Black Lives Matter: Symbols are important but change is urgent

Cllr Mike Hakata (Labour, St Ann's). Picture: Cllr Mike Hakata

Cllr Mike Hakata (Labour, St Ann's). Picture: Cllr Mike Hakata - Credit: Archant

One of the positive impacts of the Black Lives Matter movement has been the igniting of historical debate.

When the statue of Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol it resonated around the world, bringing to the forefront the story of slavery rarely taught in schools but which has shaped the world and our minds in profound ways.

The idea that monuments which by their very nature celebrate the life and legacy of their subjects should stand proud, representing their town and their country, even when their deeds are soaked in blood and exploitation, has been vividly held to account.

The toppling of statues and the renaming of streets and buildings around the world has not erased history but brought history to life.

This debate must continue and action must continue to be taken.

The arguments for renaming Black Boy Lane, Kitchener Rd, Redvers Rd and Buller Rd in Tottenham are good ones - the last three were all commanders in bloody colonial wars.

The origin of Black Boy Lane is contested. My view is that like many of the roads and pubs across the country which had or still have the same name there is a direct reference to slavery.

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Regardless, it is a name very few residents are comfortable with and should go. That, for me, is not the question. It’s all about timing.

As councillors we have to do not just what we know is easy and popular but what can change local lives for the better. Our job is to create budgets and direct diminishing funds into policies which enrich the lives of all residents. Our priority must be those most disadvantaged. A good friend and activist said that symbolism matters.

Yes it does but real concrete change which eradicates structural inequalities is more urgent and matters more.

Back in the summer of 2018 I supported the plan to rename Town Hall Approach Rd in Tottenham to New Windrush Gardens. However, after consultation and analysis it was decided that the cost was prohibitive (£21k) and councillors agreed unanimously that the time was not right. There are a handful of businesses and no residents on that road. Where there are hundreds of residents costs will be anything from double to quadruple that figure.

In a post-covid world in which the Council is already facing a blackhole far larger than in 2018 I can think of any number of projects which would have a dramatic and long-lasting positive impact on the young black youth of Haringey and where an injection of even modest funding would be the difference between starting, extending or ending the project.

For instance, last year I joined a session of Exodus, a coaching program funded by the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund and run by ex-gang members who had been to prison and now wanted to inspire those kids in gangs or in danger of joining gangs to take positive steps away from the lure of crime.

Another is restorative practice, a form of conflict resolution which aims and succeeds in teaching kids how to take responsibility for their actions, empathise with others and diffuse anger.

Early and effective intervention based on a preventative agenda using frameworks such as restorative practice have seen massive declines in knife crime places like Glasgow and huge drops in youth convictions in Scottish courts over the last decade.

We have been running a pilot locally but must ensure we put as many resources as possible into what could be part of a game-changing public health blitz on knife crime in our Borough.

The hugely popular and successful youth summer activities program with low-cost and free activities including £1 swimming at the leisure centres, tons of arts and sports training and events could certainly do with additional funds to boost the number of events and discounts.

Our Young People At Risk Strategy outlines a number of programs in development, such as the Wood Green Youth Space, which will be completely dependent on councillors making the right decisions and focusing on real transformational policies.

When the time is right and we have made real structural changes then we must return to debate and act on changing the symbols around us to better reflect our values.

Mike Hakata (Lab) is a Haringey councillor for St Ann’s.