Originally published in the Evening Standard 16th Oct 2020
In light of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the need to understand our shared histories has never been more important – to help shape our shared futures.
The CBE given to trailblazing headteacher Yvonne Conolly is a wonderful example of how this can be achieved. Yvonne, a member of the Windrush generation became the first black headmistress in 1969 and sadly the only surviving from the original first black headteachers, which included Tony O’Connor and Beryl Gilroy. For over four decades successive Governments have overlooked the contributions made by our pioneering black headteachers, with none of them receiving a senior national honour. At the start of Black History Month, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson dedicated his video message to Yvonne and how “she inspired and mentored not only her young charges but also generations of educators.” The awarding of the CBE, has gone some way to correcting the decades of neglect and sacrifices that our first BAME headteachers made, not only in breaking the glass ceiling but facing abuse and death threats from the far right for just doing their job.
This was the most diverse honours list ever with 13 per cent of successful candidates coming from BAME backgrounds beating the previous highest percentage of 12 per cent in the New Year list of 2019. The public honours system in recent years has become more independent from political influence. Nominations are made by the public and assessed by independent committees. The public honours should not be confused with the political honours list which is decided by the sitting Prime Minister. However each year the Prime Minister of the day can set strategic priorities for these independent committees and it is clear this round the focus was on the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, with the list reflecting the length and breadth of society. Read more ‘A remarkable lady’: Charles honours UK’s first black headmistress
Business leaders in the north have been recognised. For example, Blackburn’s Issa brothers, Mohsin and Zuber who recently brought the 71 year old Asda supermarket chain back to British ownership after 21 years. Their entrepreneurial expertise in securing countless jobs in the north of the country has seen them being awarded CBEs.
But what makes this list so unique from previous honour lists was the Prime Minister’s inclusion of over 400 additional Covid-19 heroes. For raising nearly £1m for charity by walking while fasting during Ramadan, 101 year old Dabirul Choudhury was awarded an OBE, whilst Rajinder Singh Harzall ‘the Skipping Skih’ received a MBE for encouraging elderly people to stay active in lockdown. The Covid-19 recipients have embodied the blitz spirt which was led by the Captain Tom who was awarded a knighthood earlier in the year.
There is never a better time to put forward someone for a honour, from anywhere in the country. The Government sets out very clear guidelines, on how to nominate someone, at gov.uk/honours. All you will need to do is fill out an online form, describing in no more than 500 words why your nominee is deserving of an award. You also need two supporting letters of reference. Now is the best time for us have a honours system which reflect the whole of society, so nominate someone today.
BAME headteachers have to work 10 times as hard to be acknowledged for the work they do – so it’s wonderful that Yvonne Conolly has finally been appointed CBE, saying Harris Bokhari
The achievement of being the first person to break a glass ceiling for your community can never be underestimated. And being an excellent educator and outstanding headteacher isn’t easy at the best of times. But being the first of your community to do this means you have to work 10 times harder without making any of the mistakes afforded to others. This is rarely acknowledged when awarding national honours.
My father became the first Muslim headteacher in the early 1980s and faced racist abuse from day one of his appointment. He was an excellent headteacher and turned his school into one of the best in the country, but along the way he faced abuse from elements of the education establishment and from parents who didn’t want to see him succeed.
These pioneers know that if they make one mistake they could lose their career, which could then impact the next BAME (black, Asian or minority-ethnic) educator who applies for a headship. That’s what makes these educators exceptional and why we need to recognise them at the highest of levels. Combined with the voluntary work that many of them do in their own and wider communities, the question I ask myself now, given that I sit on the honours committee, is: why did my late father receive only an OBE when many of his non-diverse counterparts were knighted while achieving the same results without having faced the same level of prejudice or having made such contributions in their voluntary work?
