My story: Magdalen Bartlett
Afrocats was founded in 2003 to provide individuals with access to opportunities that they may otherwise be restricted from because of their immigration status, class, age, cultural inexperience and education. Magdalen herself has her own story of family migration and culture shock. The experience of dealing with the challenges of life in a new country has shaped our organisation. Here she shares her story.
I arrived in the UK from Barbados in December 1988 when I was 12. My family lived in London for a year where I attended school and for the first time, I experienced what it was like to be in an ethnic and cultural minority. We moved to Moss Side in Manchester, where the majority black community faced stigma and frequent stereotyping in the media. My parents lived in council housing which often placed black people in segregated pockets leading to postcode discrimination, isolated communities and low employment aspirations.
My mother was active in cultural activities and recognised their importance for forming identity and confidence. She enrolled us both in a local all-female Afro-Caribbean group called Abasindi, which had held performances around the UK since the 1970s and had a good following. Abasindi provided me with an important platform to embrace and celebrate my cultural heritage in my new country. I was able to travel around England performing as a dancer and delivering workshops from the age of 14 which was hugely important for me. I had been very shy when I arrived in the UK and this opportunity allowed me to develop my confidence, my abilities and my sense of self.
A few years later my family was threatened with deportation and we fought this with the aid of our local community. Our campaign was high-profile and featured in newspapers and local television in Manchester and beyond. I attended university in Bedford during this time to study dance and drama and promoted our campaign there, gaining further support from students and locals. Our campaign has since been archived in the Ahmed Iqbal Centre at Manchester Central Library and appeared in books. We won our appeal to stay but the whole process was protracted and highly stressful for my family.
I successfully graduated from both college and university, however, I was always very aware of being a minority throughout and was often the sole black person, an isolating experience. Throughout my career in the creative industries, I have found that there is a racial disparity between those who lead events and the participants, with people of colour largely fulfilling the latter role. Frequently in my professional career, I find myself in spaces where again I am the only black person.
After finding it difficult to get a management-level position I decided to create an opportunity for both myself and the people I work with by setting up Afrocats. This allowed me to move from being an artist to working as an arts project manager and then as a community engagement consultant. I find it very fulfilling to use my skills and experience to help others who struggle to navigate the necessary social hurdles for progression.
I am a UK-Caribbean black woman with a big dream of managing Afrocats with the strength and will to address social change in a place where the possibilities are limitless but the environment can be hostile. I am determined that Afrocats will use its platform to enhance lives through art, expression and community solidarity. It is an organisation that shines a light for those who need it and will nurture those future leaders who risk being marginalised or overlooked.
They who have endured it have an additional determination to make a change for themselves and for those who will follow.