18th March 2012


The highlight of my week was an event at Queen
Mary College, Mile End on Wednesday entitled, Recession, Racism and Riots, put
on by a friend called Robbie Shilliam, a sociologist who teaches there in the
Centre for the Study of Global Security and Development, It was a very
inspiring evening. I took Lee Lawrence, Cherry Groce’s youngest son with me,
who also sat on the panel. He’s taken on the mantle of ensuring that his mother
is remembered and we’re putting together an event in late April to honour her
memory. A poet called Mark Thompson, from Lewisham, who read at the New Cross
Fire Memorial last year, was also on the panel. It was completed by Stafford
Scott from the Tottenham Defence Campaign. The level of discourse and debate by
the over 100, mainly students and staff, with a few notable members from the
general public was remarkably high! I’m finding that the levels of
consciousness among the young people have started to increase noticeably over
the past year. Depressingly, I’m still being dogged by bereavements, after
seeing five of my schoolmates pass over to the ancestors since the start of the
New Year, this week there was no let up! Chris Le Maitre’, a stalwart of the
‘Windrush Generation’ and old friend and activist from the Grove, who
subsequently worked in the area, as a Community Relations Officer, back in the
1970s, has passed over to the Ancestors.

My youngest daughter’s grandfather also made this
journey this week! He had suffered from throat cancer for some time and as a
lifelong smoker, had come out of hospice in recent weeks to be with the family,
on the last lap! Nevertheless, no matter how much it is expected the final
reckoning is always difficult. I have also just found out that an outstanding
campaigner for racial justice, who I got to know in my early years called, Ann
Dummett, also died this week! She was a formidable force, who together with her
husband Michael, helped to establish the Co-ordinating Committee Against Racial
Discrimination and then its successor national campaign body, the Campaign
Against Racial Discrimination, in the 1960s. They worked with Claudia Jones,
and many others to combat the blatant racism that existed at the time and
helped to found bodies such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
and the Runnymede Trust, which she led in the 1970s and 80s.

I played a lot of sport in my youth. When I arrived in London in 1956

with my mother and first settled in Vauxhall. The
family friend’s house that I and my parents first lived in, next to Vauxhall
Park is now, I believe, the family home of a very prominent Conservative
ex-minister, a testimony to the changes that have taken place.  

I attended Wyvil Road Primary School before
moving to Effra School, when we bought our family home and moved to Brixton.  

I was a pretty bright lad and indeed found
that the work that I was given school in London was not as advanced as that
back in Kingston! This was later validated by Bernard Coard in his seminal
work, ‘How the West Indian Child is made Educational Sub-Normal in the English
School System’! I also loved sport, my first love is cricket and I’d fantasised
about batting like Frank Worrell and then Garfield Sobers. I went to Sabina
Park before I left Kingston and then was taken to see the great 1963 West Indies
side, captained by Worrell and with Hall and Griffiths, inter alia, at the Oval
in 1963.  The schools I attended
including my almer mater Tulse Hill, were all London County Council run, which
was succeeded by the Inner London Education Authority in the 1965 local
government re-organisation. A broad curriculum with much opportunity to develop
one’s sporting prowess, supported by voluntary effort from teachers, with good
facilities, were the order of the day. We trained at places such as Herne Hill
Stadium and starred in the Annual London Games at the newly built, Crystal
Palace National Sports Stadium. I therefore became a London and Surrey schools
representative at cricket, athletics and rugby. 
Many of the PE teachers at Tulse Hill were from Wales and it was this
Welsh mafia including, Dennis Horgan, Dick Wyer and Edgar Thomas, that won me
over to a love of the game. They got me playing, first for Streatham &
Croydon my nearest local team and then for the pinnacle of rugby union at the
time, London Welsh.  There I met and
played with some of the cream of Welsh rugby including an old team mate, who
also happened to captain the Wales rugby team in their great days in the 1970s,
Mervyn Davies, who also passed over to meet the great legends of the game this week.

It’s strange connection but my youngest daughter’s
mother Connie, who I mentioned above, who’s father has died, has a nephew,
Colin Charvis, who also captained Wales at Rugby. He stayed with us in Brixton
when he came to do his MBA in London in the late 1980s! While causing me to
reflect on my life, I haven’t become depressed because of any of the above
because the new spirit of resistance and rebellion I’ve discerned among this
coming generation, has lifted my spirits. My daughter Aisha, who has had to
struggle with ill health in recent times, stayed with her grandfather during
his last days and helped him on his journey to meet the ancestors and she’s not
depressed or down hearted, so why should I be? I also had a tremendous
celebration of my 60th earthday, organised by my wife and attended
by close friends and family. The greatest contributor to my sense of optimism
for the future however has been my children and the fact that they are a credit
to the Thomas name and the birth of my fifth grandchild, Zarah, to my son and
his partner. The world must have a great future with another Thomas in it!

I am taking my wife to, ‘In Celebration of my
Sisters’, put on by my old friend Tony Fairweather at Croydon Fairfield Hall
today, to observe ‘Mother’s Day’. It is a day long ‘Women’s Expo’, where y’all
can get pampered, buy some of those items that you like to buy and explore new
spiritual and cultural avenues. I was also good to see the George Padmore
Institute celebrating the life of one of our outstanding personalities last
week, Paul Robeson, who gave his life for the struggle for equality, dignity
and freedom of all oppressed peoples.

