UPDATE: Bristol's Mayor has agreed to consider a letter to the government calling for a cross party commission on reparations for the slave trade, as requested by Green Councillor Cleo Lake.
Responding after the meeting, Cleo said:
“I am glad that the Mayor is open to considering putting his name to the letter to support an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans. In collaboration with the partners I have mentioned, we will duly get that drafted at our earliest convenience to present to a named person at Government.”
However the Mayor would not commit to support black cultural centres as requested in Cleo's second question. The Green Councillor said:
“It is a shame the Mayor wouldn’t commit support to Bristol’s black cultural centres such as the Malcolm X centre, which have been long neglected while the Mayor’s administration spent tens of millions on Colston Hall. A Director at Trinity Arts Centre commented that imagine the work that could be done if these other spaces had received a fraction of the investment - it would genuinely change lives.”
The exchange between the Mayor and Councillor Lake can be viewed online in the Member Forum webcast (from 4m 20s).
The Mayor’s response suggested Cllr Lake should have met with him instead of raising it at a meeting. However the Green councillor had tried to meet with the Mayor weeks ahead of the meeting. She said:
“I was taken aback to hear the Mayor suggest I hadn’t tried to meet him. I had tried to set up a meeting with him just two weeks before and during my time as Lord Mayor multiple attempts to meet with him were cancelled.”
At a Bristol Council meeting on Tuesday 7 July, Green Councillor Cleo Lake, activist and former Lord Mayor, will ask the city’s Labour Mayor to lobby the government to set up a commission to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the UK’s role in the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans.
Councillor Lake was a founder member of the Countering Colston activist group spearheading calls in recent years to dismantle the public celebration of people trafficker and Maangamizi perpetrator, Edward Colston. The Green councillor submitted a motion to the council meeting to call for the council to take on various actions in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for holistic reparatory justice. As Cleo’s motion is unlikely to be heard at the meeting, she is instead asking the Mayor directly to look at her key demands which are supported by members of the Afrikan Connections Consortium and the Stop The Maangamizi Campaign.
Cleo’s question asks the Mayor to write to the Prime Minister to request “that the UK government immediately establishes an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans”.
Explaining her question to the Mayor, Cleo said:
“This isn’t just about monetary compensation, it goes much wider than that and is a movement that has existed for centuries, ever since the first transgressions of our humanity as African heritage people. The first stop is an acknowledgement by the British state that what happened was wrong and a formal apology should follow – this is an essential step to repair as so far our experiences of historic and ongoing wrongs have been denied. We need an active commitment to prevent further injustice.
“I know this will be a controversial subject for some but it’s a debate we need to have and I very much hope the Mayor will take this matter to the government.”
As well as lobbying the government to set up a commission, Councillor Lake will ask Marvin Rees what strategy the Council has “to protect and support long-standing black-led cultural institutions of the city that continue to be severely underfunded and under resourced”. Her question notes that institutions in Bristol like the Malcolm X Centre, the Kuumba Centre and the Rastafari Cultural Centre have been under-funded and under-resourced while the Council spent over £10 million restoring what was formerly known as Colston Hall.
“The Malcolm X Centre, Kuumba Centre, Docklands, Rastafari Cultural Centre have been there for me my whole life and throughout the lives of my children, my community and others. They have served us in a way that other institutions in the city cannot. They have held deep and meaningful cultural activities over generations, offered solace, entertainment, education and have a first-hand understanding of our experiences in a way that is genuine and necessary. They are spaces where many of us can be ourselves, they are safe spaces and yet they are also spaces which are outward facing serving a wide demographic. But it feels like for decades that these spaces haven’t mattered, that our way of being isn't good enough, something that I know other community centres have also battled with across the city for years.
“I hope to see a commitment from the Mayor that these institutions will be supported and protected. I do note the recent securing of a 25 year lease for the Malcolm X Centre from the Council which was a positive step forward. If the Mayor believes the council cannot afford to financially support any of these centres, then I’d suggest that he could use his influence with the One City partners or if agreed by these centres, the Merchant Venturers to secure funding. Everything is possible if only the will is present. I would like to acknowledge all the volunteers and Black South West Network for their support and efforts to improve the situation for our black led institutions.”
You can find Councillor Lake's motion to Full Council in the agenda reports pack at https://democracy.bristol.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=142&MId=8367&Ver=4.
- Councillor Lake’s motion cites UN guidelines as a proposed model for the actions that should be taken by a government commission, including ‘verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth’, compensation ‘appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation’ and public acknowledgment and apology. See
Councillor Lake’s Member Forum questions to the Mayor:
In the occasion that we do not get to the Reparations Motion that I have carefully crafted and submitted, I ask the following questions:
1. As called for by leading activists and academics with regards to reparatory justice, can the Mayor write to the Prime Minister to request that the UK government immediately establishes an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans (TTEA) the experience and extent of which is further understood by campaigners as the Maangamizi. Stop the Maangamizi Campaign:
2. Amidst the Black Lives Matter movement which indeed the council despite its decades of institutional racism has adopted as a slogan adorned as a footer on emails, I want to ask the Mayor what strategy and consideration is in place to protect and support long-standing black-led cultural institutions of the city that continue to be severely underfunded and under resourced. How can the council support them to thrive, either through direct council intervention or by brokering relationships with institutions in the city?
Such institutions must include the Malcolm X Centre, the Kuumba Centre, the Docklands Settlement and the Rastafari Cultural Centre. This question is not a new one I think you will find a similar question in the Cabinet archives from 2016 when I challenged the reality of the Council signing off over 10 million pounds (that amount now increased) to the Hall formerly named Colston, when the cultural hubs in the Black Community seemed not even on the councils radar less still did not receive any notable funding and still haven’t. It wasn't fair then and it isn't fair now.