Dame Jocelyn Barrow - the loss of a formidable force in race equality

Dame Jocelyn Barrow became a civil rights activist following a meeting she and future Labour peer David Pitt had with Dr Martin Luther King at Pitt’s GP surgery in North Gower Street, Euston, in 1964.

She was a formidable powerhouse of determination and tenacity, and I am proud to say I was privileged to have worked closely with her and be mentored by her. To have worked alongside and be guided by someone with the race equality pedigree that Dame Jocelyn Barrow (who we affectionately knew as DJB) possessed was indeed an honour.

Beyond that, she was a wonderfully kind and generous woman. I remember when she attended my wedding in 2001, prior to the day we chatted through such things as how I should have my nails! She was nurturing and incredibly strong minded, with a perfect blend of challenging encouragement and nourishing support.

Arriving in London from Trinidad in 1959, to originally undertake postgraduate studies at the University of London, she worked tirelessly until she retired six years ago, as an educator, community activist and politician. She was the first black woman to be a governor of the BBC and was founder and Deputy Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council.

DJB was a founding member, general secretary and later vice-chair of Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD). This was the organisation that lobbied government for race relations legislation and was responsible for the Race Relations Act of 1968 that now makes up part of the Equality Act 2010. And it is with great pride that I facilitate workshops on the Equality Act as without DJB I know it would not exist.

"CARD was a very effective organisation though it wasn’t as grassroots as I would have liked it to have been. It was led by people like me, Lord David Pitt and Anthony Lester a QC. The people at the bottom were too busy trying to survive though some did join." Dame Jocelyn Barrow

Personal memories

DJB was a woman that exuded strength, charm and undeniable control. You instantly had confidence in her that she knew exactly what she was doing and was right. There was no questioning it. She had natural authority and could command any room she entered. The memories that I have of DJB are of a highly credible and distinguished woman, but also of very real situations. A woman who I used to hold her 'Margaret Thatcher' type handbag for as she conducted her work! A woman who was not phased by anything and never showed any anger "George it does not achieve anything, people just don't listen to raised voices! Just don't give up' - she just had such immense strength of character. A woman who was always impeccably dressed and polished. My memories focus around the projects we were involved in together, in particular working with the British Army for over a decade on their race relations efforts and ethnic minority recruitment. And the many many lessons she taught me from taking pride in speaking truth to power, to how to position a discussion for a positive outcome using credibility, tenacity and kindness with undeniable strength. Oh and never ever ever giving up, she simply would not take no for an answer! But always with a smile, calmness and great sophistication.

I remember on one occasion she had managed to convince her nephew the football player John Barnes into appearing at one of our Army recruitment events as a special guest. My father was an avid football fan and my teenage years had been spent watching John Barnes longingly and then all of a sudden he is there with me at an event, championing shared values.

Another Army event, saw us hunting for the singer Pato Banton as he was due on stage to perform with some Army officers, only to find out he was asleep with jet lag on the floor in the toilets. This was all whilst DJB was still hosting the Prince of Wales who was opening our photographic exhibition detailing the contributions that BAME officers and soldiers had made to the British Army.

This video with DJB's wonderful voice, makes me smile. Her story of Marks & Spencer and how she dealt with the situation is so very Dame Jocelyn Barrow.

Introduced multi-cultural education

As a senior teacher, and later as a teacher-trainer, at Furzedown Teachers College and at the Institute of Education in the 1960s, she pioneered the introduction of multi-cultural education, stressing the needs of the various ethnic groups in the UK. This was the first time tailoring learning to the needs of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds had been done. And is the foundation for our work today in decolonising the curriculum.

In this opening keynote lecture she shares in her own words why multi-cultural education was needed and provides and overview of race relations in the UK.

High profile appointments

She was a member of the Taylor Committee of School Governors. In 1984 she co-founded Arawidi Publications, a children's publishing house, with Yvonne Collymore. Named after a Caribbean sun-deity, Arawidi published children's books in a variety of languages forms including West Indian dialects and Glaswegian.

Between 1981 and 1988 she served as a governor of the BBC, the first black woman to have been appointed to the board of the corporation, which in 2001 was controversially described by its then director-general Greg Dyke as still "hideously white". DJB was also founder and deputy chair (1989–95) of the Broadcasting Standards Council, forerunner of Ofcom.

She was chair of the 2005 Mayor's Commission on African and Asian Heritage (MCAAH), set up by then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, that produced the report Delivering Shared Heritage, about which she said: "Our findings and resulting recommendations, far from being of interest only to African and Asian communities, set out a code of values for delivering inclusive and healthy heritage management practice for everyone."

She was instrumental in the establishment of the North Atlantic Slavery Gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. She was a Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and a Governor of the British Film Institute, as well as the first patron of the Black Cultural Archives. Acknowledging the key influence she had in the founding of BCA, their tribute to her stated: "Also known as the African People's Historical Monument Foundation, Dame Jocelyn recognised the need for a national monument like BCA to educate future generations."

In 1972, she was awarded the OBE for work in the field of education and community relations. In 1992, her work in broadcasting and her contribution to the work of the European Union as the UK member of the Economic and Social Committee was recognised by her being appointed DBE, the first black woman thus to be honoured as a "Dame".

She was voted one of the "100 Great Black Britons" in the campaign launched by Every Generation Media in 2003. She received honorary doctorates from the University of Greenwich in 1993 and from the University of York in 2007. She was also Governor of the Commonwealth Institute (for eight years) a place she would take me to for our mentoring meetings! A Council Member of Goldsmiths, University of London, Vice-president of the United Nations Association in the UK, National Vice-President of the Townswomen's Guild and Patron of the Black Cultural Archives.

An African proverb says: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning”. That indeed is the case with the passing of DJB.

Rest in Power, Dame Jocelyn Barrow

- the 'great grandmother' of race relations.

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