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Black History Month: Newham Council officially celebrates annual event after a 10 year absence

PUBLISHED: 14:00 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:46 01 October 2018

Councillor Charlene McLean, deputy mayor of Newham, has helped spearhead 2018's Black History Month celebrations in the borough. Picture: Ken Mears

Councillor Charlene McLean, deputy mayor of Newham, has helped spearhead 2018's Black History Month celebrations in the borough. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

For the first time in more than 10 years, Newham Council is officially celebrating Black History Month.

Councillor Charlene McLean, who grew up in Plaistow round the corner from the Newham African and Caribbean Centre. Picture: Ken MearsCouncillor Charlene McLean, who grew up in Plaistow round the corner from the Newham African and Caribbean Centre. Picture: Ken Mears

It’s been spearheaded, along with residents, by mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and deputy mayor, Charlene McLean.

The West Ham ward councillor, who grew up in Plaistow, said different cultures weren’t always accepted in Newham like they are now.

“There wasn’t always as much culture here,” she said.

“Times have moved on. It’s a good time to be a black person in Newham – it’s a good time for people of any culture and race now I think.”

Councillor Charlene McLean, who grew up in Plaistow round the corner from the Newham African and Caribbean Centre. Picture: Ken MearsCouncillor Charlene McLean, who grew up in Plaistow round the corner from the Newham African and Caribbean Centre. Picture: Ken Mears

The councillor grew up near Newham’s African Caribbean Centre, which opened in 1986. She said in the early 80s, there wasn’t a community space for Newham’s African and Caribbean communities, and it was needed.

“From about 1982 onwards, there was a long battle for this centre,” the 37-year-old said.

“Members of the Newham African and Caribbean alliance fought to get the centre there, but with it being the 80s there was quite a lot of opposition to it.

“The story in the papers at the time were quite sensationalist, there were protests, and people said they would burn it down. It was very hostile.”

The campaigners won their battle, and the centre was opened as a place for people of all heritages to meet. Ms McLean said the centre was instrumental for her growing up.

“If it weren’t for that centre I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.

“I happened to be late for school one day and I saw one of the people who ran it. We started talking and they asked if I’d like to start volunteering.”

Ms McLean’s helped organise the programme of events happening for Black History Month, which include book discussions, film screenings, and a dance.

She said: “The whole purpose of this first year is to find out from residents how they want to celebrate and what they would like to see in future. BHM isn’t something you do once a year, we have to consider our communities throughout.”

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