On the 23rd December 2015, five people met in the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton, in the London Borough of Lambeth, for what we hope will become a historical moment. Only time will tell. Marlene Ellis, Kofi Mawuli Klu, Beverley Wong, Khi Rafe and Kingsley Abrams came together because we knew there was a real sense of change in the air.
Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour leadership win had signalled the possibility for a political move that might permeate what we thought had become an almost immovable right-wing consciousness across mainstream society. Suddenly we found ourselves having a discussion inside the excited belief that we were at a political disjuncture that seemed to be taking a much needed turn to the left.
Lambeth Momentum had launched itself just a couple of weeks before as an organised mixture of the left-wing of the Lambeth Labour Party together with Momentum (Labour and non-Labour Party) supporters who had otherwise been involved in the Jeremy Corbyn campaign. However, what brought us together at this meeting was the realisation that if we were going to engage our Black communities, then we would need to create as an expression of this Momentum, a distinct but complimentary Black political social movement. That is to say, Lambeth Momentum had been short on Black attendees despite it being Lambeth.
A key concern was how to define ourselves and very quickly we realised that identifications of BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority) had failed to capture a political narrative that had ever translated into the relevance of our lives. Since we were still questioning its meaning in 2015 we accepted that the use of BAME had failed dismally. For the same lack of political weight and ultimately their implied racial biases, we discounted the use of ‘Ethnic Minority’ and ‘People of Colour’ too. Frankly, it did not take us long to return to Black as an all-inclusive term for non-Whites as a means for garnering political action that could potentially include every single non-white person of a certain political disposition. You had to want to look at politics from a Black perspective and so it was: we were returning Black to its political home. The origin of Black is firmly rooted in a political movement and that is where it had to go back to if we are truly to pursue ‘honest politics’ in 2015.
From there, we were but a touchstone from Power now that we had become ‘Black again’. The one single factor that we shared with our Black political history continued to be for equality, for justice and ultimately for more power over our lives. We did not sit there in a now posh Brixton area desiring to go back to the 1970s or 1980s yet the sad truth was nevertheless in the knowing that a very similar Black Power in 2015 was and is desperately needed. It remains just as urgent as it ever was for Black communities to rise up and fight for what are rightfully ours and to demand from our oppressive institutions, that they recognise it. In this moment of Jeremy Corbyn’s honest politics there can be no hiding or denying that Black Power still needs to speak directly to White power if we are going to be heard or even noticed.
Kofi Mawuli Klu then came up with our name Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC). Let us put a big X in the middle in memory of Malcolm X, he also suggested. Imagine in this name, our positioning. We want to reach out and support the values of Jeremy Corbyn. We love his anti-austerity stance, the call for a properly funded NHS and the importance of education not as something to be sold to the young but to be passed on as a gift to the next generation and as a matter of duty. Thus we are Momentum. On the other hand, we recognise the very many Black community activists who have continued this struggle for justice on many levels on behalf of our communities with barely the pretence to care from our British political system. The truth is, and I speak as a Labour Party member, the Labour Party but for its rhetoric, have largely betrayed our Black communities. Thus, we will reach out to our Black Communities big or small and make those important ConneXions. For us, a Political Black stance cannot have Momentum without an equally balanced declaration that Black Power and Black ConneXions are synonymous. We represent in this name and in the substance of our politics, the glocal. Our Black Political Social positioning speaks directly to our global and local challenges appreciating that they are inseparable where our oppressions and emancipatory struggles are concerned. We are clear that one is always affecting the other and for that reason, ConneXions will always speak to the local, national and the international almost at the same time because a Political Black Voice full of Momentum, has to.
We left our meeting empowered with a few objectives. The desire was to engage Black people who have lost faith in a politics that will make their lives better. We know that local people are having political conversations but are not acting in a political way. MBC is challenged to find ways to listen to these people and to help bridge that gap. MBC wants to support and help inspire the young to take up the mantle. Our Facebook and Twitter pages were set-up that night and we agreed to have our first Interim Steering Committee meeting on 8th January 2016. The notion of Momentum Black ConneXions spoke too many on Facebook and very quickly interest grew. For our first Interim Steering Committee meeting, invitations were extended to other interested parties including Simeon Stanford, Natoya Smith, Courtney Rafe, Yvonne Witter, Esther Stanford-Xosei, Althea Gordon-Davidson, Cecile Wright and Marc Wadsworth. There was a total of 12 present though three later withdrew on personal grounds in Khi Rafe, Courtney Rafe and Yvonne Witter. To date, we have since held five interim Steering Committee meetings on 8th January 2016, 29th January 2016, 19th February 2016, 18th March 2016 and the 14th April 2016.
