people build upon what has gone before and take the progress to new heights. I look forward to it.