La luta continua’


D. Thomas

Devon C Thomas

The Griot


18th June 2012




I’ve been off-line for a while due to the technology deciding that it no longer wished to serve me!

This year continues to be a curate’s egg, offering the good and the bad! We have had a season of commemorations with a very moving Bank Holiday weekend, away from the Jubilee hype, planting trees in Brockwell Park on behalf of our fallen comrades, friends and family and also playing cricket in their memory at Burgess Park.

The past week has been one of family and re-connections. The African-Caribbean communities’ family links are spread far and wide, hence our designation as a ‘Diaspora’. Economic and social forces have progressively intensified these processes over the years and I have traced family members throughout the world. I have had the distinction in my life of having two mothers, two birthdates and in the past few days re-connected with two sisters that I’d not previously met!

They were from my birth mother with whom I was parted at under 1 year old, to grow up with my father and ‘real mum’! I came to the UK to join my father, with this mother, in 1956 and was only re-united with my birth mother in 1973, when I made my first pilgrimage back to Jamaica, my country of birth, with a large number of my school, college and youth club mates on a trip we had organised for that purpose.

I met some of my sibling then, along with my grandfather and other relations on all sides of my family. These connections have been extended over the years on subsequent visits, leading to me making contact with my Maroon origins on my father’s side, in Ghana 10 years ago, after the death of my mum a few weeks earlier.

During my sojourn on this side of the pond, my birth mother had more off-spring, that I didn’t have the opportunity of meeting as they similarly emigrated to the United States and Canada.

I had one other sister and an aunt from this side of the family, who had also come to settle in the UK and who kept me in touch with their side of the family and with information on the welfare of my birth mother.

My aunt returned to her roots in Portland, the western Maroon influenced parish of Jamaica, from her redoubt on Railton Road , Brixton, a few years ago leaving only my sister to retain the link with this side of my far flung family network.

I had maintained contact with this sister from childhood, as we lived in neighbouring communities and her father was a close friend of my father’s, regularly visiting our home and we his. He was also my godfather to boot! He carried out his god fatherly duties diligently throughout his life, counselling me on the death of my father in 1970 and remaining in touch with myself and Mum thereafter.

He was a God-fearing man who served the church as a warden of St Giles, Camberwell, and had strong beliefs grounded in Garveyism, which led him to becoming one of our pioneering businessmen, owning and running a popular greengrocers shop in Brockley for many years. This pastoral contact remained throughout his life and he read the lesson at my wedding at St John’s Church, Lewisham Way In 1998.  He sadly has now joined the ancestors but his daughter has dutifully carried on her duties of staying in touch with me and the rest of my side of the family.

You can therefore imagine my excitement when she called me to tell me that two of my sisters from Canada were coming to the UK to join a cruise to Scandinavia and that they would be staying at her house in Purley.

We rapidly arranged a get together and in a blink of an eye the time came and myself and the wife were driving out to the leafy suburbs of Surrey, where the four siblings and their spouses were united! As you can imagine we couldn’t stop talking and agreed to get back together after their return from their cruise.

The wife and I organised one of our renowned soirée’s, down here by the river, for all the family and close friends, to meet the re-united family. This was a joyful occasion and the ‘English Thomases’ were able to make a little more sense of our genealogy and geography!

Co-incidentally or not, as the case may be, the wife’s brother and family arrived in the country from Melbourne, Australia in the same week! She is of mixed Pilipino parentage and has as far flung a family network as I do! We had visited them about 6 years ago but since then had only been able to observe the births, deaths and marriages via Face Book, so we spent a day with them touring sites around London such the freshly rejuvenated Greenwich, the rapidly developing Deptford and the newly trendy Brixton, finishing off the day with a ravishing meal at Etta’s Kitchen, a Caribbean Seafood Eaterie, one of the recently established, ‘In Spots’ in Brixton Village, or Granville Arcade as you’d probably know it!

This hilarious evening in addition to the scrumptious cuisine, included my brother in law, being coached in and perfecting his techniques in phrasing Jamaican insults and clicking his fingers to the huge amusement of the staff and clientele there assembled. He dubbed it his most enjoyable evening culinarily and culturally, ever!

I’ve therefore been blessed enough in 2012, to have been able to celebrate my ‘official’ 60th birthday, have all of the above, visit the Eastern Caribbean islands and a great and sunny Father’s Day to balance the sadness of all those bereavements that I’ve had to notify you of!

One more is attached, that of doughty warrior, Rosa Guy great writer and activist.

May the ancestors guide her spirit to a peaceful rest.


Devon C Thomas

The Griot




24th July 2012



In my last posting I shared with you my joy from having just returned from an uplifting visit to Antigua to attend my friend Shane’s wedding and the sadness of returning to hear that another old friend, Karl Maxwell, who had himself just returned from Jamaica, had passed over to the ancestors on the day of my return.

Life is full of ups and downs like that. I’ve not had a moment to catch breath since then, with events at work, at home and everywhere keeping me on the run! I visited Karl’s home last week to pass on my respects and condolences and his wife, who was carrying her burdens with strength and dignity. She has spent her life in the Health Service and in spite of her grief and shock had all the arrangements in hand for his obsequies.