But the biggest injustice of all has been the sidelining of the generation of “first” minority headteachers. More than 50 years ago, we had the first generation of black headteachers. The Windrush generation brought a level of excellence in education that was needed to a country developing into a rich multicultural society. When Tony O’Connor, a former RAF sergeant who had served in the Second World War, became Britain’s first black male headteacher in 1967, it came at a time when race relations were at their worst in Smethwick, coming off the back of the most racist electoral campaign in British history. His appointment led to the school walls being daubed with swastikas and racist slogans. Death threats were commonplace and were also faced by both the first and second black female headteachers, Yvonne Connolly and Beryl Gilroy, with Connolly needing to take a bodyguard with her to school.
One thing that the three first black headteachers had in common is none of them ever received a senior national honour. They were exceptional headteachers, just as good, if not better, than other headteachers who had received senior honours. So why were they overlooked when they were in the education system and, more importantly, when they retired?
What also makes this more upsetting is that each of them was active in public service in a voluntary capacity during their working lives and even into their retirement. Dr Gilroy was an active member of the Race Relations Board as well as being a founder member of the Camden Black Sisters. Connolly founded the Caribbean Teachers’ Association, served on the home secretary’s Advisory Council on Race Relations and was a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Sadly, both O’Connor and Gilroy are no longer with us, and national honours cannot be awarded posthumously.
But after four decades of successive prime ministers and governments ignoring the contributions made by our pioneering black headteachers, justice has finally done by Boris Johnson awarding a senior national honour, a CBE, to Yvonne Connolly.
At the start of Black History Month, the prime minister dedicated his video message to Connolly and told of how “she inspired and mentored not only her young charges but also generations of educators”.
The awarding of the CBE has corrected the decades of neglect and sacrifices that our first BAME headteachers made, not only in breaking the glass ceiling but facing abuse and death threats from the far right just for doing their job.
Fifty years on, Connolly has received tributes from HRH The Prince of Wales and the education secretary Gavin Williamson. What is important is that we never forget the contributions our pioneering headteachers have made but also remember that we need to recognise those headteachers and educators who still face prejudice on a daily basis – be it related to their race, sex, faith or sexuality. The impact on children from minority backgrounds of having a headteacher who looks, sounds and comes from the same background from you can never be underestimated.
As the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said in his mayoral victory speech: “It was my headteacher Naz Bokhari, an outstanding teacher and a role model for me and thousands of other children at Ernest Bevin College, who encouraged me to go to university and aim to give something back into society. He made me realise that skin colour and background should never be a barrier to fulfilling your potential.”
Now is the time to remember our diverse educators, so please nominate them today at gov.uk/honours. Let’s not allow another generation of educators to pass without acknowledging their contribution to our country.
Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation
The coronavirus crisis impacts BAME communities – and Muslims in particular – in unforeseen ways, writes Harris Bokhari
A little over two weeks ago, the government announced that schools should close to all, except for children who are vulnerable and those whose parents are key workers “critical to the Covid-19 response”. It was the right decision, bearing in mind the potential for schools to become hotbeds of Covid-19 transmission.
However, it is also important to consider the disproportionate impact this decision will have on black and minority ethnic families, and Muslims in particular.
BAME children are more likely to live in extended family structures, with their grandparents and other elderly relatives. These children are now more likely to be in sustained close proximity with these elderly relatives, who are at greatest risk of experiencing fatal symptoms due to Covid-19.
One has to wonder about the impact of these death rates on the children themselves. With the month of Ramadan approaching, Muslim families will have been preparing for a time of greater community spirit, with adults and children gathering in the evenings in mosques to share food and prayer; enjoying the solidarity of fasting and eating together. Instead, they will have to contend with greater isolation at home, and potentially seeing their loved ones dying.
Due to restrictions on funeral rites, in place to prevent transmission of the virus, saying goodbye to loved ones will be bereft of the usual closure provided by the elaborate Islamic burial rituals. I fear that this will be fertile ground for mental health issues to take root. Given that mental health awareness is still a work in progress in some BAME communities, this is of particular concern.
The government’s latest lockdown measures are unquestionably the right decision, given their effectiveness in slowing the spread of the disease. Nonetheless, they will entail greater disruption for BAME children and families. For many BAME parents, extracurricular faith and community schools can also provide an important social, cultural and moral education for their children.
These evening and weekend schools closing, although the right move, will increase burdens on parents and potentially bring more vulnerable elderly relatives into childcare roles. Not to mention that these schools form an important part of the routines of many children, giving them the opportunity to build their confidence and feel a part of community life. Losing this will be a further blow, again with potential implications for their mental health.
Economics will also play a role in exacerbating these issues. With some exceptions, BAME children are more likely to be eligible for free school meals. Many of these children are in effect dependent on their schools to receive adequate nutrition. A closure of schools will put BAME households under greater pressure to ensure that their children are well fed. These households are less likely to own a house or have any savings, and more likely to use food banks. This makes them extra vulnerable to shocks to their income, or increased pressure on food banks and other public services that they are reliant on. I was pleased, therefore, to see education secretary Gavin Williamson’s guarantee that children eligible for free school meals will continue to be provided for while their schools are closed – and into the Easter holidays. This will prevent many children from going hungry in the coming weeks and months.
The government has demonstrated a laudable awareness of how measures taken in response to the Covid-19 threat will impact the most vulnerable. During these challenging times, we must also ensure that we remain sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable children, many of whom come from BAME backgrounds.
With more time taken up with in-class planning, because of higher scrutiny and requirements, and many classroom assistants taking more of a teaching role, there is less time forteachers to organise tripsand sessions to raise the aspirations of their students, or to expose them to things that may be outside thecurriculum but of immense personal value to them. Having the support of voluntary educational groups, therefore, has never been more important.
These groups work to take the load from our already over-burdened teachers by providing valuable contact time with children from various backgrounds. Either through dance or music classes, or with extra help in core subjects, voluntary groups provide a supplement to children’s education that many simply cannot do without.
These groups also intrinsically impart lessons about the important role of charity and the ethos of giving back to society. The excellent work these volunteer groups do outside the classroom cannot be underestimated, and is often cited by teachers as a reason for children’s progress in the classroom.
One such group is the inspirational Soroptimist International of Bournemouth. Founded 80 years ago, this women’s volunteer-led group supports schools in the classroom through its Stem Challenge, inspiring hundreds of girls to take upscience, technology, engineering andmathssubjects. It helps them to think about future careers in these industries, as well as educate them on issues and challenges internationally, with the emphasis on advancing the cause of women across the globe.
Swansea-based groupEgypt Centre Volunteers demonstrates the important role that voluntary groups play to enhance the educational needs of our students outside the classroom. Through its Saturday workshops, targeted at socially and economically disadvantaged local children, it has helped to improveliteracyand numeracy, raise confidence and foster a love of learning.
The impact of voluntary groups
Both these groups have previously been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which sits within the honours system, recognising volunteer groups and their exceptional service to local communities. The recognition of such groups is no more than they deserve.
There are hundreds of other – equally vital – educational voluntary groups across the country, which should also rightly be lauded for their work. Yet, in 2019, there was not a single educational voluntary group among the awardees. Considering the role these groups play in providing support to increasingly stressed and overstretched teachers, this has to change in 2020.
Three of the seven biggest causes of teacher stress,as noted in this very publication, areworkload, behaviour management and league tables. Supplementary voluntary groups add value by helping teachers manage their workload by covering topics that teachers simply cannot get round to during class time, in a more relaxed setting. They also help teachers tomanage behaviourin class, by providing an outlet outside the classroom for children who struggle within it. And they provide support to those kids who need that extra help to get the grades they want.
Educational voluntary groups do a great deal to directly and indirectly reduce teacher stress.
Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation
The recent anniversary of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech led to thecontroversialreading of his complete speech on BBC Radio 4. This was the first time it has been broadcast in its entirety.