Given our intended aims, a crucial dimension for Momentum Black ConneXions was to be national in presence from the outset. We were pleased that Yvonne Witter came from Huddersfield and Professor Cecile Wright from Derby. Indeed, we followed Professor Wright’s call to launch Momentum Black ConneXions in Birmingham after she rightfully pointed out that 45% percent of the Black population lived outside of London, that Birmingham had a disproportionately low representation of Black politicians given the size of its Black populations and that the Labour Party was as a consequence, poorly supported by the Black Vote in the Midlands. Momentum Black ConneXions saw this as a good opportunity for us to begin raising the political consciousness of the Black political social movement and simultaneously, to promote our support for Jeremy Corbyn.
One of our first commitments was to set up a sub-group to look at what our Aims and Objectives might be. Led by Esther Stanford-Xosei with active contributions from Kingsley Abrams, Yvonne Witter and Marlene Ellis, we successfully produced a document that embraced our histories from the important contributions made in the 1980s by those such as Bernie Grant MP, Linda Bellos OBE and Lester Lewis for example, as well as from our traditional histories that represent our legacies in the first instance including the contributions made to Black Labour Freedom-fighters by the likes of Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano, Mary Prince, Robert Wedderburn, William Davidson, William Cuffay, Henry Sylvester Williams, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bhikhaji Rustom Cama, Kaka Joseph Baptista, John Archer, Shapurji Saklatvala, Krishna Menon, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, CLR James, Ras Makonnen, Amy Ashwood, Garvey, Osagyefo, Kwame Nkrumah, Akunna I.T. Wallace-Johnson, Ladipo Felix Solanke, Akinremi Nathaniel Fadipe, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Constance Cummings-John, Claudia Jones, Walter Rodney and Yusef Dadoo.
We are conscious that we are standing on the shoulders of many giants. Whilst we have drawn upon our histories, we have also embraced where we are today. Momentum Black ConneXion’s aims and objectives demonstrate the profound belief that we must work with an insistence that we improve ourselves educationally. We demand that we learn more about ourselves in the present and of our past, in order to make sense of what a Political Black and Social Perspective are and where it can go. Our aims reinforce a requirement to be active thinkers, to be politically engaging, to be willing to work in the best interests of the Black Collective first and foremost no matter who you are or where you might come from. MBC works as a collective, making democratic decisions. Whilst we acknowledge that we do not always agree, we value the process and accept majority rules. This for us this is fundamental and the most important lesson we take from the past.
A planning committee was also set up in January to support Professor Cecile Wright in launching Momentum Black ConneXions. This included Marlene Ellis, Yvonne Witter and Beverley Wong. From Birmingham we worked with Birmingham Councillor Yvonne Mosquito who became an important link in making the launch possible.
On 6th February 2016, we helped to get Professor Cecile Wright elected onto the National Steering Committee of Momentum as a whole, and this reinforced our intention to have a national presence. It was also agreed at our Interim Steering Committee meeting of the 19th February 2016 that Professor Cecile Wright would become an Acting Co-Chair of Momentum Black ConneXions sharing topmost executive responsibilities equally together with Marlene Ellis. The following meeting confirmed Marlene Ellis as Acting General Secretary.
Over the course of our first few months, several members of the Interim Steering Committee attended other public events/meetings in the promotion of Momentum Black ConneXions. In the spirit of our aims and objectives we met and liaised with other organisations such as Africans for Momentum and Camden People of Colour. We worked to promote the concerns of Asylum Seekers and made important links aligning ourselves for example, with youth and students fighting for the decolonisation of education, cognitive justice and academic freedom including those in Afrika and Asia battling for educational transformations and the fights for justice by Indian university students as well as Rhodes Must Fall campaigners in South Africa and the UK. Momentum Black ConneXions international solidarity work so far has led to strengthening connections with the Sovereign Union of the First Peoples of Australia, together with whom we are planning the forthcoming visit of an Aboriginal Black Power Delegation to the UK. Some of us also joined local campaigns to fight for the right to keep our Libraries open in Lambeth. We have started to work with trade unions and hope to develop this.
