'I am going through all these doors that my dad could not enter' - Lord Mayor of Leeds on how city has changed since Windrush

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The Lord Mayor of Leeds has called for the conversation about race to keep going despite coronavirus as she tells how she is walking through doors that had been closed to her father when he moved from Jamaica to Leeds.

Coun Eileen Taylor, 64, is one of the ward councillors for Chapel Allerton and last year was elected as the Lord Mayor of Leeds for a two year term.

She is also the city's first black Lord Mayor and, as part of Black History Month, has spoken to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the role she has compared to the life her father had when he arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation and also why conversations about race, Black Lives Matter and education need to continue - no matter how awkward they are.

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"Leeds is known as a multi-cultural city and an amazing city to live in and has set an example for many cities across England. Every day that I have been mayor I have been welcomed from all sides and everyone has embraced me to be the first black mayor", she said.

Coun Eileen Taylor, the Lord Mayor of Leeds.Coun Eileen Taylor, the Lord Mayor of Leeds.
Coun Eileen Taylor, the Lord Mayor of Leeds.

"No matter who you are or what you are, I represent you but at the same time I have the black community on my shoulders. They are so proud to know a black woman, and not just a black woman, but a black woman from Chapeltown is the ambassador for Leeds."

126 years for a black person to be the ambassador for Leeds?

"Sometimes I ask myself", she added.

In context, she reasons it because there are not many black people in politics, most ex-mayors are men and historically it has not been seen as a role for women.

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Coun Eileen Taylor as the Lord Mayor of Leeds leads the Remembrance Day service in the city last year.Coun Eileen Taylor as the Lord Mayor of Leeds leads the Remembrance Day service in the city last year.
Coun Eileen Taylor as the Lord Mayor of Leeds leads the Remembrance Day service in the city last year.

However, having this role now, she hopes it will show young, black girls that there are opportunities for them.

It was a theory that was instilled into a young Eileen Taylor, who arrived in Leeds as a teenager in the 1970s, by her father. Linden Campbell left Jamaica before Eileen was born and first arrived in Birmingham where family and friends already were. However, he found that due to being black he could not get a job and headed for Leeds. Eileen joined him some years later.

Linden, a tailor by trade, secured a job at Burtons - but it was to be short-lived. When a customer refused to be touched by a black man for measuring up for a suit, Linden was told he wouldn't be sewing - he would have to sweep up.

He walked out of the job and spent the rest of his working life ticket collecting for British Rail on trains operating in and out of Leeds station.

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Coun Taylor said: "He told me there were certain venues he could not enter, certain doors they did not want him in and even buses. He would tell me even when the door does not open, keep knocking.

"I am so disappointed he is not around to see this (being Lord Mayor). All my education and passion came from him and for me to be Lord Mayor and to be going through doors that my dad could not - Buckingham Palace, meeting royalty - for me to reach where I am is just amazing and shows that things do change."

However, Coun Taylor says that in order for this to happen, conversations about race, history, stigma, heritage and education need to continue and she worries that the progress that has been made on this front, especially after the prominence of Black Lives Matter movements earlier this year, will be lost in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

"George Floyd meant that the conversation is out there, but, my big concern is will it slow down? It is too early to tell where it is going and at the moment it is at the back of people's minds because we are in a pandemic.

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"It is awkward. You think 'am I right, am I wrong'. will I offend individuals but just say it, just have that conversation. A lot of my personal friends back in the 80s tiptoed around me and didn't want to say the wrong thing. Everyone that believes in change and everyone that feels racism needs to be tackled needs to have these conversations, whatever colour or race, we need to keep it going."

Coun Taylor, studied at Park Lane College and then began working for the NHS specialising in mental health, and says even she was unaware of the level to what racism can be until she watched Roots - a tale of an 18th-century Mandinka tribesman abducted from his village in the Gambia and sold as a slave in the US.

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Read More: Leeds marks Black History Month

"Everyone needs to watch that. If you watch that as a white person you will understand why black people say, Black Lives Matter. I never witnessed racism that some people have, I call mine ignorance and silly but I can't put my hands up and say I have been treated that badly.

"One time was the morning after the European elections and I was out at 6.30am and going to the gym. A lad came up to me, stared at me and said 'you have to go back to where you came from'. I said I will go back to Chapel Allerton then and he walked off. For that one moment I am thinking 'bloody hell - that's what this is all about'. It was intimidating and hurtful for somebody to walk up to me in the street and say you don't belong here."

She puts forward an alternative view.

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"I have got two girls and grandchildren. I don't want them to be having this same conversation 30 years down the line. It is the future that we need to look at. Black Lives Matter is for the next generation. Colour is just an identity, you were born a black person, you were born a white person, everyone is different. Chinese, Muslim, English - that is our identity but underneath this we are all one. We have red blood, we are human beings."

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Thank you

Laura Collins

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