At first BBC’s Amol Rajanpromotedthis as a great media event, but after facingbacklashfrom civil and human rights organisations, he acknowledged the potential distress the reading of the whole speech could cause andclarifiedthe format of the programme. Amol is a champion of ethnic minority rights and I have seen first-hand how he, as a person belonging to an ethnic minority himself, from a working-class background, smashed theglass ceiling by becoming first non-white editor of a mainstream newspaper. Today he continues to mentor and inspire the next generation of journalists from harder-to-reach and underrepresented communities.
Sometimes the power of words can impact and affect individuals in many ways – by opening unhealed wounds brought about from persistent hate speech in the face of the recent rise in hate crime. In my opinion, I think Amol got it right in the end – that it is important we remember the speeches and sentiment; in particular, those ideas that are racist and hate-driven promoted by members of our past establishment, that have shaped the society we live in today. But this should never happen at the cost of forgetting the pain and suffering caused while reflecting on how we should never allow this to happen again.
Racism and prejudice
This was evident when theNaz Legacy Foundationrecently arranged for 70 young diverse students from mainly deprived communities to attend our specialdiversity day, which included a tour of theFirst Waves Exhibitionthat celebrates the introduction of the first Race Relations Acts in Parliament 50 years ago. The students were given a personal tour by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee’s own works of art appointee, Scarlett Crawford, and she explained the impact that the Acts had on minority communities and the different aspirational role models whom they could identify with.
After walking down Downing Street and taking selfies outside the famous black doors, they had a chance to question three inspirational MPs, Nusrat Ghani – the first Muslim women minister to speak at the Commons despatch-box; Dawn Butler – the first elected Afro-Caribbean female minister; and Jo Swinson, who was elected as the youngest MP of her intake.
But what impacted the students more was attending home secretary Sajid Javid’s Commons Questions. Having a Muslim from a working-class background as the home secretary no doubt raised the aspirations of the students. However, when an opposition MP said he “sounds like Enoch Powell”, it affected the students the most.
That insult created the biggest discussion amongst the students. Despite the majority of the young people expressing their support for Labour, they found having someone from an ethnic minority compared to the infamous “Rivers of Blood” Powell extremely offensive. Even though most of them disagreed with his policies, they felt admiration for how Sajid dealt with this provocation with calm and logic, reminding them of the difficulties they face as ethnic minorities: both the hostility and the importance of not coming across as angry and defensive when responding to it.
No matter what aspect of someone’s minority identity – be it socioeconomic, race, faith or sexual orientation – it is never an easy journey to reach to the top. All too often women are portrayed as bossy when they lead, black people as aggressive when making a point, and Muslims as angry or extreme when taking their religion seriously.
Despite the students feeling proud that someone from their background can succeed at the highest levels, it also showed them that prejudices, conscious and unconscious, still need to be tackled. They will still need to navigate their own way, to follow those pioneers – but they also need to learn how to overcome the challenges they face when provoked by the double standards with which they are viewed just because of their background.
Our First Waves have changed Britain for the best, but it is our new waves that will define our future.
Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation
Throughout historystudent protestshave been instrumental in driving social and political change. Young student demonstrations against apartheid inSouth Africadrew global attention to the plight of black people and ignited similar protests by students across the world that helped to result in international sanctions. In turn, these sanctions played a key role in dismantling the apartheid government.
Today, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have walked out of their classes to join a worldwideclimate strikeamid growing anger at the failure of politicians to tackle the escalating environmental crisis. The question about the merits of young people protesting raises its head once more.
Few would disagree that climate change is thebiggest existential threathumanity faces. Too often politicians remain focused only on their current term in office and on short-term policymaking to meet the immediate concerns of citizens and ensure they get re-elected. We need braver politicians to rise to the challenge of averting climate catastrophe – and to cooperate to keep global warming below 1.5C – by reimagining some of the unsustainable assumptions that underpin our economy. That includes making the case to the public that this will help us all, taking on powerful vested interests along the way.
This may well be the main lesson to take away fromBrexit.Whichever way we voted, the narrative pursued by many – media and politicians alike – over the past few decades promoted the negatives and short-term effects of being in the EU more than the benefits of staying in. When the time to vote came, it should not have been a great surprise that so many wanted to leave. The referendum was decided not in 2016, but by a political culture set fast in the decades before it.
