Head and shoulder shot of Ellen Lebethe


The Deputy Mayor celebrates the resilience of older Black, Asian, and minority ethnic Londoners who campaign for equality

Today, 1 October, is both International Day of Older People and the beginning of Black History Month.

This year the theme for International Day of Older People is the Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World.

This brings to mind the told and untold stories of the many older Black Londoners who have devoted their lives to supporting their communities and to campaigning for equality, despite the odds. There have been many Black women who have gone before me who have faced down the many and changing manifestations of anti-immigration, racism and sexism. And some of these inspirational women are still campaigning for equality, despite the ageism and ill health challenges they have faced in older age. Not least the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on older and on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

I am thinking of people such as Ellen Lebethe (pictured above) who grew up facing the racism of apartheid South Africa and remained a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner after moving to the UK in 1972. She witnessed the Broadwater Farm race riot whilst working as a teacher in Tottenham. Later, she chaired the London Older People’s Strategies Group. In this role she gathered older Londoners views’ on how their lives could be improved. She shared this with decision-makers, such as the Mayor of London which informed our policies and programmes. She continues to bring the voices of older Black, Asian and minority communities to decision makers in her borough and nationally through her roles as Chair of Lambeth Pensioners Action Group and as a president of the National Pensioners Convention.

Another inspirational woman is Bridgit Sam-Bailey. Born in Guyana she came to London and realised her dreams of becoming a teacher. She became an Executive Member of the Association of Teachers and co-edited a book “Anti-racist and Multicultural Education”. Today, she is the long-serving chair of Lewisham Pensioners Forum.

Then there is Gerlin Bean, who was born in Jamaica. She came to London to train as a general and psychiatric nurse before changing direction to be an inner-city community development and youth worker. She was instrumental in identifying how the school system was failing Black children and young people and put in place solutions for addressing these problems in inner London.

She recognised that hers and the voices of other Black women were not being heard and founded several organisations, such as the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent as platforms for Black women to raise their voices. She was, as well, an advocate for children’s rights and for disabled people.

These are just three of the many amazing Black, Asian and minority ethnic women older Londoners who live among us, who have faced and fought discrimination. They inspire us to never give up the fight for equality. Which is why the Mayor and fellow members of the London Recovery Board are keen to support Londoners who are still experiencing inequalities. We recently launched a Building A Fairer City action plan. It includes vital recommendations to increase the proportion of funding for user-led groups, such as those run by older people for older people, and wider civil society work that supports Londoners facing discrimination.

Like these three incredible women, the Mayor and I will continue to strive for equality, whatever life might throw at us.

Debbie Weekes Bernard

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard is London’s Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice. Since taking office, Debbie has made it a priority to ensure London’s diverse communities have a voice in their city. She works to promote social justice and equality for all communities and is a key player in driving London’s social recovery from Covid-19. Debbie chairs the Mayor’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory group, as well as London’s Strategic Migration Panel and is co-chair of the Diversity in the Public Realm Commission. She is also a member of the TUC Anti-Racism Taskforce and the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Systemic Inequalities and Social Cohesion.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *