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Be careful what you wish for!

Be careful what you wish for! I’m sure that President Barack Obama said that to himself a million times or more, writes Simon Woolley. This article is an excerpt of a speech Simon Woolley, Director of OBV, gave at an Communities and Local Government Department event, when communities minister John Denham launched his race report.

Imagine coming from a one parent family, mixed race, having a name that few could or cared to pronounce, and you dared to dream that you could be the leader of the free world.

And then one freezing morning he woke up and he was that leader of the free world.

Now you are dealing with two wars, American bodies bags are coming home on a daily basis, and you’re charged will dealing with the worst financial crisis for nearly 100 years. Oh, and if you don’t act quickly the world will come to an end with global warming.

Be careful what you wish for!

So how do you cope with what you wished for?

You carry on with the same humility what drove you in the first place. Social justice, racial justice, community harmony.

It is almost a year to the day that Obama was inaugurated and some commentators are already asking on his first anniversary, has he been a disappointment? Has he been a disappointment?! What planet are you living on?

American troops are no longer fighting in Iraq, and  Guantanamo Bay would be shut if Obama could find countries to take the detainees.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who tried and failed, in his first year Obama has introduced universal health care to millions of Americans who have nothing. Many of whom would be African and Latin Americans.

And whatever came out of the Climate change debate in Copenhagen, Obama was leading the debate, unlike George W Bush who was the pariah of the debate.

Not to mention the Noble Peace Prize for changing the global debate towards a more peaceful world.

Only a Black man could achieve so much and still be seen as disappointment!

Phew! Got that off my chest.

But the reason why I mention be careful what you wish for, is that for a long time we’ve said “give us power to change our society our communities”. And then you wake up and you’re told, you asked to be an Equality and Human Rights commissioner, now you are one.

Furthermore, you want to be a driver to deliver race equality? Well we agree that you should have that portfolio. Commissioner for Race Equality.

Be careful what you wish for!

I’m not phased. Alright, I am a little bit. But I’m not too phased.

Same principals apply: you carry on with the motivation and humility that got you here in the first place. Social justice, racial justice, community harmony.

Another factor I would add to that is, as my colleague at OBV Merlene Carrington reminds me, that the title of Commissioner for Racial Equality is not who I am, it’s what I do.

It is a status, if you like, that is borrowed. In this case for three years.

What I do with that borrowed status is important. First, and foremost, don’t get a swell head. Be clear about what you want to achieve: We must reconnect with communities and stakeholders with a very clear message – race equality matters!

Just because Barack Obama is President, that doesn’t mean for a second we live in a post-racial society. You know as well as I do, perhaps even better than I, that there is still a race penalty in education, health, employment, and unemployment. Furthermore, we have a media that will demonise us quicker than a blink of eye.

But know this –  there are a number of opportunities to make big changes. The Equality Bill isn’t perfect, but we can make it work for us. More regulatory powers (you know I’ve been asked to be on the legal committee at the Commssion), and for sure I’ll be lobbying for the strongest enforcement possible.

Woolley and the Black community now have a legal stick to beat those who seek to treat us unjustly.

At some point soon my desire is to set up a mechanism in which a Black collective helps steer the race debate. Helps prioritise what urgently and most effectively needs to be done.

With you help I won’t be worried about what I wished for, I’ll be relishing in it.

Lastly political power.

These elections will be won in metropolitan areas: London, the Midlands and Northern towns. That gives the Black Vote unprecedented clout. Of that there is no doubt. The only questions is, how will we utilise that power?

Will the Black vote, which has for so long been a somewhat sleeping giant, fully awaken and flex its’ muscles and demand a political settlement that affords our children, our parents, our communities, equality of opportunity?

We start next Thursday at Friends House. On the anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King week, and the anniversary almost to the day of the inauguration of Barack Obama, we have invited the former Presidential candidate Rev Al Sharpton to give our key note speech for our election launch, which as you would expect focuses on voter registration.

I invite you all here today. Every single one of you are invited. And you are personally invited to bring four people each. We must give a clear signal to the political elite: “ignore our communities at your peril.”

We must inspire our communities. This is our time to assert what we believe in, what we have fought for, what we demand from ourselves and others.

I promise this with the strength and unity that is bestowed us we will be the generation to make a profound difference.



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