‘Education through meaningful protest’
We can learn lessons from this in tackling climate change. Seemingly radical and bold policies which would mean we would have to change the way our economy works in the short term would require a break, perhaps an unpopular break, from the status quo – but it would benefit us and future generations in the long term. Are our politicians prepared to make the difficult arguments and take on vested interests, like those from the fossil fuel industry? Are we prepared to do what is needed and vote to save the planet for our children and grandchildren?
Despite some politicians scoffing at most of the students demonstrating – claiming that they were there simply to avoid “double maths” – one day is never going to be a deal breaker when it comes to a student’s future grades. And, by striking on a school day, they got the national and international coverage they needed. This not only increased the debate among students about climate change but, at a time when media coverage is dominated by Brexit, they managed to move the debate in the mainstream media. It was an operation that any leading public relations firm would have been proud of.
The impact of these student demonstrations should not be marred by the very small number who protested in thewrong way I have witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm of students protesting when I, in my youth, organised protests for international causes for justice and, in particular, against theillegal war in Iraq. From experience, I can tell you that you can never be in a position to manage all protesters, and you can only do your best, using stewards who are volunteers. Even though I – along with other protest organisers – would always condemn the actions of the unhelpful minorities, such condemnations are not always reported. This can be frustrating, as it detracts from the arguments being made about why you are protesting in the first place.
I am confident that today’s student protests will lead to the promotion of the same values of integration and inclusion I learned. The power of uniting and bringing together people from all backgrounds, classes, ethnicities, sexual orientations, faiths and no faith around one uniting issue cannot be underestimated. It enables young people to look beyond their conscious and unconscious bias, to meet people they would never normally encounter and, despite their differences, learn they have more in common with each other than what divides them.
This lesson cannot be taught in the classroom. However, by uniting over global issues that impact all of them, it can also help them understand the local issues they are facing – from poverty to knife crime. Protests, then, can be seen as part and parcel of what makes us a healthy democracy. The right to protest, the right to assembly and to freedom of speech were hard-won, and have been even harder to hold on to. To look down on, or to discourage our young people from such a seminal moment in their engagement with the democratic process, and their rights as citizens, rights that are not afforded to many of their counterparts across the world, is short-sighted.
Unlike the anti-Iraq War protests, however, which, of course, did not prevent the war, I ask myself if this latest wave will lead to the real change needed to save the planet, or if, by the time protesters change the mindset of the country, it will be too late?
Education through meaningful protest can become the most powerful tool to bring about real change in the world. Young people throughout history, from thecivil rights movement to the Velvet Revolution, and more recently the movement forgun controlby schoolchildren in America, have always been at the forefront of the fight. Their protests have helped to shift attention to issues of global injustice and, in many cases, helped to change them.
Are we and our political leaders listening to them and, if we don’t, how will this affect both their future behaviour and the ability to effect change in society as a whole?
Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation
Research by the Prince’s Trust says that young people are breaking new records (and not in the right way) on happiness and wellbeing. They also offer our best hope, however, and this renewed focus must be welcomed.
Now is the time for us to empower young people to take on some of the
challenges that more experienced generations are struggling to tackle –
including that of social integration.
That means learning from our mistakes and setting aside the tribal
short-termism of our politics in favour of longer-term investment in our
future. It also means daring to give young people the full freedom and
power that a liberal, secular and open democracy like ours affords.
We may struggle to provide all the answers that the future demands
but we can invest more in the young people that will provide them. We
can better prepare them by helping them develop empathy, cooperation,
and other soft skills such as negotiating a path through differences.
Critical to this is young people being able to work together and integrate better than we are managing now.
Britain is projected to get more diverse – by 2050, the proportion of
British residents belonging to an ethnic minority is projected to rise
to 38 per cent, double what it is today.
Economic disruption risks deepening social divides. Already, the Social Integration Commission estimates
that a lack of integration costs the UK as much as £6 billion each
year. Its true cost is likely to be far more expensive than that.