Momentum Black ConneXions not only declared support for the Don’t Deport Luqman Campaign but also attended the Conference on Decolonisation of Education and Pluriversality at the University of Sussex. There, we spoke not only in support of the Decolonisation of Education but also for the importance of Black perspectives in Academia and Lifelong Learning, as well as the necessity for highlighting the political dimensions and involvement of all in making change to democratically happen. Among other things, this enhances the work co-facilitated by Natoya Smith and Simeon Stanford of the Momentum Black ConneXions Youth Wing on youth and student issues. More recently, Momentum Black ConneXions has spoken in support of raising the profile and attention of Reparatory Justice and in this regard, it is drawing upon the long track record, experiences and knowledge-production contributed to advancing the work in and beyond the UK, of both the International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR) and the People’s Reparations International Movement (PRIM) that is being done by Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE) and the Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAPP). This is why Momentum Black ConneXions has taken up the Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Petition and its campaign for All-Party-Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry in both the UK and European Parliaments. Momentum Black ConneXions will also join the programme of activities for the 1st August 2016, ‘Emancipation Day Afrikan People’s Reparation March’. Indeed, we will invite all Momentum and Labour Party members to join us too. These are some of the areas of multifarious work in which Momentum Black ConneXions are already engaged with.
Amongst Momentum Black ConneXion activists who have a long working relationship with Jeremy Corbyn are Kofi Mawuli Klu and Explo Nani-Kofi, both of whom were involved together with him from the early 1990’S onward in the Campaign for Non-Alignment (CNA) and Liberation. Kofi and Explo were also involved with Jeremy Corbyn in the Socialist Movement (SM) as representatives of the Kwame Nkrumah Convention Peoples Party (KN-CPP) and the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC). Explo went on to become a UK national Leadership member of the Stop the War Coalition together with Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn.
It shall always be the duty of Momentum Black ConneXions to work closely with our communities identifying potential political leaders at all levels and supporting the progressive work of the Labour Party around their campaigns and political development beneficial to our Black peoples in and beyond the United Kingdom. We are committed to supporting and working with all Councillors and Members of Parliament regardless of race, where we share the same political perspective. We will not just work with Black MPs on the basis of him or her being ethnically non-white if he or she nonetheless, are not politically aligned with Momentum Black ConneXions in terms of our own vision, principles and shared values. We consider this to be a more honest way of doing politics.
Finally, after making three visits to Birmingham in the planning, on the 2nd April 2016, we formally launched Momentum Black ConneXions with the help and attendance of Shadow Chancellor of Exchequer, John McDonnell. However and as so often is the case with new organisations, internal divisions began to emerge which sadly came to the fore during our launch on Saturday the 2nd April 2016. It is fair to say, the launch was not what we had hoped it would be.
Regrettably, there was an arbitrary attempt to introduce an election procedure during the middle of our public launch which would have involved all those present, including those for and against Momentum and perversely, the very purpose of our Momentum Black ConneXions including the values of Jeremy Corbyn that we share. Members of the audience have since come forward and advised our Interim Steering Committee that this was conspiratorially planned prior to the event as was confessed to a select few by Marc Wadsworth obviously working in cohort with Professor Cecile Wright and Kingsley Abrams. A motion for elections was proposed by someone completely unknown before as having anything to do with MBC and this was attempted on two occasions, creating a great deal of confusion for the audience as well as for the majority of the Interim Steering Committee. In affect these two attempts were designed to construct a Coup D’état which despite much provocation, was resisted. We are grateful to Kofi Mawuli Klu in particular for his steadfast commitment.
Reference in the public meeting started being openly made ostensibly to an organisation named ‘Black Momentum’ by Professor Cecile Wright, Marc Wadsworth and Kingsley Abrams, which we in Momentum Black ConneXions did not and do not recognise. False allegations were also made against some of the Interim Steering Committee members which continued more formally post this event. Ultimately, this culminated in Professor Cecile Wright reporting to National Momentum that two members of our Steering Committee i.e. Marlene Ellis and Kofi Mawuli Klu had personally attacked her. We refute this at the highest level and regard this as a third attempt at constructing a Coup D’état. Whilst we would have preferred to have come together afterward and to have sorted out our differences responsibly and privately at our follow-up Interim Steering Committee meeting, we were instead threatened with potential legal action should we try to meet at all! This threat was made by Marc Wadsworth who we considered was trying to intimidate, bully and insult us into inactivity. It should be noted that National Momentum has never formally advised Marlene Ellis or Kofi Mawuli Klu that they are being investigated for an assault. Nor has it ever come to our attention that a report has been officially made to any legal authority concerning an assault.
