2018. Yeah. Here it is. I often think of New Year as just another day, the one after yesterday, the one before tomorrow. What's the big deal?
But there is something magical about this linear time-marker, maybe it's the collective energy that builds around this time that promises something oh so fresh, so shiny and renewed. Hope. Possibilities. Increased love for humanity in the air. The end of rough times coming closer. Festivities and rituals. These little moments and little rituals matter. They make a difference. And when done collectively who knows what alchemy may be occurring.
Last night I bumped in to an old friend at a New Year party...
I recognised his dense velvety voice and juicy laugh but couldn't quite place him. We worked it out. We had studied on the same Black Access course in 1992. We last saw each other in 1993. We reminisced about that incredible year of education and how life changing it was for us. He reminded me I had more grey hairs than him even though he was older. That neither of us, young and minority working class adults, would have got in to university without THAT course.
Our tutors repeatedly told us we were worthy of a university education and they believed in us one hundred percent. It was the first time someone had truly believed in my ability to study and excel - I was 24 years old. It was the first time I'd ever had black and asian teachers - someone to aspire to be and look up to.
The Black Access course was designed to address the inequity and under-representation of BAME folks in university education. It enlightened us students to the institutional and societal discrimination we faced as kids trying to make our way through the secondary education system. It was like having fog sucked from my brain and a wild and sometimes angry awakening. So, it wasn't "all our own fault" after all.
My 2 sisters and I were all placed in lower streams at secondary school even though we were clearly bright. My middle sister, now a Senior Sister of a major London paediatric A & E was told she would never get O-levels. My big sister, now a Senior Social Work Practitioner managing a busy mental health team, was told to become a secretary. Me, I'm starting my second career in therapeutic creative writing after a 23 year career in Social Work. I was told by the school careers officer that I couldn't be a writer and to get a proper job. University wasn't even mentioned.
Why am I going on about this?
Because THAT year of education was pure alchemy. It made us students believe we could succeed and rise above the naysayers. I realised last night that I am here, at this point in my life, by the skin of my teeth. THAT course changed the course of my life. That is the power of education and of having others believe in YOU. Alas, this course no longer exists.
Because we both realised that in many ways not much has changed at a deep societal level to help and encourage those kids without role models, supportive parents, or from low income backgrounds... (fill in the gaps) to access higher education. In fact, it's worse than ever with education cuts, ridiculous university fees and deepening poverty.
Because working class folks are very very under-represented in the arts and humanities in the UK. This is a BIG PROBLEM. It means we only get a narrow representation of what our society is, who it is made up of, the diversity of voices amongst us and this is usually presented to us by an arts and literary elite who edit and shape OUR 'real life experience'.
But there is an UPRISING.
Kit De Wall, who published her first book at 56 years old, "My name is Leon", is currently rallying working class writers in to a rapidly growing movement and calling for submissions to a new anthology of published and unpublished working class writers, "Common People". OUR voices will be heard.
Arts Emergency are actively challenging the glass ceiling and exclusivity of arts and humanities through their mentoring program for young people. I am proud to be mentoring my first young person in writing, mental health and performance this year in Manchester. I feel honoured and privileged that maybe these grey hairs will contain some pearls of wisdom and inspiration for a young'un to go forth and create against the odds.
2018 is going to be the year where we hear more voices that have been held back for far too long. I can feel it in my bones. And it feels bloody great.