The spirit of our communities has been severely tested in recent months. And people in Britain from all backgrounds responded.
That pain felt by so many of us was met with solace as people opened their hearts
to the survivors and families of Grenfell, as taxi drivers shuttled
worried concertgoers home in the wake of the Manchester attack, as
doctors, nurses and fire-fighters bent the laws of human capability to
their exceptional will – repeatedly.
I worry most about the kinds of callous attacks by terrorists
designed to drive our communities apart. Religious fanatics and
far-right zealots fuel violence that is ever dependent upon hatred.
Meanwhile, day-to-day hate is menacing: recorded hate crimes increased by 19 per cent last year –
or 62,518 offences. 79 per cent were motivated by race hate, 12 per
cent by sexual orientation, 7 per cent by religion, 6 per cent by
disability and 1 per cent were transgender hate crimes.
We must marshal all our talents and leadership to turn this story around.
I had the honour in June of working together with His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, The Archbishop of Westminster, for an “Interfaith Iftar” that would only rarely be possible outside open societies like ours.
The engagement brought together the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and a hundred young people aged 15-30 –
representing all boroughs of London, and from all faiths and none. We
discussed how to bring London’s communities together. Then we broke bread, together.
The words of one young woman especially struck a chord with me. She
pleaded: “Let us make mistakes – and promise to be patient with us when
She is absolutely right. Young people must be able to make their own,
often difficult, journeys: people will always make mistakes. How we
respond, with patience and forgiveness, matters, especially during a
time when every word a young person utters on social media can stick with them permanently.
For some years, I didn’t think much about my friendship circles: our
religious beliefs, worldviews and our prejudices were overwhelmingly
similar – providing security and comfort.
This stopped me plunging into introspection, but unlike the pressures
afforded to young people today, I had the privilege of time and life
experience to build perspective.
I now regret some views I had earlier in my life about people outside
my own friendship group. That it was part of my personal journey is not
an excuse, that it was avoidable fuels my passion for bringing people
together so they do not repeat the same mistakes I made.
Only in the furnace of meaningful interaction with people from
different backgrounds and opposing views did my barriers melt away.
Perhaps it is right for us to be more “muscular” in forging a more
integrated future with our young people. We need not leave it to chance:
we can design opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come
together to break down their prejudices and realise what they have in
As the son of a headteacher, who handled diversity
far better than I ever have done, I am a believer in the power of our
educationalists to lead this empowerment, and not just through the
The first recommendation of the Social Integration Commission still
requires robust political action: that every school provides
opportunities for their pupils to interact with children belonging to
different ethnic groups and income backgrounds.
But it is increasingly online where we must turn our efforts. Our discussions at the Iftar emphasised
how we can better wrestle with the social media algorithms that force
us down pathways towards the things we already like.
We must approach it critically, and carve out spaces for differing views. I’m inspired by people like Daniel Lubetzky – the son of a Holocaust survivor, businessman and philanthropist – whose Foundation is shaking up Facebook feeds.
Ultimately, we must rely on more than people’s good-hearted will.
Governments must show leadership. They must lead by example in
meaningfully bringing people together and creatively incentivising ways
of empowering and integrating young people. Initiatives like the Great Get Together electrified the nation: it’s an example that all in public life can learn from.
I am as confident as I am optimistic about our nation’s young people
being willing to forge a future of their own making. Our legacy lies
with them: let us power that opportunity for them.
There is a great deal to be optimistic about in London today.
Within London’s schools, streets and parks is a symphony of different
languages, cuisines, faiths, fashions and cultures: London today is a
place where it’s possible to fluidly move between identities, and
experience a multitude of global communities in a single day.
It is an experience many of us know, and one that I can personally
attest to. Growing up as a young person of faith, I have as many vivid
memories of eating kosher salt beef sandwiches in Golders Green as I do
of studying the architecture of London’s churches with my father, the
late Naz Bokhari.
And it’s also not an experience that has come about by chance.