Despite the threats made and the attacks on our integrity as individuals as well as as a collective, Momentum Black ConneXions continued to have our Interim Steering Committee meeting on Thursday the 14th April 2016 and there, for a number of reasons, we proposed a Vote of No Confidence in our Acting Co-Chair Professor Cecile Wright by the same Interim Steering Committee that had elected her as Acting Co-Chair just a couple of months earlier. This vote was passed unanimously. The Interim Steering Committee also proposed and passed a vote unanimously against Marc Wadsworth and Kingsley Abrams for Gross Misconduct with the decision that they be immediately dismissed from Momentum Black ConneXions. Accordingly, on Thursday the 14th April 2016 at 8pm, Professor Cecile Wright, Kingsley Abrams and Marc Wadsworth ceased to be members of the Interim Steering Committee of Momentum Black ConneXions. National Momentum was duly notified. Therefore, what was the attempt of the few to over throw the majority, has been considered gross misconduct and a breach of trust.
In a fourth attempt at a constructed Coup D’état post this Vote of No Confidence from Momentum Black ConneXions, Professor Cecile Wright posing as Chair for Momentum Black ConneXions, has, together, with Marc Wadsworth and Kingsley Abrams, summoned a so-called Emergency Meeting for Momentum Black ConneXions Interim Steering Committee in Birmingham for Sunday the 24th April 2016. Despite originally excluding members of the existing Interim Steering Committee of Momentum Black ConneXions, they have invited a number of people that have nothing to do with the MBC Steering Committee but who may or may not have been present at our public launch. Whilst we have no objections to ex-Interim Steering Committee Members of Momentum Black ConneXions forming alternative groups, a Black Momentum for example, we are clear for all of the reasons given above, that Professor Cecile Wright, Kingsley Abrams and Marc Wadsworth have no standing or mandate to conduct their affairs in the name of Momentum Black ConneXions. It would of course, be absurd for anyone such as Professor Cecile Wright, Kingsley Abrams and Marc Wadsworth, to go elsewhere in order to create a separate group or meeting, so as to maintain a position in the group namely, Momentum Black ConneXions where they have already been democratically dismissed.
As we move forward, we are delighted that Esther Stanford-Xosei has agreed to be one of our new Acting Co-Chairs whilst Marlene Ellis remains the Acting General Secretary. Learning the lessons from our recent past, a new post has been introduced as Chief Whip and Beverley Wong has kindly agreed to step into that role. The post of Treasurer will be filled shortly. We also anticipate 2 new members joining the Interim Steering Committee soon. We continue to have two young people on our Steering Committee in, Natoya Smith and Simeon Stanford and given what has been challenging circumstances, we are very proud that young representatives still wish to be part of MBC and we see this as a vital part of our work to invest in our future.
Momentum Black ConneXions continues with purpose and commitment to serve our communities. As had previously been agreed, the Interim Steering Committee will work within the legal structure of an Unincorporated Association and we will remain in situ for 1 year until April 2017 where elections will be held in the process of fully constituting Momentum Black ConneXions. Join us in developing the Political Black Voice of this country from the bottom, up and always consider your own role in this important work.
The members of the Interim Steering Committee of Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC-ISC) are:
Marlene Ellis, General Secretary
Beverley Wong, Chief Whip
Shemi Leira, Lead Facilitator for Finance and Social Enterprise
Kofi Mawuli Klu, Lead Facilitator for International Relations
Althea Gordon-Davidson, Lead Facilitator for Education and Training
Simeon Stanford, Co-Lead Facilitator for Youth Affairs
Toyah Smith, Co-Lead Facilitator for Youth Affairs
Esther Stanford-Xosei, Co-Chair, Lead Facilitator, Media & Public Relations
Written 21st April 2016
Momentum Black ConneXions