The Churches for Britain and Ireland have rebranded their fund for community projects and rededicated their commitment to racial justice.
It may not be unusual for bishops to frequent the old and vaulted rooms of the Houses of Parliament but it is unusual for young black children from a Tottenham estate. But the launch of Racial Justice by the Churches Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ), part of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, on 30 November filled to bursting the Jubilee Room with an enormous cross-section of people – and most of them were black.
The Racial Justice fund is in fact a relaunch of what has been known as the Ecumenical Racial Justice Fund – a fund which has been running since 1971 to fund grass-roots initiatives. But now, explained Reverend Myra Blyth, Moderator of the CCRJ, ‘we want to see the widening of the constituency … the churches are just partners in the struggle for racial justice’. This was an occasion not just to rebrand the fund but also to reclaim the struggle for racial justice.
Churches and PR don’t usually sit well together. But this was an extremely well-managed event. A new video on the work of the fund was shown. Clearly aimed at fundraising from ordinary church goers, it ‘humanised’ the issue of racism via some of the projects already funded – Inquest, mentoring schemes, black arts projects, refugee support. And, yes, it did tug at the heart strings rather than pontificate or moralise – but without compromising one iota on the issues of justice and human rights.
The launch featured everyone involved in Racial Justice from its largest backers – Christian Aid, the Methodist Church, the Church Urban Fund and the Catholic Association for Racial Justice – to the end recipients of the community projects funded. Relatives of those who had died in custody rubbed shoulders with Roma women, Dalits and supporters of refugees who had been raped. And when the youngsters of the Black Arts Production Theatre’s Wisdom Workshop finished their short play on Rosa Parks with an abridged rendition of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech many in the audience – including myself – were visibly moved.
The relaunch of the fund as Racial Justice was ostensibly to raise an additional £100,000 ‘to continue to provide grant support to organisations and projects working to combat racism, and to promote the empowerment of black and minority ethnic communities throughout Britain and Ireland’. For, as the CCRJ Secretary Reverend Arlington Trotman told the gathering, ‘racism, racial discrimination and racial abuse still tear away at the heart of these countries’. Unfortunately, just as the CCRJ sees the need to expand its work to provide seed-corn funding to those who are most marginalised by the mainstream, financial aid from its largest backer is being cut back.
At a time when race issues are becoming so politicised, the CCRJ continue to support groups which either are not registered charities, but care passionately about their local issues or are providing unusual or radical services that other funders will not back. It is a programme that is unmatched in the UK. And Senior Apostle James Ozigi, Executive Secretary and effective the gate-keeper of the fund, should be heartily congratulated for his vision and unbureaucratic working style.
If you wish to donate to the Racial Justice fund, want to know more about a possible grant, or want to obtain a copy of ‘When I needed a hand’ – a beautifully-produced booklet highlighting projects supported – contact Anne van Staveren on 020 7654 7220 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org