The Face of Grassroots Activism: Isis Amlak

 

 

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Activist Isis Amlak

 

 

Last Friday after watching the Young Historian’s ‘We Our Are Own Liberators’ film, a woman asked me to take a picture of her, because as she needed one for her next Spoken Word performance in THE GAMBIA. I took one, she then told me how she used to WORK for ‘Grassroots’, the home of Black Liberation Front, and a major part of the UK’s Black Power movement. I was happy when she offered to tell some more, we exchanged emails. Here’s what she had to say.

“So I got involved with Grassroots in 1992, I was one of the last in. I was aware off the book store on 71 Golborne Road for a number of years and had been in a few times. Apart from for going to the Notting Hill Carnival, I first really starting coming to the Grove in 1988 when I began working as a para-legal and would also work on the reception at the North Kensington Law Centre, which was the fist ever Law Centre in the country, at the vanguard of that movement. It was nearly opposite Grassroots at 74 Golborne Road. I had also started working for a legal aide firm called Pater Kandler & Co, which was then at 50 Golborne Road.

One lunch time a Brotha slipped in just as I was about to close, he asked me to copy some documents and I locked the doors and he stayed with me whilst I did it, we got to reasoning (talking) he was Rasta (conscious) and so was I. He said that he was with Grassroots and that I should pop in some time. Not long afterwards I did pop in and I eventually became a part of the crew, his name was Shujaa Moshesh. Shujaa (previously Wesley Dick) got involved in Black Power politics and became an activist in the early 1970s, he was a member of the Black Liberation Front and attended Fasimbas and the Black Unity and Freedom Party meetings. Earlier that year he had been released from prison after serving 17 years of an 18 sentence for his part in the first ever kidnapping in England, in 1975, known as the Spaghetti House siege.

 

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Shujaa Moshesh

 

At the time that I got involved the political activities had died down and Grassroots was more involved in promoting Afrikanist-Pan-Afrikan culture and educating our people though its vast amount of literature. We would go to music shows, Reggae across the UK and set up stalls to sell our books, T Shirts, posters, artwork, we also travelled regularly to Holland to sell our wares. The others involved at that time were Terry (in the film) and Shabaka, a Jamaican brotha. But it was mainly me, Shujaa and Shabaka who travelled to the shows. It was a great atmosphere in the shop, most of the time, music playing, weed smoking (round the back) people passing through to reason, sometimes as a young woman I did have to deal with some seriously misogynistic brothas though. I learnt so much about Afrikan Liberationists politics and met many members of the Afrikan community who went on to do really interesting projects like Jak Beula, aka Nubian Jak and Michael De Souza ‘Rasta Mouse’.

In around September/October I met who was to become my husband, now my ex husband. We were friends for a while, he was one of the many brothas who would come in and reason and he even accompanied me to a couple of shows to sell goods. Shortly afterwards we got together and we began squatting the flat above the shop. I got pregnant the following year and we got married that September, unfortunately about a month later we lost the lease on the shop and had to empty it of all that we had and put it into storage. My ex husband and I were young and not involved in the finances so we were unable to help save the shop.

 

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Isis and her then husband, Takla

 

There was so much history in that place it was a very sad day when we had to take everything out. We carried on living above the shop for another couple of months before we had to move to somewhere more adequate for a baby. Shujaa’s dream was to go to Afrika and he wanted to go to Guyana, where his peeps were from. He left the country and headed to Guyana and from there made his way to Afrika, I cant even remember which country, maybe Ghana or The Gambia, he never returned. I heard that he jumped into a river and never came out, he returned to OUR homeland and the Ancestors took him. One of my fondest memories was making Shujaa a 40th Birthday cake in the shape of Afrika, he was so excited and he took it with him to show people. He always wore a carved wooden fist around his neck, it was quite big and he gave me a smaller version which I have worn for 24 years (you can see it in the photo that you took. My eldest daughter was born in February in 1994.

The Grassroots paper was important to OUR community because it was an education and information tool, a means of raising political awareness of the struggles that our people were facing and fighting. Back then, just as now, the media was the representative of the systemically racist state’s agenda, but there was no social media alternative to turn to. Papers, magazines,  like Grassroots, were the alternative social media for OUR of the day. Grassroots also provided an opportunity for OUR activist community to engage in social entrepreneurship because you got to keep a percentage of the sales of the papers, so it meant if you sold a large number you earned a little change, it was about doing for self, Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics).

Peace

Isis”

 

 

 

 

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