Olympian Tessa Sanderson says Windrush celebrations is a moment to honour progress—this article for The Voice.
IT WAS 65 years ago the first West Indian Windrush passengers stepped onto English soil and ignited a cultural revolution that shaped and defined the landscape of British society today.
But Olympic star Tessa Sanderson CBE, one of the first Caribbean migrants to win gold for Britain, says British people of African Caribbean descent are still fighting for equality.
Lynn Worrall said: “The arrival of the SS Windrush at Tilbury all those years ago was effectively the beginning of Britain’s modern multi-cultural society – something that has undoubtedly enriched our culture in so many ways. It’s only right that we all celebrate this 65th anniversary this year as we did the 60th five years ago. I am really looking forward to the Platinum anniversary in 2018.”
According to author and Windrush specialist Victor Richards, the first migrants came with great expectations.
He said: “I think people were shocked when they arrived and were suddenly faced with a cold climate and an even colder reception from the people who they thought would welcome them.”
Richards described the reaction of the indigenous people as “a case of ignorance” resulting from the British government’s failure to educate and prepare its population for the new arrivals.
Sanderson added: “The indigenous people reacted the way they did because they did not understand Caribbean people; they thought they were unhealthy, unclean, and uneducated.”
Richards described the new migrants as pioneers: “They were fit, strong and resourceful, and determined not to go back home as failures. They decided to make the best of the situation and you have to respect for them for that, because it wasn’t easy.”
Sanderson said the upcoming national celebrations are not just about the fact that Caribbean migrants came to Britain, but it is also an acknowledgement of what they have accomplished since their arrival.
“Over the years Caribbean people have made major contribution to every aspect of British society; in entertainment, religion, social housing,” she told The Voice. “Their nurses and teachers have significantly boosted the education and health systems and their athletes have helped to put Britain on the map.”
The Olympian added: “We have made leaps and bounds and today there are many opportunities open to us; but the barriers are still there and very visible in the lack of representation in the media, in boardroom-level positions and in top management in sports.”
She also stressed the importance of commemorating the Windrush experience: “I think that every British person of Caribbean descent should be aware of the Windrush and its legacy, because, especially for the younger generation, it helps them to understand the fight their fore-parents faced to give them the opportunities they enjoy today.”
Sanderson said that the whole of society could benefit from the lessons of acceptance, humanity and perseverance, inherent in the Windrush story.
Thurrock councillor Tunde Ojetola highlighted the significance of the Windrush history. He said: “It shows how we have evolved since 1948; we have learned to live with each other, embrace our diverse nature and understand each other’s cultures.”
He added: “Although there are still a few pockets of intolerance going on, the majority of people in Thurrock see the benefits of embracing our differences and use that to build our strength as a society.”
A range of national partners including Thurrock council, in association with The Voice, Kingsway Project, Black Heritage Today and Thurrock African Group will be celebrating the 65th anniversary of the first Windrush arrival with a range of activities; including an awards ceremony at Tilbury Port on June 22, a river cruise and a family fun day on June 23.
A host of famous faces are set to join the two-day celebration including BBC presenter Brenda Emmanus, ITV’s Ronke Phillips, actress Ellen Thomas, Dame Betty Asafu-Adjaye, former MP Dawn Butler, actress Judith Jacobs, former athlete Dalton Grant, Holby City actor Chizzy Akudolu. Babyfather author Patrick Augustus and Golden Brown hitmaker, Omar.
Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park councillor Bukky Okunade described the celebrations as a “historical event”. She said: “I am personally pleased that the borough is celebrating the anniversary of the momentous occasion that heralded the start of multicultural Britain. I would like to encourage everyone from the community of Thurrock to feel proud and get involved in the celebrations.”
Yash Gupta said: “Thurrock has a great heritage and history which we are rightfully proud of. The Windrush story, with its positive impact on the nation’s cultural outlook, is an integral part of that.”
Samson DeAlyn, the project director of the event said: “This is an important event for Thurrock and the celebration of diversity in the UK.”