Founder of Leeds West Indian Carnival says education is key in wake of Black Lives Matter movement

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The founder of the Leeds West Indian Carnival has said that education is key to moving forward in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Arthur France MBE, 84, has spoken out after George Floyd on May 25, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

One police officer has been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers have now also been charged, with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

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His death has sparked mass protest in America and across the globe, calling for an end to violence and racism towards black people.

Arthur France, founder and chairman of Leeds West Indian Carnival with one of the costumes on display at the West Indian Carnival exhibition at The Tetley in 2017. Photo: Steve RidingArthur France, founder and chairman of Leeds West Indian Carnival with one of the costumes on display at the West Indian Carnival exhibition at The Tetley in 2017. Photo: Steve Riding
Arthur France, founder and chairman of Leeds West Indian Carnival with one of the costumes on display at the West Indian Carnival exhibition at The Tetley in 2017. Photo: Steve Riding | jpimedia

Dr France, founder and chairman of Leeds Carnival, told the YEP: “I am very bitter about it.

"I am very connected mentally and culturally to my African heritage and what happened to the people of Africa. We can go as far back as we want to go back. I remember it all.

"The racist attacks on Martin Luther, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis. George and Jonathan Jackson. I kept up to date on these issues over the years.

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"I’ve said before, what happens to any black person could happen to me.

The West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown, Arthur France is pictured 26th August 2019. Picture by Simon Hulme.The West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown, Arthur France is pictured 26th August 2019. Picture by Simon Hulme.
The West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown, Arthur France is pictured 26th August 2019. Picture by Simon Hulme. | jpimedia

"It is a very sad affair."

Dr France is known across the country for starting the hugely popular annual Carnival in Chapeltown back in 1967 - one of the biggest of its kind in the country.

However, he has also held a pivotal role in the Black community since he moved from the Caribbean Island of Nevis in 1957, helping to establish the Chapeltown Community Centre and being the coordinator for Leeds at the Commonwealth Institute..

Dr France has campaigned to get the education system to include the history of the Commonwealth and Britain's role in the slave trade in the curriculum.

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Arthur France MBE, receives his Honorary Degree from Leeds Beckett University at Leeds Town Hall in July 2018. Picture Bruce RollinsonArthur France MBE, receives his Honorary Degree from Leeds Beckett University at Leeds Town Hall in July 2018. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Arthur France MBE, receives his Honorary Degree from Leeds Beckett University at Leeds Town Hall in July 2018. Picture Bruce Rollinson | jpimedia

He said: "The British education system is a whole backwards system. I grew up thinking England was the home of education then I get here and find that you don’t teach people history.

"Back in 1986, the British government used to hold a ‘focus’ on one area of the commonwealth and that year it was the Caribbean.

"I was the representative for the North of England and I was shocked because it seemed like Margaret Thatcher was doing her best to destroy the Commonwealth Institution because she didn’t want kids to know the history.

"Years later in 2007 I helped to create 350 pages of history to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. We sent them to every educational centre in Leeds. I bet some of them have never even opened that pack.

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"My argument always is that if you’ve got a rotten education system and if the system doesn't make changes, nothing will ever change."

Dr France, who holds an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Leeds, said that Leeds Carnival is not just a fun spectacle, it also plays a key part in teaching people about that history.

He said: "As much as people think I am a lover of carnival, I don’t think most people understand why Leeds Carnival has lasted for 52 years.

"It’s not just pretty costumes and music, it is the meaning behind the whole culture of it.

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"It is about the emancipation and that’s why we have a service every Sunday before carnival to remember our forefathers. They paid the price.

"When people come they look at the bling but the costumes speak volumes about our whole history.

"We chase why we are here, what makes us who we are and make sure we never, ever forget our forefathers."

Dr France added: "However, we as a community should not have to be doing this extra work to teach people about the history.

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"The schools should be teaching this history to all students - but the schools have no intention of doing it.

"The white child needs to know where the black person comes from.

"The black child needs to know their background.

"We all need to know our history. That is where we draw our strength from."

He said he hoped that the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement starts a discussion on how to move forward to become an anti-racist society.

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Dr France said he believes that key figures need to sit down with the black community and have open and honest discussion on what needs to be done.

He said: "Younger people are not like the older people and their parents.

"They will not stand for the nonsense of what their parents had to put up with.

"There’s a lot of issues that we as adults need to get sorted. We have to sit down at the table together and discuss how best to move forward.

"What kind of world do we want to live in?

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"This is 2020 and, in my book, we’re not responsible for what has happened before but we will certainly be responsible for what happens in the future."

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