Steadily, sometimes quietly, but always persistently, it is a landscape
that has been shaped as much by the energy of its young people as it has
by its civic and political leaders.
London’s experience of diversity is exceptional – and it deserves to
be celebrated and invested in. However, at the same time many of our
diverse communities, and in particular our youth, are feeling
vulnerable. Since Brexit, teachers have reported an increase in bullying of young children
with Eastern European heritage. A young member of my own family was
told by a stranger to “Leave” the country the day after the vote.
That is why Lambeth Palace’s Interfaith Iftar, organised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in partnership with the Naz Legacy Foundation, the foundation set up in the name of my late father, could have not come at a more important time.
One hundred young Londoners of different faiths or no faith joined
the Archbishop and Chief Rabbi, with the new mayor of London, in the
breaking of the fast during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. At a
time when the bond between London’s eclectic communities is constantly
being tested, the iftar was an opportunity to affirm the unifying
culture of the London that I grew up in.
The now infamous “selfie” taken by the mayor, Sadiq Khan, perfectly
symbolised the spirit of the Lambeth Palace Iftar. With the Archbishop
of Canterbury and Chief Rabbi either side of him, and the future of
London behind them, a hundred young optimists laid claim to a more
welcoming and diverse future. The selfie went viral within hours.
Amongst those sharing it, JK Rowling tweeted that “this picture gives me hope”; and actor Ashton Kutcher reminded us that “we have so much more in common than we realise”.
But the event was more than the infamous selfie. The young people
came together to discuss their ideas about how they wanted to bring
communities together and then had an opportunity to present these ideas
to the Archbishop, Chief Rabbi and the mayor of London. Many of them are
now working together supporting existing community projects and using
their new-found friendships to develop new ideas to benefit all
‘We can learn a lot from our youth’
Our leaders and all of us have much to learn from our youth about the
spirit of what London can and should be. London’s young people, who are
enriched by the cultures of their elders or their neighbours, yet
firmly rooted in the identity of their city, are uniquely positioned to
bring and bind diverse communities together.
They are simultaneously able to rejoice and look past their
differences; they are often willing to be more courageous to make a
stand for progress. Throughout London, they are agitating for change, in
their universities, colleges, and schools, as well as their churches,
synagogues, temples and mosques.
Equally, elders and leaders throughout London have a responsibility
to act as role models – particularly for those youth who are excluded
from the opportunities our city and society have to offer. The new mayor
of London – the son of a bus driver and raised on a council estate –
credited in his speech the inspirational role that his secondary school
headteacher, Naz Bokhari, played in his life. Naz Bokhari happened to be
the first Muslim and Asian headteacher in the UK, living proof that
one’s ethnic or religious heritage needn’t be a barrier to aspiration
The Lambeth Palace Interfaith Iftar was thus a fitting tribute to the
legacy of Naz Bokhari, who worked tirelessly to bring communities
together and inspire and support the next generation of leaders.
For the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the mayor of
London to join hands with diverse young Londoners and stand united in
celebration sends a strong message of hope to nation, country and world.
And for the elders of our city to sit and break bread with its youth
will set the tone for the sort of communities we want – diverse, and
bonded and united by their energy and optimism.
In the next generation we place our greatest hopes – to go that bit further than our own. I learned this trait early from my late father, Naz Bokhari.
As a parent, together with my mother, he constantly instilled in my sister Hina and I the need and the tools to give something back to society. He drew the connection firmly between our own education, which we could not take for granted, and public service: it gives the classroom its sense of purpose.
Nor were we alone, as pupils of his would testify. As an educationalist, most notably as headteacher at Ernest Bevin Secondary School, Naz knew how young people from deprived and minority backgrounds faced unique and systemic challenges in being able to meet their own potential, especially when faced with the racism of that time, which he had himself faced. He mentored, counselled and inspired pupils to overcome these challenges, and persevered with them about the roles they must play in their country, often against all odds.
