When I think about black history my thoughts usually look to the American Civil Rights movement and as my daughter has started school I see her studying the same heroic American figures, like Rosa Parks, that would also come into my mind… but Black History Month is not about this. Thirty years ago as part of a London council initiative, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, proposed to introduce the American idea of a Black History Month into the UK to “support manifestations of the monumental contribution of Africa and Africans to the economic, cultural and political life of London in particular and Britain in general”.
I was thinking about our black community members I would like my daughter to know about and the person who came to mind was Pat Regan, commemerated in a mural near the Bangladeshi Centre. I did not personally know her but after her son was shot and killed in 2002, she dedicated herself to becoming an anti-gun campaigner and she began doing all she could to get people to listen to her concerns about the culture of violence and what needs to change. She recognised her own responsibility as a parent and community member but also that there was a need for changes in our culture and society; more opportunities for younger people, more support for victims and different approach by emergency services…
By 2003 she had joined a wider group of Mothers Against Violence (known as MAV) and, with support, founded their Leeds branch and dedicated herself to helping others who were affected by gun crime. I saw the press reporting the marches she organised, her visits to the prime minister and home secretary but I did not see what MAV members like Lucy Cope saw – that’every single time another family went through the tragedy of gun crime in Leeds, Pat Regan knocked on that door and held the hands of the mothers’.
In figures from 2017* there were 709 homicide victims killed by shooting but these offences are still 45% below the level seen a decade ago. Pat’s work is widely regarded as having a role in these changes – as our central Leeds MP Hilary Benn said:
‘Her passionate belief that things did not have to be this way shone through in everything she did.”
When Pat reflected on her campaigning in 2005 she said “this message is just going to go now farther than my voice can shout up in Leeds. And here it’s going to be worldwide now, and that’s, to me, the best way any message could get across.”
Pat died, herself the victim of a violent attack, ten years ago but MAV’s work continues.
You can read more about their work and Pat here:
* Crime figures taken from the Office for National Statistics: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/homicideinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017
Written by Geraldine Montgomerie-Greenwood
Artwork by Geraldine Montgomerie-Greenwood