This evening I took myself off to South Bank University for the launch of the 100 Black Men of London chapter’s book club. Quite ironic this wonderful concept was being launched in the week of the London riots and where young black men were being stigmatised by some in media.
When the orgainisers decided to have the launch they had expectations for up to 40 people attending. In the end there were over 120 people in the audience. Even more telling was the high turn of young boys.
However the term 100 Black men would not have passed any trade description laws with up to half the audience being from the female sect. Excellent. Given the positive purpose of this event it was no surprise that Sky News or BBC News 24 did not have any of their reporter standing outside in Elephant and Castle.
The evening was a celebration of the word. We had frank discussion of the novel “Devil in a Blue Dress” (excellently moderated by Kolarele Sonaike), included Christian hip hop by Tesdashii and an incredible display of poetry by 2 teenagers from Young Gift and Black (YGB). YGB provides cultural support to the African American youth and those two teenagers performance was full of passion, wise words and love.
The special guest for the evening was 1968 Olympic 200 metres track winner Dr Tommie Smith. Yes, the great Tommie Smith who for me is still the greatest sprinter of all time. Usain take note. Smith held 11 track world records at the same time in the mid to late 1960s.
The key message from Tommie’s speech was the power of faith. Rather than hog the limelight Tommie shared the platform with some young people (aged 12-15) from his Bay area who had recently taken part in the International Children Games in Scotland.
The final segment was delivered by writer Alex Wheatle who gave a frank history of his upbringing in South London and Surrey while being in care and how a short spell in prison inspired him to read and become a writer. Alex provided the background that led to the publishing of his latest book “Brenton Brown”.
Today is 12 months to the day since my amazing mother passed away in Jamaica. I was in doubts as whether I was in the mood to attend the book club launch. So glad I did go. My mum was my number one inspiration and I am sure I heard her up above pushing me to get off my black arse and attend.
You see, when I was growing up in the roots and culture society that Jamaica was the 1970s, Tommie Smith was my inspiration. I had never seen him run in tapes or heard him speak until you tube appeared on our computer monitors. But in that local library at the time they had a dog eared old Guiness book of world records and Tommie’s name was everywhere when it came to anything on sprinting greatness. So I just thought Tommie Smith was the man!
Over the years the more I began to read about Tommie’s fight for social justice and the unfair price he paid for his stance and beliefs I knew I had chosen an excellent role model. I definitely recommend his autobiography “Sporting Gesture” as an essential read even for non sports fan.
I am sure the book club will go from strength to strength. It just has to. It was professionally moderated and the exhibitors provided some excellent tips on their own careers in the areas of writing and publishing. Overall I would give the event 8.5 out of 10.
One of Young Gifted and Black poets (pic) provided the line of the night for me “We are beautiful and beauty needs to be recognised”