In 2015, we would like to think that the West Indian Community is an established, and integral part of Derby society. It is certainly different to the town, as it was then, back in 1955 when a small number of migrants from the Caribbean felt that it was important to form a group “to support one another in society” . The initial seeds of the Derby West Indian Community Association (DWICA) were sown and it was another 6 years before it became formally constituted.
The drive to ensure that the West Indian community had a voice, and could develop, was supported by Philip Whitehead who was working for the local TV at the time, and then later became an MP in Derby. Also the Vicar of a now redundant church on Green Lane, was a great advocate for their cause.
Mr Charles Hill, was the Vice President of the DWICA in 1961, and one of the founder members in 1955. He is the only one of that original group to be alive today. On 21st June 2015, a lunch was held to celebrate the 60 years of the association, and Mr Hill was able to attend as a special guest. For the last 29 years, George Mighty has been the Chair of the organisation, and he introduced and gave his insight into its history.
Mr Hill’s son-in-law gave a brief speech on his behalf, and highlighted the importance of the Association to continue to unite and to support everyone in the West Indian community when in need. Also he felt that the on-going promotion of the good work of their people was crucial and recognised that, even today, when there is negative news it will always take prominence in the newspapers over the wealth of positive stories that happen each day.
But the most chilling story he recounted was:
“One of the biggest impacts that the West Indian Association made in Derby was to challenge the Town Council over their refusal to give Reg Barnes a job as a conductor on the buses. I’ll tell you what the Council said…’If we gave him the job, the passengers would believe that he was going to rape them!’ This was one of the significant things we did, we broke through in terms of getting people to acknowledge that we are not a threat… but that we are part of society”
Apart from the focus on social issues the DWICA has facilitated many activities in the sporting, educational, recreational, and cultural aspects of life which is central to overall cohesion, as well as maintaining a sense of heritage and tradition. The most visible form of this is the Carnival which celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year on July 18th/19th.
The event at the DWICA on the 21st June was primarily an opportunity for old friends to meet and reminisce. The party of about 70 people were also entertained by singing, poetry, story-telling and comedy.
Although the event was a celebration of the 60 years of the association I sensed that there was still some resignation as to the lack of real progress that had been made in the wider society and that the struggle to truly become a seamless part of the community was still unfinished business.