Thursday, 8 July 2010

A visit to Small Heath School

Earlier this week I was invited to address some teachers and pupils at Small Heath School on the theme of community cohesion. I was touched by their warmth and hospitality. I started by making reference to the spy cameras debate which has been prominent in the news here. I made the point that community cohesion goes both ways. Demonising entire communities and making them feel like they don't belong is a recipe for disaster. But we are not powerless when incidents like this occurs. We have the ability to react in a positive way, in a way that actually strengthens community cohesion. That is what is so great about the campaign against the cameras. It has consciously gone out to unite people from all communities, and in the process diminish a sense of isolation among the Muslim community. And it has been successful in that regard. (Sparkbrook resident and playwright  David Edgar being the latest to voice his concerns).

I was asked about my personal journey into politics. I told my story about being subject to a racist incident in Birmingham city centre after 9/11 and its impact on me. Although I found it shocking to be spat on in broad daylight as I walked with my baby boy, it was not the action of a single racist that I found most disturbing. It was the lack of any reaction from all those who witnessed it.  I stressed that we have choices. And those of us that live in the West have much more choices than most. We have freedom of speech, of assembly, and we are not so overtaken with just trying to stay alive that we can't exercise those choices.

I am a passionate believer in the power of human solidarity. But solidarity is not automatic and those that rule our world are skilled in dividing us.  We have to consciously make solidarity more our cultural norm. And that entails leading by example. To emphasis the point, I quoted Malcolm X's line that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

As ever when I speak to young people, I came away feeling optimistic about the future.