Interview

Windrush Day Interview: Joyce Fraser Chair of Trustees Black Heroes Foundation and writer of new play The Story of Claudia Jones

Racism is like a cancer, eating away, silently destroying, until the damage is too great to ignore. It attacks self-image, identity, confidence, moral, self-worth, ambition, expectations, and all the other mental health conditions which follow on from these. It impacts both mental and physical health. Joyce Fraser

The foundation is a community based charity for the development and promotion of talent, together with cultural and artistic initiatives in the community focusing on youth, education, training, social uplifting and personal development programmes. It was incorporated in honour of, and to support the legacy of Peter Randolph Fraser AKA “Flip Fraser”, the first editor of The Voice Newspaper, and creator of the critically acclaimed show “Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame”, with J.D. Douglas (Dialogue) and Khareem Jamal (Musical Director). Alt caught up with Joyce Fraser Chair of Trustees and Flip’s widow. Joyce recently put on a performance of her new play The Story of Claudia digitally.

• Can you tell us what the Black Heroes Foundation does and its importance for the community? The Black Heroes Foundation brings joy, using the arts to tell stories and celebrate our Heroes. We are a community-based organisation for the development and promotion of talent, together with cultural and artistic initiatives in the community focusing on youth, education, training, personal development, and social mobility. Our mission is developing cultural awareness, promoting a world where Black Heroes are acknowledged, respected, and celebrated.  As one youth said, “The Black Heroes Foundation gives us a voice, it is like a light in a dark room”.

• Tell us about your recent award nomination and what it means to you? Being nominated for the National Diversity Awards was a great surprise and honour. Reading the things that so many people said was overwhelming, I quietly work away thinking that no one really notices, just trying to do my best.  It came at a time that was particularly challenging for me.  It really was very gratifying to get those votes of acknowledgement and encouragement, I am very humbled, and I must confess that I did shed a few tears.  I send my thanks and appreciation to all those wonderful people who nominated me.

What is your view on the report findings on BAME communities and Covid-19 and the delay in putting out the recommendations? It is absolutely appalling.   Sadly, it is just so typical of this government and its failure to genuinely care about Black and other minority communities. It’s failure to take positive action to address the plight of our communities, its failure to re-dress the Windrush Scandal and that report’s recommendations, its failure to be honest, transparent and effective with the whole COVID-19 situation, and Black and Minority communities on the whole. 

• Do you think that we having a watershed moment with the response to the killing of George Floyd?  I hope so. I pray that we have. The protests have been  incredible. The young people have taken on the fight, and they are looking for genuine, impactful action. It is so refreshing, and I am hopeful that we will take a few more steps in making real change.

How do you think racism affects mental health?  Racism is like a cancer, eating away, silently destroying, until the damage is too great to ignore. It attacks self-image, identity, confidence, moral, self-worth, ambition, expectations, and all the other mental health conditions which follow on from these. It impacts both mental and physical health.

You have written a play about Claudia Jones who played a huge part in shaping conversations around race: what do you want people to know about her that we do not already know?  Well, she is mainly known for her great work in putting on the first  carnival in Kings Cross, the pre-cursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. But there is much more to her than this. She was a powerful and dedicated activist. She did most of her activist work in America before being extradited to the UK as an undesirable alien, during the McCarthy era. She had been arrested and imprisoned many times.  The significance of her communist activities is that she is buried in Highgate Cemetery, to the left of Karl Marx.

Tell us about the story you tell within the play where does it start and end?  The play starts at Claudia’s arrival in New York, upon leaving her homeland Trinidad aged 8, and ends with the death of her mother, whilst she is a teenager. There is a storyteller in the play who provides context before and after the scene of the first act, which is all this play consists of at the moment.

• Why did you choose her to be the subject of your first play?  The Black Heroes Foundation conducted a Facebook survey for people to nominate people for “London’s Great Women of Colour”. Her name came up so many times, that I decided to do some further research, and was very moved by what I read. The most astounding thing that really impressed me at first was where she was buried, and I just had to find out more. I then wrote a piece from the research I had collated. This was a couple of years ago, but her story just always stayed with me. Then at Christmas I found myself in a strange situation, and just became inspired to return to the original piece that I had written, and to turn it into a play.  My first ever attempt at writing a play, so I only did the first act, to see if it would/could work. 

What is the plan for the play now?  The plan is to get the play performed on stage, and to develop it further, covering Claudia’s entire life. 

With the statues of Edward Colston and slave traders going down which statues would you like to go up?  Naturally, a statue of Claudia Jones would be very fitting, so few know about her. To accompany her, a statue of Sam King MBE, they worked so closely together on the Carnival, The West Indian Gazette and opposing the 1962 immigration Act.   Later  Sam King was a co-founder of the Windrush Foundation and became the first Black Mayor of Southwark. They both knew the implications of that 1962 Immigration Act and its possible outcomes, such as the Windrush Scandal. Strangely the very first creative piece of work I was involved in was the production of a 17 minute documentary, The Story of Sam King, and it was only after doing the work on Claudia Jones that I realised just how intertwined they were. They truly are the Mother and Father of the Windrush Generation!
More about
   www.BlackHeroesFoundation.org
Awards:  https://www.pointsoflight.gov.uk/black-heroes-foundation/

Alt Africa is an independent media platform promoting diversity a donation of £10 can help us to do our work. We are fundraising please donate here: https://bit.ly/2N8u1g4

%d bloggers like this: