The Malcolm X Centre in Bristol UK, built in response to the 1980 uprisings in the then predominantly Afrikan Heritage (Black/Afrikan-Caribbean) Community, is under threat with Bristol City Council serving notice to end the tenancy on 28th Feb 2016. Based in the St Paul’s area of the City, some 30 plus years later, it remains a vibrant area where the Afrikan Caribbean and smaller white British community have been joined by other communities such as Somali, Eastern European and from various parts of the continent of Afrika. The current Board are challenging the Bristol City Council’s decision and dispute a list of conditions the city council claims have not been complied with, leading to this notice of termination. Bristol City Council has since indicated that the centre is not closing but they seek a different management team to run it. This situation is not be be seen in isolation to the fate of other community spaces left to flounder in that area of Bristol such as the Kuumba Arts Centre and the Learning Centre built on the open space used by St Pauls Carnival, which incidentally is another institution at risk with funding being withdrawn. Neither must we view the situation of this centre in isolation to the loss of community spaces and buildings right across the country with places like the Chestnuts Community Centre in London and the Carmoor Centre in Manchester to name just a couple who are not just fighting to survive but for the right to be self determined in their existence.
The Malcolm X Centre has and continues to serve a diverse range of communities and has international recognition as a venue for many high profile people from a range of industries be they arts, music or politics related , not to mention being a hub for local activism and events on a range of issues and occasions. The Anti Apartheid and Ethiopian Famine campaigns for example were at the heart of the centre. The name of the centre, chosen in the mid 1980’s was a reflection of the passion and drive of the community not just to honour an Ancestor of wide appeal being both Afrikan, American and Muslim, but to embrace a philosophy and practice that spoke to Malcolm X’s ideology and serve as an inspiration to the community who literally had fought for the centre. That fight, which was a continued expression of resistance to the injustice meted out to the Black community by the state, through its agents such as the police, SUS laws and many occurrences of direct discrimination and oppression was led by very frustrated, angry, passionate youth still experiencing overt racism, despite the passing of the 1976 Race Relations Act. In the 1980’s and sadly even now, Black people were constantly reminded that you cannot legislate against attitudes, ignorance and legislation would never concede to alleviate state sanctioned oppression but only finds new ways to implement it. The decision to name it the Malcolm X Centre was therefore also a statement from a community needing to assert itself, its identity and intention to bring people together to enable their communities to thrive and rally against injustice. Nana Kwaku Agyemang a former Chairperson of the Malcolm X Centre in the 80’s, then known by his former name Kuomba Balogun , said:
‘We looked at a number of international black activists a the time, we talked a lot about Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other “soft” options before we settled on Malcolm X. Malcolm was agreed upon because to me (and) Jagun (former Centre Manager) ……he represented the struggle of black people more. He was a so called radical. His views were unambiguous. He was talking about black first but going the extra mile he recognised the need to defend one self by taking up an offensive posture, hence his by any means necessary stance. We had to take a similar stance in securing the money for the old building and educating people.’
So as we are reminded of the Genesis of the centre, we perhaps need to remind the current generation of young people of the struggles of their parents and the consequences of losing something so valuable to a barely discreet gentrification agenda. The Malcolm X Centre now needs to live up to the legacy of its name.
You can help:
Sign the petition https://www.change.org/p/bristol-city-council-save-the-malcolm-x-community-centre-ltd?recruiter=460178230&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink
Like their Facebook page to stay in touch and lodge your support for the campaign to keep the centre in community hands and serving community interests. www.facebook.com/Malcolm-X-Community-Centre-1708280942741870/?fref=ts