The planned date for his funeral will be Friday 24th August, to allow time for friends and family coming from abroad to make the necessary arrangements. I will circulate more details nearer the time.

This was all exemplified by last Saturday, as I attended the National Service of Thanksgiving for the 50th Anniversary of the Independence of Jamaica held at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. It was a very enjoyable and well put together affair. Jamaicans and their friends from all over the UK, beat a path to the venue from day break, in order to ensure that they got inside in time for the 11.00a.m. start!

I met up with so many people that I hadn’t seen for years and it was a relief that it was at a joyful function of celebration and not at a funeral, which is where one usually sees long lost friends and family!

Notwithstanding my annoyance at the early departure of our previous High Commissioner, Anthony Johnson, his replacement, H.E. Alloun Ndombet-Assamba, has made quite an impact since she arrived last month and she made a very moving and thought provoking opening contribution to proceedings after we had been shown a video about the original Independences activities in 1962.

The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkins, a senior member of the Church of England, who had the responsibility for moderating the morning’s affairs, had to do an heroic job to get the vast numbers arriving, to their seats and settled.

One could feel that room pulsating with strong waves of vibrant energy with all these, ‘true born Jamaicans’, corralled into this one space together, for such an ’upful’ purpose.

Now, many ‘radicals’ such as myself, can be somewhat cynical about all this ‘Independence Business’, but I am also fully aware of the detail of the struggles that had to be mounted to achieve it, as my own parents were active from their youth in the 1930s, firstly in the Garvey Movement in Kingston and then through the trade union and grass roots struggles, until our family left in the 1950s, to seek further economic opportunity in London.

This interest and involvement didn’t cease however and was kept up and indeed I remember the party we held at our home in Brixton in August 1962 to celebrate it. My uncle who’d groomed me in the sound system business, had collected the large number of early ska tunes that had been penned in celebration of this halcyon event and we played them, laughed joked and drank rum and ate curry goat to the early hours of the next morning, with all those we knew at the time, who had come to our new home from home!

I still have a number of pieces of the memorabilia sold at the time including photos of the founding fathers, Busta and Barrister Manley, grouped with the Governor General, the Queen, the motto, national fruit, animals and the Tainos, those who had preceded us in our beautiful island of birth.

This service/event evoked the spirit of those times, the joy and optimism that we were taking charge of our own affairs for the first time.

Now, notwithstanding the many disappointments we may all have felt in the intervening years, this event reverberated with the pride we all feel in being Jamaican, and the impact that we have had, wherever we’ve gone and the leadership roles we have played in the struggles of peoples of African descent and in wider society.

The event crackled with the talent, humour and strong character in all the presentations and performances offered and the spirit was that of an old time Crusade in the open air, back-a-yard, back-in-the day!

Saturday also saw Tony Fairweather holding another buzzing event based on Jazz Funk at the Hideaway in Streatham but I had to be in Deptford that same evening, as another friend was having her 65th Earthday and retirement celebrations at the Leander Centre. Now this lady is a white English woman from Deptford, who married a Jamaican, has had her children and has lived in Lewisham for all her life and given a life of service to the local community.

The impact of Jamaican culture however, has taken her to Fair Prospect in Portland, where she now has a home and has nurtured her children so well, that her sons were ‘jerking the meat’ very expertly, for their Mum’s function, because after all, their area is only down the road from Boston Bay! The rum punch while not being quite as subtle as the Griot’s, was also certainly palatable and her daughters certainly had the kitchen organised and running sweetly!

The dj, under instructions, played classic reggae and melodious soul and soca all evening and Saturday almost felt like I was back home!

May the vibes will keep on rolling for the rest of the summer and take all our competitors home first, in their Olympic challenges!

Now, I’m popping down to the Stephen Lawrence Centre to witness the torch being borne by Mrs Lawrence on it’s passage through Deptford!

Check the hyperlinks below!


D. Thomas

Devon C Thomas

The Griot


23 August 2012

I have to pass on one of the most awful pieces of news that it has ever been
my onerous duty, so to do!
One of our outstanding women, Clover Graham, formerly a resident and
activist in Brixton was murdered in Eltham View, St Catherine, yesterday. I
was notified by mutual friend, Gerlin Bean a fellow activist and founder of
Brixton Black Women's Centre in our community in the 1970s, who is currently
visiting family and former law centre colleague, Hubert James.
I had seen the former two, as they  had attended my 'Passing the Baton'
event, at Neil Kenlock's photo exhibition, 'Interpretations', sponsored by
the Jamaica National Trust as part of the Jamaica 50th Anniversary of
Independence Celebrations on the 10th August.

I became very well acquainted with Clover during those days but got to
know her well when we worked together at Brixton Community Law Centre, where
she then worked as a solicitor, defending our community against the many
injustices that were rampant in those days. We collaborated closely after
the 1981 'Uprisings' in Brixton, as I became the Chair of the Brixton
Defence Committee after the first set of occurrences that took place in
April that year and she was appointed to help to co-ordinate the defence of
those arrested in the aftermath.

She was an extremely diligent, efficient and conscientious worker and
contributed to many of the wrongly accused defendants being acquitted and to
our militant stand opposing the hearing of evidence at the Scarman Inquiry,
which we felt was prejudicial to their rights and ability to get a fair
hearing in their own trials. The atmosphere and activism of those days
exemplified by the selfless work of people such as Clover, was starkly
contrasted with the events that took place in London last August, when no
community defence was established and institutions such as the BCLC are long
gone, that are able to support them.

