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Seize the Time

It’s frightening to think:

  • 65 years have passed since Rosa Parks was jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, on a bus in Montgomery Alabama
  • 57 years since Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and 52 years since he was murdered in Memphis
  • 51 years since Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute on the medal podium at the Mexico Olympics
  • 50 years since Bobby Seale documented the rise of the Black Power protest movement in America in his biographical account ‘Seize the Time’
  • 28 years since the civil unrest that followed the acquittal of the four Los Angeles police officers, charged with the beating of Rodney King
  • 27 years since the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence as he waited alone for a bus in South East London
  • 11 years since Barack Obama, became the first black president of the United States of America
  • Nearly six years since the birth of the ‘Black lives Matter’ movement; borne out of the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen year old, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

All the above have happened in my lifetime and all, in the days that followed, have provoked calls for change. However, what is most frightening, is that systemically, despite all the rhetoric and well meaning intentions, very little has changed for the overwhelming majority of black people, not just in the USA but in our own country too.

Individual and institutional racism still exists. A glass ceiling limiting the aspirations of black people, with an under-representation in all corridors of power and over represented in our prisons. What exactly has changed in the 70 years of my lifetime?

We have reached the point where the talking has to stop and the actions begin. Seize the Time: Black Lives Matter.

Despite the above I am proud of my city for many reasons, primarily because it made me who I am. Had my parents not chosen to move from Glasgow to Wolverhampton I would not have been exposed to the rich diversity of cultures in my formative years that has driven me to want to make a difference throughout my career. The city or rather the town, as it was in 1957 when I arrived, already had a diverse population with well-established Polish, Italian, Czech, Irish and Scottish communities, drawn to the area by its relative prosperity and boundless employment opportunities. The Windrush generation were arriving from a range of West Indian islands, as were migrants from the Indian sub-continent, particularly from the Punjab.

My daily bus travels to school in Bilston from Codsall, took me through all these communities and the Saturday morning ritual of a visit to the town’s market with my mum, not only introduced me to exotic fruits and vegetables but gave me first-hand experience of fellow Wulfrunians, their exotic languages, dialects, clothing and music. I count myself very fortunate to have had these experiences and for the friends I made. My friendship group embraced all ethnicities and through these I began to see the inequality of treatment and the prejudice faced by those of colour, in

particular my black friends. It was these lessons in life, at that impressionable age, that made me determined to make a difference.

Heath Park School, my ‘work-home’ since January 1976, epitomises what can be achieved if everyone is of one mind and determined to promote equality of opportunity. A school that embraces diversity and celebrates difference. A school which promotes tolerance and celebrates success in whatever measure it is achieved. As the founder member of the academy trust to which it now belongs, the ethos of Heath Park, the championing of all its pupils and its drive for all students to succeed, has become the golden thread which runs through all CLPT schools, both here in Wolverhampton and in Rotherham.

“You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.”

Bobby Seale

I want our young people to make a real difference; for their generation and for generations to come. Now is the time, to stand up and be counted. Seize the time: Black Lives Matter.

Doug Selkirk OBE, CEO Central Learning Partnership Trust