How this pioneering Jamaican teacher and former British Black Panther changed the world
Beverley Bryan had loved reading since childhood. It was by reading books by authors such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright that she learned more about race, especially what it meant to be black and to be a minority. She followed with sermons by Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.
As she became more familiar with these works, she was inspired to learn more about Blackness than ever before. And that’s precisely what she did, eventually becoming a black women’s activist, educator, author and a member of the British Black Panthers (BBP).
Born in the Fairy Hill neighborhood of Portland, Jamaica on August 18, 1949, Bryan’s parents were part of the Windrush generation, the generation that arrived in the UK before 1973. Between 1948 and 1973, the mass exodus of people Afro-Caribbeans in the UK took place. Due to war losses, more Caribbean people were encouraged to migrate to countries under British jurisdiction. From there was born the Windrush generation.
From Jamaica, Bryan and his family settled in the Brixton section of London, UK, where there was a large and growing Caribbean community. While her father worked on the railroads, her mother worked in factories to make sure there was enough to feed the family. Bryan graduated in 1968 from Keele University, a high school in London, and as she wanted to become a teacher, she registered at the University of London, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Arts in Language and Literature in Education and a Ph.D. a degree in philosophy in language teaching in 1976.
Between 1965 and 1967, Bryan traveled across the country with a group known as the Black Arts Workshop, whose members were black college students who used poetry and the spoken word to demystify racial stereotypes. Bryan traveled with them to perform in youth clubs, but as she wanted to teach she moved to Brixton after training school and got a job as a schoolteacher.
Being in a black community with most of his students being black, Bryan’s curriculum was also black; she taught black stories, black culture, and black history. “The main reason I chose a black program was because when I think about my own experiences, if people insulted you, rather than saying, ‘I’m not black,’ you could point out what the blacks had accomplished”, she Recount The Guardian recently.
While teaching, Bryan became an active member of the BBP founded by Nigerian playwright and political activist Obi Benue Egbuna in 1968 in Notting Hill, London. Between 1961 and 1964, reports indicated that the black population in Britain grew from 300,000 to 1 million, leading to more racial and class issues. Indeed, racism was deeply embedded in British society amid stories of police brutality against black people. Additionally, black people were racially profiled and targeted by authorities.
Although not an official Black Panther chapter, the BBP was the first Panther organization outside of the United States. police brutality in Britain.
Bryan joined the BPP after a friend told him about it. As a member of the Panthers, Bryan ran one of the group’s Saturday schools where she offered extra math and English classes to teach children about black history while helping to fight racial discrimination. which was common in education, the Guardian said.
As the BBP continued to fight racial discrimination and oppression, much like the Panthers in the United States, the police continued to harass them. The Mangrove, a Caribbean restaurant on All Saints Road in Ladbroke Grove, London, has been repeatedly raided by police, prompting a protest march by locals. Nine BBP leaders, including Jones, Darcus Howe and Barbara Beese, were falsely accused of rioting and fighting after the protest march.
Their trial made headlines following their call for an all-black jury and their decision to have three members represent themselves in court. At the end of the day, the jury acquitted all nine defendants. And for the first time, a judge publicly acknowledged there was “evidence of racial hatred” within London police, according to BlackPast.
Amid the threat of police violence during the trial, Bryan gathered reports about the trial and helped ensure volunteers were gathered to attend the public gallery. She also distributed the group’s newsletter, Freedom News, which documented the case. Additionally, she joined a group of women who formed a picket outside the court. The women knew that the police were less likely to arrest them, especially if they had their children with them. And that’s exactly what they did, Bryan told the Guardian.
Despite the Mangrove Nine’s acquittal, Bryan said there were other cases involving black people that did not end well. Additionally, police brutality continued and so when the BBP disbanded in 1973, Bryan and other BBP women decided to continue their political activism by forming the Brixton Black Women’s Group. Bryan and the group focused on women’s issues within Britain’s black community and in 1985 she co-wrote with two other members of her group, The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain, a publication which highlighted challenges and triumphs. black women in Britain.
But while working to fight for equality in the UK, Bryan said she “never felt completely settled”. This, alongside police violence in the UK, influenced her decision to return to Jamaica with her husband and sons in 1992. After arriving in Jamaica, she began teaching at the University of the West Indies, starting as lecturer in educational studies before being promoted to lecturer in 2002, then professor in 2011.
With his expertise in Jamaican Creole literature and language, she published a book in 2010 titled Between Two Grammars: Research and Practice for Language Learning and Teaching in a Creole-Language Environment. The author and black women’s activist also worked in the Jamaican Ministry of Education as an advisor on primary education and improving literacy.
Now retired, Bryan is still much sought after not just in his native Jamaica, but in the UK and elsewhere for his inspirational talks, particularly on women and black life in general.