Marvin Rees: Bristol’s future Mayor?
By any stretch of the imagination it was an outstanding achievement, by 40 year old Marvin Rees. To win the Labour party nomination to stand for the new post of directly elected Mayor for Bristol, Rees had to beat a former MP and two former leaders of the council to win.
‘where did this guy come from, how did he beat these political heavyweights?
Marvin’s victory was no fluke. His journey to this point – he still has a long way to go - has been over a decade long, with some considerable obstacles, the likes of which would have defeated many, but not Marvin.
With OBV’s work in Bristol we came across Marvin as a BBC reporter and community activist. He took part in two of our mentoring schemes; one at Westminster and another with the then Commission for Racial Equality. Very earlier on the local party recognized his talent as a good communicator and someone with solid views about social and racial equality. We had urged many of the schemes participants to put themselves forward to become councilor candidates. Rees was thrilled when the local party invited him to stand for local elections.
But there was a snag: More than 10 years ago there was only one Black councilor-Shirley Marshal- out 55 local representatives. Marshall blazed the trial becoming the first Black councilor in the city. Marvin was asked to stand against her. He was bitterly uncomfortable about the proposal: ‘One in, one out’ he suggested. He sought advice from myself and his local church.
I told him :
‘This will be one of many critical decisions that will define who you are, Marvin’
‘No one will lambast if you stand against Shirley, but if you say no now, you’ll never be afraid to make the right decision in the future’
The non-political church instinctively agreed. Shocked party bosses were furious at the decision Rees had made not to stand against Shirley. A year later they declined his request to be on the slate to fight for a Parliamentary seat.
When speaking to Black audiences up and down the country I often tell Marvin’s story, which is usually met with a spontaneous round of applause. I would phone Marvin to inform him our the audience responded. He later told me that knowing how people responded would lift him from the any doubt that he’d made the right decision.
In the interim years he would be selected to study at one of America’s finest academic institutions Yale, on an international leadership programme, then back to his city to work with community groups, his church and the local political party.
Now this young, who against all the odds stands on the brink of not only becoming Bristol’s first directly elected Mayor, but also the first Black Mayor of any major city UK and indeed Europe. Moreover, this bright young man who will campaign for this historical post in this very historical city will do so with his integrity well and truly intact.
Well done Marvin and good luck in the future.