Clover, returned home to Jamaica with her then husband, Rex, who also played
cricket for our local community cricket team, the Brixton Beehives, to
practice law and assist in the development of her country of origin.
She contributed mightily to this with others who returned around the same
time such as, Tony Ottey and Gerlin, who had helped to establish the Abeng
Centre (now Karibu) in Brixton, my previous subject Astel Parkinson, Cecil
Gutzmore who also returned to lecture at the University of West Indies in
the Department of Government and similarly Courtney Tullock, with whom I'd
studied at Goldsmiths College in the early 1970s. These and many others from
our generation, who had come to the UK as children and young people in the
1950s and 60s, headed home to do our bit for the place where our 'navel
strings had been buried'! They've all contributed mightily and it is
devastating to hear about what has happened to Clover, as the echoes of the
cheers for our Olympic heroes still resonate.
Aah, Jamaica, Jamaica! Such a bright and sparkling place that has spawned so
much talent but that also produces such tragedy.
What is to be done? Only God he knows!
In great sorrow and torment
D. Thomas
Devon C Thomas
The Griot

Nov 28th 2012
Death of a Soundman
Greetings All
I recently attended the funeral of Duke Vin (Vincent George Forbes) our pioneer sound system man, last Friday over in the Grove.
As always at these events, it was a gathering of the clans! I met up with Elders George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly artist and renaissance man and Roy “Teddy” Cooper, events co-ordinator of the Alpha Old Boys Association UK branch, down in south London where we reside, to make our way over to St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn Park Road, where the obsequies were to be held.
Brother Fowokan was struggling with a temperamental satnav, even though he’d lived in the neighbourhood of the church in years gone by, as had I, but age sapped the confidence that we could navigate the geography from memory.
Nevertheless we arrived well in time and for a change entered the massive gothic edifice well before the other mourners. My companions were closely acquainted with Vin and his family, so Fowokan started to scope out the surroundings in order to decide where to site his camera, has he always records these community events for posterity.
I had to navigate many heavy oak doors to find the lavatory, because as usual, this high vaulted space was freezing and it set off my bladder!
When I got back to the space that we’d identified to sit, George was in a heated ‘conversation’ with the ecclesiastically garbed vicar, Father Amos, who apparently has a reputation for irascibility and who had informed George that no filming or photography was to be allowed throughout the service! He didn’t do this in a very diplomatic way so we just about restrained George from profaning this holy place! Later we found out that this injunction had been imposed by the events main cook and bottle washer, Vin’s daughter, who also announced this to the congregation at the beginning of the service.
Duly, during the very sombre proceedings an official looking photographer transgressed this edict and was evicted summararily.
The very packed church witnessed the formality of Vin’s service started by a spirited testimony from Mandigo, gifted commentator on Jamaican music and culture.
Many gave testimonies and we were very soon leaving in our droves and causing a total road-block in Kilburn Park. This is a very constricted part of London so some careful steering had to be done to get from the church to Kensal Green Cemetery.
This is the fourth funeral that I’ve attended there this year and the old place is not in very good nick and could be a metaphor the country’s economy. The peripheral wall has collapsed in large sections and has been temporarily girded with a scaffold fence. The location of Vin’s burial spot is very near the entrance but due to the recent torrential rain, the going underfoot was extremely heavy. People improvised by tying plastic bags to their feet and rolling up their trouser-bottoms. I felt sorry for the women in their designer ‘upstairs shoes’, as I doubted that they’d survive this onslaught intact.
The gathering around the grave was a rousing one. Religious formalities were perfunctory and so the elder women particularly, took up the hymn singing while Vin’s partner Vera, began wielding a shovel herself to ‘mould him up’ and the men took on the task of putting away their exalted brother. Many from the national sound system community, the ‘Grove community’ generally, particularly the Jamaican contingent, who don’t often figure prominently in discussions about this area but who contributed significantly to its founding and development, post Windrush, were much in evidence.
Vin himself apparently stowed away with another illustrious sound pioneer, Count Suckle, on a banana boat from Kingston, Jamaica to London in 1952. Prior to that Vin had been a sound system pioneer in Kingston, operating Tom the Great Sebastian second of three ‘sets’, therefore predating even Duke Reid and the ubiquitous Sir Clement ‘Sir Coxsone the Downbeat’ Dodd of Studio One renown and the Berry Gordy of Jamaican Music.
Within three years of arriving he had saved up and built himself his own set in London and pioneered sound system culture from his base in Notting Hill during this period of Rachman, Colin Macinnes, Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davis and Michael de Freitus later X. Venues such as the Mangrove and the Globe, where social and cultural transmission points for this very intercultural milieu that contributed to the destruction of the Conservative Government of the time and the founding of the Carnival after the Notting Hill Race Riots in 1958 and the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959.
Vin established a ‘scene’ at his home but after a deal of police harassment, took more to the road.
It was during these times that I got to know him as my family were tied up in some of this and my uncle, Edgar White, founded one of the earliest ‘sets’ in Brixton, The White Nilux, that played around our area in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I was taken to these house parties, many of which took place along my street in relation’s homes and habitually would take up my place by his amplifier and would be sent on errands and then asked to ’play two tune’!
The sound men of that era would share the acquisition of tunes as they arrived in people’s suitcases from home and the USA and therefore I got to know them. We soon spawned our own Coxsones and Duke Reids, Sofrano B, D’ Nunes, Count Shelly and many many more. This was Vin’s legacy. People like Gaz from Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues and now owner of the Globe Cafe in Talbot Road, adjacent to the Tabernacle, testified to his care and rigorousness with music and his commitment to entertaining the people.
After completing our duties at the ‘burying ground’, we repaired to the Kensal Community Hall, in the middle of the Grove community, next to the Canal and adjacent to Meanwhile Gardens, where a very robust ‘set’, wielded by Gaz, pumped out music from Vin’s own vinyl singles, with no bowing to the digital age here.
A succession of djs from back in the day, kept it in the ‘spirit of Vin’, with tunes from Louis Jordan, the boogie woogie era, the do wop era, early Jamaican versions, then ska/blubeat and the whole repertoire. Miss Vera herself showed how it should be done by stepping some of the young pretenders who thought they could dance, off the dance floor with her moves!
The soup and following repast was well appreciated and many old stalwarts were in attendance such as my old college mate Basil Jarvis from the Mangrove, Maxwell, former councillor in Kensington & Chelsea, Rhoden Gordon from the Black People’s Information Centre on Portobello Road and former colleague of Cecil Gutzmore.
There were many from Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, with a strong Brixton contingent which included Freddie Peters of Freddie Notes and the Rudies, Lloydie Coxsone and many of his posse.
I was finally amazed to discover that an old schoolmate of mine, Everald Campbell, who was in attendance and with whom I attended Tulse Hill, informed me that he is in fact, the son of Count Suckle! A fact that had passed me by all the years. Suckle is still in good form and lives just opposite the Kensal Community Centre!
Life funny bwoy!
May Duke Vin’s Soul rest peacefully with the ancestors.
Devon C Thomas
The Griot
Now watch this:
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5th Dec 2012

