East London educational charity launches documentary series on CLR James

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An East London citizens TV channel and educational charity, kicked off their documentary series on renowned intellectual CLR James with a debate on the ‘Western Cannon’, after winning a heritage lottery grant to fund the project.

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Every Cook Can Govern: The life and works of CLR James

Last Saturday, Worldbytes, a charity and citizens TV channel based in Hackney, London, embarked on a two year long journey documenting the life and intellectual legacy of renowned black activist, CLR James.

At the Long Room of The Kia Oval Cricket Ground, South London, an expert panel discussed the works of CLR James, and debated whether a revised “Western Cannon” was needed for a new generation of thinkers.

The event began with a representative from The National Heritage Lottery Fund congratulating the charity for winning a £70,000 grant to produce the multimedia project.

The project, dubbed “Every Cook Can Govern: Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James”, will include a documentary series and an on-line knowledge portal, produced largely by volunteers.

Despite disagreeing on precisely what should be included in a revised cannon, there was no shortage of kind words for CLR James. The panelists all agreed on the significance of his writing and activism.

Education system is “a dull instrument of policy”

Claire Fox, director and founder of the British think tank, the Institute of Ideas, expressed concern that the current education system is a “dull instrument of policy”.

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She said: “There is an injunction between people who want to know and the way they are taught.

“The cannon of great literature has universal experience. It allows us to break out the particulars of our experience,” she added.

Kenan Malik on The Black Jacobins

While Kenan Malik, a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, was pressed by audience members to speak about “The Black Jacobins”, CLR’s most iconic and endearing piece of literature.

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He said: “[CLR James] is perhaps the greatest poet of the anti-colonial movement. There are few figures who can match.

“He was an icon of black liberation. Undoubtedly, The Black Jacobins was his masterpiece.”

James wanted to “change the world”

Fellow panel member Selma James, an author, activist, and partner of CLR for 30 years, believed that he wanted to make the world a better place.

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She said: “James used [The Black Jacobins] as a weapon in the struggle for African independence.

“He had a passion for learning. He brought with him a profound understanding of humanism when he came to England, and offered a radically new vision of the world.”

Beyond a Boundary: More than just a game

Alan Hudson, Director of Programmes in Leadership & Public Policy at Oxford University, focused on CLR’s famous memoir on cricket, “Beyond a Boundary”, first published in 1963.

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He said: “The book is not about cricket, but how the game can express so much more… the cultivating of this powerful cultural embodiment is much more than the game itself.

“[CLR James] was able to unite everybody in a way that nobody else can. He had a powerful sensibility to the working class.”

Volunteer for WorldBytes

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The charity plan to host a “Read-a-thon” in February next year, where volunteers will take part in a sponsored live streamed reading of CLR’s work, to help raise extra funds for the project.

Volunteers can also take part in producing the documentary and on-line portal, learning on the job media skills, such as filming, editing, promotion and research.

Head on over to the WorldBytes website to find out how you can get involved.

*Pictures courtesy of WorldBytes

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