October 2017 marks 30 years since the creation of ‘Black History Month‘ a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of African and Caribbean immigrants within the UK. All month long, events around the UK take place to acknowledge this important month, The Brixton Midnight Run an event taking its audience on a tour around South London.
Brixton to be exact. A part of London synonymous with Caribbean culture, as immigrants from the West Indies settled in post World War 2 in the 40s and 50s. Brixton has an identity all of its own, embracing its multi-cultural make up. This is where The Brixton Midnight Run begins and spends most of its time in Brixton. An otherwise unknown part part of London to some is brought to life historically from dusk until dawn.
Created by playwright, poet and graphic designer Inua Ellams 12 years ago, The Brixton Midnight Run is an interactive experience adamant on individuals talking to one another, learning with one another, asking questions to one another – there’s an effort to make all participants realise that this is a communal experience and there is nowhere to hide. London is known for its fast paced, getting from point A to point B mentality. Londoners rarely speak to one another, and this tour really helps to dismantle that convention.
Landmarks that perhaps wouldn’t be as apparent to many are marked out by certified tour guide, Kelly Foster, her energy and knowledge of Brixton forming the foundations of the evening. Starting off at Windrush Square, participants are reminded of the first wave of immigrants from the West Indies who travelled to Tilbury Dock aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948. Perhaps one of the more well known facts of black British history, starting off at this point sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Little known hero Olive Morris is a stand out in terms of her contribution’s to black British culture – an activist responsible for fighting for the rights of her fellow community and setting up multiple organisations in the process to further support her community, it’s incredibly shocking how The Brixton Midnight Run is the first time many would have heard of her. What remains of her legacy is Olive Morris House, Brixton Customer Centre owned by the government. Asked to write poetry, verse by verse by the building, this reinforces the idea that we are to be apart of the experience rather than passively take everything in.
The evening also focuses on the beginnings of Notting Hill Carnival – founded by pioneer Claudia Jones, a festival renowned world over for its vibrant, gregarious, bold nature it has become apart of the British festival calendar. Participants are also taken to St John the Evangelist Church, a place that would welcome the integration of Caribbean and African immigrants and the local community. Here participants are asked to merge their poetry penned at Olive Morris House – drawing a parallel to the church’s ability to bring beliefs and ideas from individuals together and this is to be admired. Listening to each group’s merged poetry is a joy, strangers a couple of ours before, the ability to create art together breaks boundaries.
Halfway through the evening all participants are treated to a traditional Caribbean meal consisting of rice and peas, curry and plantain. This further contributes to the evening’s authenticity and celebrates the importance of food within both African and Caribbean culture. The meal in itself sparks conversation, further educating participants experiencing this type of cuisine for the first time. For myself, it’s an air of familiarity which is comforting.
The latter half of the evening takes participants through Van Gogh Walk, a part of Brixton the famous Dutch painter found residence for a short period of time. This part of the evening showcases Brixton’s renowned multi-culturalism. Participants are then given a brief art session with the aim of… well of course, drawing an ear. Observation is key, there’s no time to stand around and think, just do! This is scary, but fun and again, the group are a community; there is no judgement. The evening concludes at County Hall-Waterloo, the beginnings of Black History Month 30 years ago – 1987. This is a powerful resolution to a 6 hour journey. The Brixton Midnight Run team have created an experience like no other, participants walk, sing, move, discover and eat together. In a time where we are witnessing many divisions, this experience reminds all just how important all of our contributions are.
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
The Brixton Midnight Run was shown on Saturday 23rd September and Saturday 7th October at the Black Cultural Archives. For more information on the tour, visit here…