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Humanity shows its face for Movement Against Racism on Parker’s Piece

Parker’s Piece was the venue for Saturday’s march
Parker’s Piece was the venue for Saturday’s march

The MAR Afro Appreciation event took place on Parker’s Piece yesterday, with a march along Gonville Place and a socially distanced gathering on the green to hear musicians and speakers share songs and stories about the need to work together to address common issues.

‘MAR’, or ‘Movement Against Racism’, has already organised two events since the killing of George Floyd at the end of May. The first was on June 27, followed by another on July 11. This third event, attended by around 200 people - of whom around 50 per cent were wearing masks - was supported by Rebel Arts, Sew Angry, Stand Up To Racism and and Extinction Rebellion.

A “Black Lives Matter-friendly” event, it took place on August 1 because “August 1 is the anniversary of the abolition of slavery”, said co-organiser Safiya Mawusi.

Introducing the event, Safiya told the crowd assembled on Parker’s Piece: “We have the foundation to have an amazing city, and this is an opportunity to bring people together and take the conversation on.”

“We pray then play,” said the following speaker, who continued: “Thank you for this day which is all about community, we commit our life into your hands oh father God, we thank you for bringing us here.”

The music was outstanding, with acoustic versions of ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ and ‘Purple Rain’ showcasing a blues-flavoured set.

“The blues is the root, the rest is the fruit,” said the singer on the stage under a gazebo between songs.

A healing moment on Parker’s Piece during the Afro Appreciation event
A healing moment on Parker’s Piece during the Afro Appreciation event

The first speaker, Ontonio, urged young men in the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities to start to share their emotions.

“It’s better to speak than suffer in silence,” he said after sharing a story about a young man whose sense of alienation was so profound that he decided to take his own life, before meeting an old man who took the trouble to talk with him and restored his faith in life. “We know the BAME community is the least likely to go into therapy and the most likely to drop out.

“You don’t have to go through it alone. If you trust in god there’s nothing he can’t help you to do because in every single dark situation there is greatness. Bob Marley may be dead but you can emancipate yourself from mental slavery - none but our self can free our minds. There is so much god wants to unlock in you. The greatest freedom is to have a mind that is not full of fear, anger and hurt and you have to release that toxic energy.”

Antonio was followed by Jill Eastland of Rebel Arts and a poem, ‘Please’, by Aminah Rahman (extract at foot of article).

The event passed off peacefully except for one incident in which the police were called.

“We had police liaison officers but they had to leave at 5pm,” said Safiya, adding that the event finished at 6.30pm. “A gentleman came up shouting at the DJ, he was shouting so much you could see he was spitting, he said he was working from home and was a local resident and could hear the bass. Some people from the pub were trying to stand up for us, we said we didn’t need help but it was getting out of hand so I called the police, a police car was actually passing and they came over to the man who then became completely different, saying: ‘I have no problem with music’.”

Co-organiser Safiya Mawusi beside the stage on Parker’s Piece. Pictures: Mike Scialom
Co-organiser Safiya Mawusi beside the stage on Parker’s Piece. Pictures: Mike Scialom

Today (Sunday) Safiya said of the event: “I was really happy with how it turned out, in the last three weeks we’ve got a lot done, and I want this to be an annual event for the first weekend in August and that makes me think of how much more we can get done. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and many people were dancing - everyone enjoyed the music.

MAR is a group of four: Safiya, Claudette Anderson and Lorenza Joseph-Banks live in Cambridge, and Makeda Mawusi - Safiya’s younger sister - is Newmarket-based. They were brought together by a mutual friend, Shanika McFarlane, in June.

Some attendees found some of the speakers rather evangelical. On Facebook, Linda Richardson said: “In these times, when we are wrestling free from the patriarchal dominance that has caused immense harm, I was really disorientated by people of colour bracketing themselves in a religion that to this day sends missionaries to ‘enlighten’ indigenous peoples.”

“To start an Afro March with ‘father god’ would be more expected to me than ‘Allah be praised’,” replied Nadia Macari-Brown, while Lulu Agate wrote: “I felt myself wince at the mention of God due to my own sensitivities about the Protestant Church. However, at an event as important a today’s and the others I hope to attend in the future, what connects us more than anything else, regardless of any or religious or non-religious views we might hold, is our humanity.”

“This is a minefield,” commented Louise de Caux.

“May this time help us to continue to grow and evolve so more can see, as you have expressed, God is Mystery and not male,” added Eydie Stephanie.

Movement Against Racism on Gonville Place. MAR is a Cambridge-based organisation that emerged after the death of George Floyd in the US on May 25
Movement Against Racism on Gonville Place. MAR is a Cambridge-based organisation that emerged after the death of George Floyd in the US on May 25

Safiya said: “It happens that Antonio is a minister as well, with me the way I look at it - and all the organisers agree - this is about unity. Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Hindu - it’s not a Christian event but if you would like to speak then it’s about yourself as a person and that needs to come across in its entirety.

“As a community - or as a world - we need to accept people as they are: to me it should be acceptance in all areas.”

MAR’s goal is to host a regular event like Pop in the Park or Strawberry Fair on Parker’s Piece on or around the time of the anniversary of the abolition of slavery (in 1834).

“Next year we would like more speakers on slavery and how it still exists, and more on education. But it’s not a lecture, it is a way of sharing a lot of information.”

From ‘Please’, by Aminah Rahman:

“I must tell you, black lives matter

I must tell you, racism must shatter

Too much hardship and too much hate

Time to change so please stop the wait

But why, why, why is this the case?

Why are deaths chosen due to what’s on your face?

Just because YOU aren’t affected

Does not mean THAT is reflected

Racism lives in our society

Look I’m telling you, we cannot sit quietly

It’s sad that this happens all the time

It looks like we’ve got more ladders to climb.”

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