Happy 21st Birthday OBV


It is sometimes difficult to find things to celebrate when there are a lot of negative events going on: the four terror attacks - Westminster, London Bridge, Manchester, and Finsbury Park, - the awful tragedy of Grenfell Tower, and the continuing rise of xenophobia as we march towards the EU exit.

But as OBV reaches its 21st birthday-16th July 1997- and is still trying to make an impact to confront and challenge racism through civic and political participation I think it’s right that we duly celebrate this historic milestone.

I first want to say thank you to the OBV board: Rita Patel, Meena Dhobi, Audrey Adams, and David Weaver, all of whom, more or less, have been on this journey for the last two decades. I also pay tribute to co-founder of OBV, the indomitable Lee Jasper.

Then there is the OBV staff, past and present of whom there are too many to mention, but for the longevity and commitment we must mention Francine Fernandes, Merlene Carrington, Rafiq Maricar, Winsome Grace Cornish, Louise Alexander, and Ashok Viswanathan.

As a small, but committed team we’ve strongly believed we can and must change our world. Our central plan hasn’t differed much over the decades: Nurture a new generation of Black leaders, such as Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, recently elected MP’s Tan Dhesi and Marsha De Cordova, over 100 magistrates, the most recent is Paula Robinson-Aberdeen from Lewisham, and over 30 local councillors; and finallly to encourage BME communities to register to vote, and vote in any election. During the last General Election the BME vote increased by 6% and in some marginal seats by nearly 15%.  BME MP’s increased from 41 to 52, a ten-fold increase over twenty years; and by lobbying local and national government with creative and transformative ideas to use policy levers we have attempted to close race inequality gaps.

On this last note we do have something substantive to cheer about. During Theresa May’s reign as Home Secretary OBV began lobbying for her department, the Home Office, to undertake a Race Equality Audit. We felt if the Home Office undertook such a bold endeavour, other departments would be forced to follow suit. May was receptive to the idea, not least because she felt that her Department could do a better job if they were able to forensically see how their policies were impacting on BME communities.

OBV liaised with two senior people on May’s team, Nick Timothy and Will Tanner, both of whom championed the race audit idea at the most senior level. When May became Prime Minister just over a year ago, Timothy pledged to push the idea not just for the Home Office, but right across every Whitehall department.

On the 26th August 2016, the Prime Minister announced the Race Disparity Unit that would be headed by a senior Cabinet Minister. The objective would be for every Government department to forensically look at their data about race inequality, and make it publically available as so to guide local and national policy to effectively deal with persistent race inequality.

In announcing the project the Prime Minister spoke about Government confronting ‘uncomfortable truths’ in order to dramatically reduce race inequality.

Just last week OBV, along with a small number of NGO’s, met with the Cabinet Minister and  First Secretary, Damien Green, who leads on this, to talk about an autumn launch and how this should be a first, but significant step in getting Whitehall to drive policy change based upon the evidence laid bare by the Race Disparity Unit.

The BME NGO groups concluded that if the findings were followed up by dramatic policy changes, this could be a watershed moment similar to the 1964 Race Equality Act.

Clearly we’re not there yet, but today if only for a few hours we can celebrate the effort and commitment of the men and women at this small organisation - OBV - for over more than two decades.

Happy Birthday 21st OBV.

Simon Woolley

In the launch  picture at House of Commons from left to right: Andrew Puddephat then Director of Charter 88, Lee Jasper OBV founder, Yvette Williams- now leading spokesperson for the victims of the Grenfell fire, Rita Patel-OBV Chair, myself and Kumar Mushid -former board member, and Diane Abbott MP