As the month of October drew to an end, I found myself contemplating on how quickly the year had gone by in general. I felt as though Black History Month had also gone by just as fast. BHM UK has been running every October in the UK since the 1970’s, formed from the labours of Ansel Wong, the then Chief Officer of the Strategic Policy Unit’s Race Equality Division and Linda Bellos; whom at the time, was the leader of the South London’s Lambeth Council. (p. 7, Eddo-Lodge, R.). Whilst I recognise and understand the existence of Black History Month in the UK, and why it’s important; for me, Black History Month is a lived experience that has been every month, every week and every day.
BHM is not only just a reminder of our past but also of our present and how we envision our future. I view it as a continuous evolving present, playing an intrinsic part of both individual and collective identity. Born from the spaces we call home, passed down through our heritage and traditions, found in oral and written forms, challenged within educational spaces and found in the shifts of navigating space.
As such, a highlight of this past Black History Month UK 2017 was the relaunch of the New Beacon Books’.
”New Beacon Books was founded in 1966 by John La Rose and his partner Sarah White and was the UK’s first black publisher, specialist bookshop and international book distributor. For over 50 years New Beacon Books has made available to Britain and its communities poetry, literature, non –fiction, history and children’s books from Africa, Caribbean, Asia, African America, Europe, South America and Britain.’’
The New Beacon Books relaunch took place on Saturday, October 7th in Finsbury Park, North London. Shades of Noir was invited to the launch night. The night consisted of an intergenerational celebration, formed by the gathering of an array of individuals from all walks of life. From local community members, volunteers, local MP’s, to builders and contributors that all took part and contributed to the refurbishment of the New Beacon Bookshop. The night including speeches from high standing members of the community such as MP’s Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. Generations gathered together in one space, all bearing witness to the revival of New Beacon Books as it carved a new space in UK Black British History.
The refurbishment of the The New Beacon Books consisted of a grand scale operation, combining the efforts of the La Rose family and the community, the project ran a course of approximately 5-6 months. All stemming from the GoFundme page which included a video of Janice Durham, sharing the message of the potential risk and closure of The New Beacon Books back in February 2017. This footage gained wide recognition, due to the widespread circulation via social media outlets, thus becoming a catalyst for change; igniting the start of the refurbishment of The New Beacon Books. The fight to save, refurbish and transport the Bookshop to the 21st century had begun.
‘With the aid of social media, the community has responded in force with some donating their time and services. A crowdfunding campaign to raise money to reconfigure the bookshop space, upgrade the IT system and build a website in our battle for survival; was launched in March 2017. This raised £12,500 and has allowed us to start the work to provide the tools to attempt to find sustained financial viability.’
Members of the La Rose family hosted the night, with the smell of oven baked patties that circulated on trays around the space, more and more faces began to appear through the door. The sounds of reactions to the huge transformation of the space, of conversations on everyone’s own relationship and/or experience to New Beacon Books or to John La Rose himself, could be heard in every corner.
Emotions ran high of excitement and awe in the witnessing of the completion of the project. The space overflowed with a sense of hope and anticipation of what’s to come and take place within this new space. The night saw faces of high standing members of the community, and contemporary writers such as JJBOLA; with speeches given from the La Rose family themselves, there were awards handed out on the night to the mothers of the family and to John La Rose’s partner Sarah White, who also spoke. There was much appreciation and recognition for the labour and sacrifice that went into the restructure.
Speeches from Gus John, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, followed those of the La Rose And Durham Family. The speeches were uplifting, powerful and hopeful for the future. Reminding us of the historical importance and of the meaning behind the New Beacon Books first opening in 1966, contextualized into the present day.
The warmth of community contained the atmosphere, the La Rose family were united now more than ever after this project. Highlighting the importance of preserving cultural heritage, that was not only black-owned but that was restored by and for the community.
I left with a sense of immense pride to have witnessed history in the making and being invited to be part of the process was a privilege and an honour.
Reminding me of the important role cultural spaces, such as The New Beacon Books, play in the community and for the future generations to come. The interconnectedness of people, community and space. The importance of books, our histories, the writings and conversations that take place within these spaces.
What does black history month mean to me? It’s not only just a reminder but also a time of making and marking history.
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017) ‘Why I’m No Longer talking to White People About Race’, Bloomsbury Publishing.