We again approach the end of a year, it has been quite a year, so I thought
I would share a few of my experiences with you.
I'm feeling somewhat nostalgic because this time last year I was cruising
around the Eastern Caribbean with my close family friends the Wickhams and
others, celebrating Mrs Wickham reaching her 50th Earthday.
A few weeks ago we also celebrated Mr Wickham reaching the same milestone
but not on a cruise ship sailing between Dominica and St Lucia but in a
Jamaican restaurant in Penge! We were no less thankful in the different
surroundings and for the occasion but the distinction in locations did
suggest the difference between men and women but I'll leave you to figure
out this difference yourselves!
Last year, as I was in the Caribbean when the Xmas lights were switched on
in Brixton, I missed it. My organisation has helped to organise this event
over recent years, and our local celebrity who did the honours last year was
Lorna G, of Lover's Rock and Royal Shakespeare Company fame. She has had a
good year since, establishing her Sutara Performing Arts Academy and being
nominated for a stage award.

 Being trapped here in the cold this year, I participated in this year's festivities.
We've established a new structure that will make a tremendous contribution
to the development of our home town called, the Brixton Business Improvement
District Development Company or BBID for short. Its job will be to steer
our town through the changes that will be happening over the next few years
and ensure that it is run efficiently and effectively in partnership with
all the official agencies, the local businesses and the community. We
launched it on 1st August and it’s already reached the stage where it
organised this year's Xmas Lights Switch-on Ceremony. Our local celebrity
this year was, the one and only Levi Roots, our most well known
entrepreneur, who is totally committed to the welfare of Brixton but in
addition we also had Chuka Umunna, MP for the Streatham Constituency which
also covers South Brixton. This bright young man, who is obviously headed
for great things (I'll not rehearse all the Obama clichés!), is also Shadow
Minister for Business.
To complete the full pack we had our first citizen, the Mayor of Lambeth,
Councillor Clive Bennett, who kept everyone laughing in the freezing cold,
with his quick fire jokes!
We were treated to a very soulful rendition of Xmas carols and popular songs
by a very large Corpus Christi School Choir. There's just something moving
about hearing the angelic voices of children singing songs like, 'Away in a
manger', that evokes emotions that you can't suppress! Local businesses
sponsored the event so local coffee shops provided hot drinks and snacks and
I believe that I even witnessed some mulled wine being passed around!
After the count down and illumination of the lights on the High Street and
the tree on Tunstall Road, between the Morley's Store and the Body Shop, we
all processed up Brixton Road to Windrush Square, where another
construction, a model of our award winning heritage structure, The Brixton
Windmill, was illuminated, more carols sung, pictures taken and autographs
signed. We all departed feeling a warm glow inside but thoroughly frozen

