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Writer says Windrush Day is as important as Remembrance Day or clapping for the NHS

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BUDDING performer Khadijah Ibrahiim never knew racism until she went to secondary school.

She had grown up in Leeds amid Irish, Polish, Asian and African communities as well as her own African-Caribbean.

Getty – Contributor

Hundreds of Caribbean immigrants disembarked from the passenger liner Empire Windrush  at Tilbury, Essex in 1948[/caption]

But it was at the Intake High School for performing arts — where Spice Girl Mel B would later study — that she first felt the full force of racial prejudice.

She said: “There were no more than ten black pupils and I felt very out of place. One teacher refused to use my name at registration. Instead they called me Jungle Bunny every day. That affected my learning.”

Now 52 and a celebrated writer and poet, Khadijah is today marking Windrush Day — highlighting the historic occasion in 1948 when hundreds of Caribbean immigrants disembarked from the passenger liner Empire Windrush  at Tilbury, Essex, to plug the labour gap here following World War Two and help rebuild the country.

Those pioneers 72 years ago were the first of a thousands-strong ­Windrush generation who sailed here from the Caribbean until the early Seventies, when immigration laws became tighter.

Khadijah said: “It’s important to honour the contribution of the Windrush generation to British society. Windrush Day is as important as Remembrance Day or clapping for the NHS, as we have done during the pandemic.”

Khadijah Ibrahiim / INSTAGRAM

Gloria McLaren ‘was excited to come to this ‘strange land’’[/caption]

Khadijah Ibrahiim says ‘ Windrush Day is as important as clapping for NHS’
Khadijah Ibrahiim / INSTAGRAM

Rheima Ibrahiim-Robinson says ‘young people know little about’ the Windrush generation [/caption]

Khadijah, who works for the Geraldine Connor Foundation on a Windrush educational project, adds: “The African-Caribbean community has made a huge contribution, from the arts to technology, nursing, engineering and science. 

“I think of Una Marson, the first black woman broadcaster at the BBC; Jamaican poet Claude McKay, whose words were quoted by Winston Churchill during World War Two; of Beryl Gilroy, London’s first black headteacher.  

“But each of us in the African-Caribbean community has contributed to British culture.”

Khadijah’s 80-year-old mother, Gloria McLaren, came to Leeds from Jamaica in 1961, aged 20, and still lives in the city. 

Khadijah says: “Mum was excited to come to this ‘strange land’. She travelled with a friend but was quite disappointed because they had come from an island filled with sun and England was cold.

“Her first impression of Leeds was that it was filled with ‘factories’.

“Those turned out to be terrace houses with chimneys. She had never seen a coal fire before.”

Mediadrumimages

Three gentlemen aboard the ‘Empire Windrush’ in Essex, June 1948[/caption]

Khadijah Ibrahiim / INSTAGRAM

Writer and poet Khadijah Ibrahiim with her mum, Gloria, in Jamaica[/caption]

Khadijah Ibrahiim / INSTAGRAM

Khadijah, right, her grandmother, left, and her mother, centre[/caption]

Gloria had not planned to stay permanently but went on to have five children here. Life was far from easy, though. Khadijah says: “She worked in all sorts of jobs, whatever she could, before training as a mental-health nurse.

“There was a lot of racism, often very threatening. She would get called names in the street and Teddy boys would chase her. You had to know the best way to get home quick, and steer clear of certain areas.”

But Khadijah, now a mother of three and gran of one, says: “I was surrounded by great teachers in my family. 

“My grandparents on my dad’s side, Lucilda and Trevor Winter, came from Jamaica in the late Fifties and were activists for social change.

“Lucilda was a nurse who also set up the first pre-school for black kids in Leeds. My grandad helped set up education-equality campaign group The Brotherhood.”

Luckily, Khadijah’s family were not affected by the Windrush scandal in 2017, which saw  hundreds of British citizens who came here between 1948 and 1971 wrongly detained and even deported. 

It led to a government compensation scheme. But Khadijah says: “I remember, in the 1970s, my mother sorting her papers for her right to stay here.

“She was lucky to know educated people, like lawyers, and knew the importance of it. In 2017, many of her generation who had not sorted their documents were caught up in the Windrush scandal.”


On Sunday, Khadijah and daughter Rheima Ibrahiim-Robinson spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally in Leeds’ Hyde Park.

Leeds University student Rheima, 28, says: “A lot of younger people do not know about Windrush. Even I didn’t know the politics. But Windrush Day helps because people might understand immigrants more and how they have contributed.”

Khadijah adds: “It’s sad we still talk about racial inequality. But the more we recognise Britain’s history, and African-Caribbean people’s contributions, the more we will move toward a more equal, just society.”

  • To find out more about Windrush Day, go to gcfoundation.co.uk.

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