A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)

Well, it was 14. The last friend who could not bear the loss of so many friends and took his own life.

On Sunday January 18 1981,  a devastating house fire killed 13 young Afri-Caribbeans, during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London. “Some were shocked by what they perceived as the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.” – Wiki-pedia.

When asked by Rex Obano to perform for this event( Commemorations of the New Cross Fire, The Albany, Jan 14th 2011), the request alone sent chills from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. There is something  about a tragedy of this  sort that stirs the psyche, even without having to know about the colour of the skins of those  who died.  But there comes a strange anger that rises when the colour of skin becomes an issue for blocking the deserved expression of sympathy for the loss of such young life and the grief of the parent who lost their babies in a treacherous fire.

The description of the fire also shakes you to your bone marrow….or so it should. But when I heard the lack of general national sympathy, the  lackadaisical, ineffectual and oppressive police investigation around the cause of the fire, the media response to the protests (over 15,000 black people marched through London) that arose around the fires investigation,  even the blatant out pouring of hatred and glee that these young black lives were lost,  a spiritual bile raises to my throat.

So there I was, on the day,  unsure of how I was going to pay homage in a way worthy of the lives lost, how they died and how I could respond to the injustice served cold to them, their relatives and the survivors of the fire. I stood at the edge of the stage shaking with anxiety about what to say. The room was full of emotions – Love, frustration, vulnerability, hope, determination, defiance ….

“We are still here.” Was all that came to mind. So I spoke the words, –  “We are still here, despite the trauma, despite the drama, despite the brutal history. We are the descendants of the strongest lineage of a people stolen from their homeland.” And I began Healing Pool – an anthem I seem to be performing more and more these days as times seem to be in more of a topsy-turvy state.

I cut my second poem  – A Brothers Keeper – due to time running out on the night (people had so much to express) . But I post it here because the next thing we are asked to consider is how we can protect our young when the demon of racism has been internalised to the point where our youth are destroying themselves with guns, knives and  through the lack of expectation of their potential. Where can they see themselves fitting in a society at large  that has no interest in them what so ever? The government and police response to student protests show exactly how they feel about the young regardless of race – it’s all  about money and privilege supporting a discriminatory system geared towards self-gratification.

So how far down the list of priorities do the those youths of colour come? Well, this is where WE MUST STEP BACK IN.  We must be the Keepers of the Dreams of those youths we are sometimes so quick to  shun. It makes no sense to rebuke and critisize those who have been brougth up and ‘programmed’ in a system that teaches them how to be selfish, to alienate their Elders and to hate themselves.  WE MUST RAISE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF OUR YOUNG and therefore of ourselves. No one says it is easy but we must bring them back in to the fold – with aggressive, erratic behaviour, psychological wounds and all.  Behind all the loud mouth bravado are damaged, hurting children.

“A Brothers Keeper” is a mission statement, a commitment to not stop believing in our future, to not stop believing and loving the flesh, brilliant minds and souls of our young people.

Yvonne Ruddock was sixteen and getting ready to sit her exams. Yvonne had high expectations for her life. We must continue with our belief in her young Brothers and Sister who walk our street today.

I send my prayers to

  • Humphrey Geoffrey Brown (died January 18, 1981)
  • Peter Campbell (died January 18, 1981)
  • Gerry Paul Francis (died January 18, 1981)
  • Andrew Gooding (died January 18, 1981)
  • Roseline Henry (died January 18, 1981)
  • Patricia Johnson (died January 18, 1981)
  • Patrick Cummings (died January 18, 1981)
  • Owen Thompson (died January 18, 1981)
  • Steve Collins (died January 18, 1981)
  • Lloyd Hall (died January 18, 1981)
  • Glenton Powell (died January 18, 1981)
  • Yvonne Ruddock (died January 24, 1981)
  • Paul Ruddock (died February 9, 1981) and Anthony Berbeck (died July 9, 1983)

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