The year in between has been an extremely hectic one with 50th Anniversary
celebrations for Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Uganda. A number of us also
celebrated 100 years since the first coming of Marcus Garvey to London.
It was also The Queen's Diamond Jubilee (did you remember that?) and of
course, the Olympics and Paralympics. My organisation was involved in
putting on Diaspora Business Week in April and through our 'Passing the
Baton' Olympic Legacy Programme and helping with a number of events
including a photographic exhibition at the Elephant & Castle sponsored by
Jamaica National by Neil Kenlock, the African & Caribbean Business Expo at
the Grosvenor House Hotel during the last week of the Olympics in August. We
collectively watched Usain Bolt's triumphs there on a big screen and the
outstanding performances by the Jamaican and UK Athletics teams. 
The pace hasn't slowed since, with the launch of a new equalities body,
Equaliteam in Lewisham, with the help of Lord Herman Ouseley and the Honor
Oak Mini Olympics, where we again, 'Passed the Baton'!
It was also the 25th Anniversary of Black History Month, so a very packed
month of events including a programme put on in Croydon culminating with a
brilliant event on the 30th October, where we 'Passed the Baton' to Tabula
Rasa, a youth organisation based at the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Centre, who
are doing sterling work.
We worked with a number of organisations including, The Hanging Out Project,
that will again be working on a new theme around 50 years of Jamaican
Culture influencing Britain, after its success at the V&A. We also hoped to
involve a number of schools including Hillmead.
Working with Men also put on a workshop entitled, 'Are you calling me a
racist', which explored what the term means, in the context of 2012. This
was particularly apposite as the debacle regarding racism in football burst
out and is still running.
We have also been working closely with the Reos Partnership, who focuses on
social innovation who held a workshop on Facing the 2020s, building
community resilience and how to navigate a positive course for the future.
This helped us to put together the Ubele Men's Conversation that finally
took place on International Men's Day, Monday 19th November at the King's
Place in Kings Cross. The women had managed to have their 'Sister's
Conversation' last February but the wait was worth it and it was an
extremely valuable experience. A follow up is being planned for early in the
New Year and 'conversations' for the youths, elders and the whole community
will take place later in the year.
In amongst all this enjoyment and enlightenment has also been much sadness.
I've had to attend more than 16 funerals this year and close friends such as
Henry Mayne and Tony Sinclair have passed over to the ancestors.
The most heartrending occurrence however, was the brutal murder of our
Sister, Clover Graham, in Jamaica in August, after she had just returned
from visiting us in London. This was a very tough one to take but a most
elevating tribute was held for her at the Karibu, which brought together,
formations such as the Brixton Black Women's Collective, of which Clover had
been a member, to do new work.
A foundation is being established in her memory and her daughter had a
beautiful baby in September.
Positive plans are already being laid for 2013 and we look forward with
optimism in spite of the tragedies we have experienced this year, to a very
productive year, next year.
We have lost some organisations this year including, Lambeth Young Women's
Centre and Centerprise but the old stalwarts are still going such as
Bogle Louverture and their Founders Jessica and Eric, their new expression,
the Huntley Room at the London Metropolitan Archive. New Beacon Books and
the George Padmore Institute and Sarah and Michael, even the Africa Centre
is still going strong! It was also good to see my old associate, Linton K
Johnson restored to good health at the tribute to Diane Abbot at Goldsmiths
the other day.  
Wishing y'all a happy and productive festive season and New Year and check
out the information attached and below
A luta continua!
D. Thomas
Devon C Thomas
The Griot



25th Feb 2013

Subject: RE: Huntley conference 2013 


It was tremendously heart-warming to receive these images of last Saturday's
Huntley Conference. On this cold Monday morning it brought back warm
memories of an unforgettable day, which in turn was the culmination of three
of the most thought provoking, stimulating and conscious-raising events for
some time. 
This was all kicked off at the Victoria Albert Museum on Friday evening 15th
February at the Huntley Conference Roadshow. This august Victorian, colonial
institution, hosted the spirit of activism and progressive thought, with
images of 50 years of struggle displayed and Brother Eric Huntley,
eloquently taking us through a journey of a lifetime of implacable activism
in the cause of the people in partnership with his wife Sister Jessicca
Huntley and a wide and diverse range of comrades, allies and confederates.
SI Martin then gave us a scholarly insight into some of the images and
artefacts that had been collected and displayed and we were then gathered up
in a stream of rhyming thoughts and ideas from John Agard, our poetic writer
and thinker in situ.
Alongside the Huntley Conference our community seemed to have embraced the
idea that the need to build the consciousness of people of African heritage
was urgent and so the Nubian Jak Trust unveiled a blue plaque to the
redoubtable freedom fighter, Frederick Douglas on Wednesday 20th, at the
site of one of his former places of residence in South Kensington. 
What was particularly heartening about this initiative was that a large
audience turned out on a bitterly cold afternoon to witness a tribute to one
of our great forerunners. This included a large number of young people who
had undertaken projects at their schools about him. 
After the unveling, we adjourned to the nearby Campbell's of London Art
Gallery, to view the fruits of their creative labour displayed on its walls.
We soon had to leave to make our way across London however,on an
incident-packed bus jpourney across the metroplolis, to get to the London
Metropolitan Archives punctually, as it was time to prepare for the
International Symposium that was to be addressed by Professor Sir Hilary
Beckles on the topic, 'Britain's Black Debt: Reparations owed the Caribbean
for African Enslavement', also the title of his newly published book.
I was particularly keen to hear what he had to say because while being a
strong emotional supporter of the idea of reparations, I was undecided about
the appropriate methodologies for their collection and distribution.
Our stalwart comrade, Professor Harry Goulbourne, introduced his old
colleague, who then set to work unveiling the fruits of his research and
collation of facts about our enslavement in the West, the massive size of
the wealth accumulated out of our labour as a consequence and most
importantly, carefully crafted proposals for the amounts that should be
raised from Britain in reparations and how they should be applied in our
To formulate his case Professor Beckles had run way over time but my view
was that he had made the case so well that there was no need for further
questions or discussion. All we needed to do was to go back to our
communities and organise around the information set out in his book and
agitate for the British Government to step up and meet its responsibilities.

It was ironic that this was taking place on the same day that our Prime
Minister, David Cameron was expressing regret for the Amritsar Massacre in
India and trying to insinuate British business back into India to start
another cycle of accumulation in their interest. Previous accounts need to
be settled first Mr Cameron!
This spirit of consciousness-raising continued on Thursday 21st with a
meeting of an important new group, The British Association of African and
African Caribbean Peoples (BAACP) which took place at the Karibu Centre in
Brixton followed by a tribute to Claudia Jones and Malcolm X on the
anniversary of his assassination, straight after at the same venue,
organised by the Pan African Community Support Foundation. 
Friday 22nd saw Nubian Jak in action again, launching an initiative to
establish February as African Heritage Month to connect with the worldwide
celebration of African history and heritage that takes place around the
world during that month. Another large audience braved the elements to come
to the exalted but beleaguered old venue, the Africa Centre in Covent Garden
to debate why and how this initiative should be developed and embedded
within our community. 
Again, my spirits were lifted as the level of debate and commitment far
outweighed my expectations. 
My spirits being high but my body feeling pained and tired, I dragged myself
home late tha night knowing that I had to be up again early Saturday
morning, as my elder, George 'Fowokan' Kelly and his partner, Margaret
Andrews, chair of the newly formed FHALMA Charitable Trust, would be at my
door at 8.00am, to take me to fulfil my role as volunteer helper at the
Huntley Day, this year's subject, Educating Our Children, Liberating Our
It was also to be the celebration of Sister Jessicca's Earthday, so all the
portents were good. 
Flurries of snow fluttered down as I scurried to their vehicle from my
Thames riverfront residence to make our way across London, trying to dodge
the north easterly wind coming straight from Moscow. 
We had to detour as flowers had to be located and purchased and it seemed
like every possible place on the way had stayed shut because of the weather
We finally navigated our way to Chapel Street Market at the Angel, to
acquire our purchases and still got to the LMA well on schedule. 
Other sleepy volunteers, exhibitors and the Huntleys were arriving early,
eagerly wanting to engage with the programme for the day.
The inevitable comments were made about the fact that only a percentage of
those booked had arrived by start time but in no time, the ball was set
rolling by Maureen Roberts, our point person within the institution and in
many ways the head cook and bottle washer.
The organisers had astutely programmed the small group workshops or
'grounding sessions', in the spirit of Walter Rodney, as the first topic.
This allowed time for participants to arrive and join in without causing too
much disruption. I was allocated to the one exploring, 'the Programmes
Parents Should Know About', which certainly elucidated me about two first
class initiatives, The Challenge that provides opportunities for young
people to reach beyond the usual neighbourhoods and aspirations and SEO
Scholars, a project to help minority young people get into the City of
London and its various activities. 
This was followed by the highlight of the day, the Youth Conference
entitled, 'We are better educated than our parents'! A purposely provocative
title with elders like the Huntleys in attendance!
Moderated by the spokesman for the youth in Tottenham in August 2011, Symeon
Brown, who demonstrated to seasoned politicians at the time, such as his
local MP, how to represent a community in times of crisis. The young people
surely brought new energy, ideas, methodologies and strategies to us during
this session and I felt the force of the new generation taking the stage and
preparing to receive the baton of responsibility for the leadership of our
The break for lunch after this session, provided the opportunity for us to
grab some well needed sustenance, provided by Caribbean caterers, Cummin' Up
and a chance to catch up with the large numbers of old friends and comrades
in attendance. 
It also gave us the opportunity to make contacts with many of the new ones
that had just emerged out of this process.
The afternoon was a bit of a blur. Sister Beverley Bryan made a thoughtful
presentation on her experiences of various aspects of the education system
reminding us about the struggles to wrench a decent education for the
children of the 'Windrush Generation' from the teeth of an overtly racist
education system and her own experience of navigating through it and having
become a senior educationalist back in the Caribbean, explored the
challenges of the 21st century both there and here.
We were then able to go into the totally pleasurable part of the day,
celebrating Jesicca's Earthday. Drinks and wine was quaffed in toast,
ditties sung and tributes made to this wonderful stalwart of the struggle,
mother, wife, neighbour and unwavering activist.
Her old friend Keith Waithe then orchestrated a wonderful programme of music
and performers before we had to again start packing away the chairs for
another year. 