I was to learn that my father’s commitment to public service had roots in his own education and upbringing in the late days of the Raj, in what we know as Pakistan today. His British education and British teachers had filled him with devotion to Queen and country, and that blossomed through his life in London. This was not pure reverence, rather a recognition of Her Majesty’s ongoing life of service, the exemplary and selfless manner of her conduct, and her vision of a truly inclusive society. It was an example and a vision that spoke to Naz, for the children he wanted to raise and teach.
This is why, for the work of the Naz Legacy Foundation this year, we felt it apt to hone in on the importance of public service, and share with young people the many hopefully inspiring ways in which they can contribute – through first-hand access to the nation’s great institutions.
The nation’s great institutions
Fifty pupils from five schools in our capital will join our Diversity Programme this year – once again supported by TES, the Prince of Wales’ mentoring charity Mosaic and the Prime Minister. We are delighted that pupils will have – all for the first time – the honour of visiting a special royal establishment, Parliament and finally Number 10. Individuals including the Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Stowell, will explain to them the work of their institutions, as well as their own paths and the roles that they play.
We will continue that endeavour of Naz to promote an inclusive sense of democracy: where learning about how you can contribute to your country is the right of all, and where your background should never stand in the way of your aspiration.
But this year we also aim to shine a light on the Queen’s vital role in British civic and democratic society, and the way in which she serves with dedication and humility. I am sure on her 90th birthday, my father would expect nothing less!
It is important for young people, as they try to find their place in the world, to gain an appreciation of the role that the Royal Family plays. Pupils will learn about the positive ways in which the Royal Family, and the countless foundations and initiatives they support, contribute to Britain and the world, often quietly.
Crucially, the Queen shows us that public service is a marathon not a sprint – leaving a true legacy calls upon the test of time. Though the reach of our foundation is limited, we hope this message – Naz’s message – can be received more widely. The nation and its institutions belong to all our children, and we must help them to discover a sense of civic duty, no matter where they are from.
‘The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education‘ – Martin Luther King Jr
Individuals like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr are inspirational heroes who open the minds of young people. More recently, names like Malala Yousafzai have had an astonishingly powerful effect in awakening hearts. Their stories show young people that they have the potential to achieve anything despite the adversities they may face – that they, too, can be limitless.
But when we mention the names Shazia Ramzan, who was also hit by the shower of Taliban bullets in the back of their school bus with Malala, or Wyatt Walker, who supported Martin Luther King Jr during the life-threatening US civil rights movement, these same faces turn blank.
It is often too easy to place the groundbreaking human rights achievements or struggles of nations on one or two charismatic individuals. But this misrepresents the collectivism of their struggles.
For alongside the most famous names, hidden from view, are the equally important unsung heroes and invisible stars. They powered the movements that fought injustices. Yet for most of us, these are people we know too little about.
For young people, it is crucial they get to know them. This is not theory: they provide the real examples to young people that they can all be special, that they all have amazing talents that the world needs, and they all can play a powerful role to bring about positive change in society.
These examples remind young people too that real change doesn’t come overnight but is the product of great vision, and sheer grit. It proves that change is not about fame as much as it is about sacrifice and selflessness. And it shows that to be a change-maker means more than being the leader that tops the organisation, the figurehead whose name is chanted by a crowd, or the spokesperson on television. Everyone can and must play their wonderful part – just like people in the great movements did. Take the words of Malala:
‘One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.‘
We must discover, highlight and celebrate the hidden heroes of the world. We must teach that change didn’t always come from one person but a movement of like-minded individuals campaigning together – be it for racial equality, education for all or the end of apartheid.
Some of the unknown heroes of our age are the people who stood in the dock with Nelson Mandela. They were prepared to sacrifice their lives for freedom and racial equality.
This January 2016 they will be coming to London to meet 40 lucky young people.
Ahmed Kathrada (accused no. 5), Denis Goldberg (accused no. 3) and Andrew Mlangeni (accused no. 10) were all sentenced to life imprisonment and served 74 years in jail between them.
And we’ll remember the words of Nelson Mandela: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’