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Black History Month: Bernie Grant

by Amir Iqbal, your Vice President Student Opportunities and Community

I have lived in three different countries and encountered many barriers, being an immigrant in a society where you are always seen as the reason behind every problem is very tough. It is really complicated to achieve your dreams and live the life you have always dreamt of when you have to deal with all those prejudice and perceptions. It takes a lot of self-belief, determination, and strength in order to live an “ordinary” life as an immigrant. What Sir Bernie did and achieved is my source of inspiration for me and many other BAME students. In fact, He channelled the concerns of his community to the highest levels of Government, he was regarded as the authentic voice of Britain's ethnic minorities.  
Photo of Bernie Grant, respected campaigner

Labour MP Bernie Grant was one of the most charismatic black political leaders of modern times. During his life he campaigned for racial justice and minority rights. Born February 17, 1944. The son of educators, he attended St. Stanislaus College, one of the finest schools in British Guiana. In the early 1960s he moved to the United Kingdom, and worked as a British Railways clerk, a National Union of Public Employees area officer, and as a partisan of the Black Trade Unionists Solidarity Movement. 

A successful local politician, Grant served for a decade as local councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, of which he was elected Leader in 1985. He was the first black head of a local authority in Britain, and was responsible for the well-being of a quarter of a million people, many of them Black and ethnic minorities. Grant joined the Labour Party in 1975 and was elected as Member of Parliament for Tottenham in 1987. 

On the floor of the House of Commons he was outspoken in the cause of eliminating racism both in Britain and the world. He campaigned against racist policing methods, and deaths in custody, on institutionalized racism in health, housing and education, for refugees, and for greater resources for inner city areas. Internationally he fought for the elimination of overseas debt for poor nations, and for the recognition of the past injustices of colonization and enslavement. 

Contrary to popular belief, however, he fought not only for racial justice, but for oppressed people whoever they were. Many thousands valued him for the individual attention he gave to their personal difficulties. 

Bernie Grant channeled the concerns of his community to the highest levels of Government, and was regarded as the authentic voice of Britain’s ethnic minorities 


Bernie Grant brought to parliament a long and distinguished campaigning record. He was a founder member of the Standing Conference of Afro-Caribbean and Asian Councillors and a member of the Labour Party Black Sections. He convened major conferences of politicians, activists, researchers and academics to shape black agendas. Grant also helped tackle racism on a European wide level, in association with members of the European Parliament and anti-racist groups. 

Grant inspired the Parliamentary Black Caucus, co-founded with his fellow "first black parliamentarians" elected in 1987 and Lord Pitt. Inspired by Congressman Ron Dellums and the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, Grant told the PBC inaugural conference in 1989: "For far too long the black community has had no voice in Britain and we are seeking to redress that". His epitaph, he hoped would simply state "Bernie Grant - African Rebel": a fitting tribute to a man who was a powerful link between black communities in Britain and the Black nations and communities of the world. 

As his black parliamentary colleagues rose to the heights of New Labour's centrist government - Paul Boateng to the Home Office, Keith Vaz to the Foreign Office, and Diane Abbott to top-level state committees - Grant alone continued to support old-style trade union, populist democracy and the fight for black political empowerment within the Labour Party. Lee Jasper, a staunch Grant supporter, and chair of the National Black Alliance and the campaign group Operation Black Vote, said: "Bernie will be remembered as a hugely popular man of the people that every black man and woman should aspire to emulate". 

Grant continued work as an MP despite undergoing a heart bypass operation and kidney failure in 1998. In the closing year of his life, Grant addressed the House of Commons saying a just conclusion to the Stephen Lawrence case "is the last chance for British society to tackle racism." 

Image sourced from:


BCUSU Black History Month logo


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