This wasn't the end of my halcyon week however. Sunday 24th February I had
to make my way with my wife, to St Saviours Church Lewisham to participate
in the christening of my youngest granddaughter Zarah, along with my son
Owen and his partner Dominique. The weather had not relented and my African
Garms let in much more cold than I was comfortable with. A large posse of my
family and Dom's family attended with about 6 other families, bringing their
new off-spring to the Lord.
While not being of the Roman Catholic faith, I have spent some time in their
establishments since my youth, so I know something of their catechism. With
so many small children in attendance and the fact that he diversity of those
in attendance was from across the globe and the proceedings were presided
over by an Asian priest, it reflects our contemporary reality and was turned
out to be somewhat different to the christenings I'd attended in earlier
We repaired to a venue in Crystal Palace afterwards, for the festivities
where, to cap the week I was informed by my daughter that my favourite aunt,
Estella Joseph, more popularly known as 'Sister Essie', had passed over to
the ancestors. She had just celebrated her 95th Earthday and had lived
longer than all her siblings including my mother who joined the ancestors
ten years ago at the age of 93. There were both feisty people very active in
the community of their time in the Garvey Movement and helped to establish
the foundation organisations in our communities along with people like the
They had also attended the funeral rites of their old comrade and community
stalwart, Willis Wilkie on Friday 22nd, that had been officiated by
Professor Gus John who had joined us at the African Heritage Month
International event at the African Centre when he'd finished.
So the past week has been extremely poignant for me and emphasised the fact
that as new forces and players come onto the field the old soldiers fade

I'll leave you with the following: 

'In truth, the history of African Peoples is nothing if not the 'handing on
of the torch', from generation to generation. 
This history and heritage is quintessentially concerned with the
accumulation of ancestral wisdom, its conservation and the passing of it to
the young'.

May the young ones flourish and may those who've gone to join the ancestors
spirits be guided to a comfortable resting space.

Subject: Huntley conference 2013 - photos

It was a blessed event and testament to the collective efforts of all




5th March 2013





The undammed  flow of events continues as we now move into the period of celebrating the season for International Women’s Affairs.

My previous posting highlighted the now legendary Tony Fairweather’s, ‘In Celebration of my Sisters’. I have had to do this supplementary posting as so many more, very interesting events have come to my notice.

This is a little bitter sweet for me, as I laid my favourite aunt, Miss Essie Joseph to rest last week. She was the last remaining member of my parents generation and survived to the grand old age of 95, outliving her other eight siblings including my mother, who joined the ancestors 10 years ago at the age of 93.

Their youngest brother, my Uncle Howard, passed over to the ancestors last December having returned to their family’s home district in Freetown, Manchester a few years ago, after having lived in Leeds since the 1960s.

He was an avid Yorkshire CCC and West Indies cricket supporter and regularly visited Headingly to watch games.

He always got us to get him tickets to West Indies matches at the Oval and he would come to London and stay at our house. Our whole family posse would attend with hampers with thermoses of rice and peas and stewed beef which was washed down with Guinness Punch and corn pone at lunch time, sitting on the grass of the outfield.

This is very far from what takes place these days and he was never a great fan of Lords, which was always much more stiff shirted and establishment! As all test grounds now operate like Lord’s, perhaps that is why there are so few West Indies supporters!  


Friends and family flowed in from all over the world, many of whom I hadn’t seen for many years. Aunt Essie’s children, cousin Doreen flew in from Houston, Texas , Claude, from May Pen, Jamaica. Others came from every point on the compass and the community that lived together in and around my home in Rattray Road, Brixton, from the 1960s, was re-assembled for a few days to give thanks for my aunt’s life and superintend her journey to join the ancestors.

Early on this bright but frosty morning, we had to make our way across to Kensal Rise Cemetery for the interment, as the family have a plot there, as Sister Essie’s husband, Uncle Joe was buried there in the 1980s. After some confusion about which chapel the service would take place in, (this is  a very large cemetery!), we all finally gathered in the quite pleasant chapel to fulfil our final role for Miss Essie.

The service was conducted by Bishop Ervin Smith, a friend and contemporary of my aunt’s, who had also been Chairman of the Brixton Neighbourhood Community Association, the organisation run by Courtney Laws and his family, that had established Hanover House, where Essie had lived after Uncle Joe had passed over and where we were going to have the reception after the interment.

Her daughter Peggy had acted as warden there during the 1980s, before she had also passed over to the ancestors, after suffering from the cruel disease, cancer, that took her at such an early age.

Her daughter Annette was ably filling her shoes and taking care of business on behalf of her Granny.

The classic funeral hymns were sung and the family duly filed up to make their testimonies and do their readings including me, who had the honour of presenting her obituary (see attached).


We then had to wend our way all the way over to the other side of the cemetery for the interment. As we arrived there the clouds lifted and Aunt Essies happy spirit brought out the sunshine as we lowered her away and sang the final hymns at the graveside.

We again hit the road all cars fully loaded, back to Brixton to Hanover house on Barnwell Road, to reminisce about the old days and catch up with what people were doing today.

I was chaperoning Mr James Fairweather, World War 2 RAF veteran, confederate of Claudia Jones and commercial manager of her journal, the West Indian Gazette, a founder member of the West Indian Ex Servicemen’s Association and lifelong friend of Aunt Essie’s.

Many others joined us who couldn’t get over to West London during the day, including my children who were quite close to their Grand Aunt and other succeeding generations and friends.

After the blessing by Bishop Smith, I of course had to ‘play two tunes’, particularly those relished by Aunt Essie, Uncle Joe and their generation. I started with a selection of Sam Cooke songs that were always played in Essie’s house and progressed to ‘Forever my Darling’, ‘Pledging my Love’ and a selection of Fats Domino and other vintage artists that brought a flood of requests for ‘mixtapes’ to take home!   

This brought to an end this rollercoaster week for me, which was started by my Granddaughter Zarah’s Christening and finished by my favourite Aunt Essie’s funeral.







D. Thomas

Devon C Thomas

The Griot