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Making black lives in Britain matter: farewell to Maxine James

Maxine Marie James (1957-2021)

Maxine Marie James (1957-2021)

The sudden passing of the activist Maxine James, who died in England on 19 August after a brief illness, has made a hole in the London Labour Party and in left-inclined black political circles.

Maxine was a child of the Windrush Generation. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, she joined her family in England at the age of 12. She lived and went to school in Birmingham before moving to London to begin her working life in administration.

She decided to further her education and obtained a higher national diploma in business, followed by a postgraduate diploma in economic development. She also became a member of the Institute of Management Consultants.

Champion of equality

In 1983, together with Ade Sawyerr, she co-founded Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that promotes economic, social and political advancement for people of African and Caribbean descent living in Britain. Ever the trailblazer, she organised training programmes and carried out groundbreaking research that shed light on the seemingly intractable problems facing disadvantaged, inner-city communities and found solutions to them. She was an ardent champion of equality to make Britain a better place.

Maxine worked extensively across business, local government, communities, and the health and education sectors. She was treasurer at a charity for Jamaican children (VOUCH UK) and a former chair of Haringey Refugee Consortium. She served as the community and business forum representative on the Brixton Challenge board, which was set up following the 1981 riots to regenerate the south London Brixton quarter, home to the famous market. She was a one-time director of Central Brixton Challenge Company Ltd and Business Link London.

She led on procurement matters on the board of the Ethnic Minority Business Forum, which advised the minister for small firms in the then UK Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).

She was also, at various points in time, a director of Black Roof Community Housing Association, a director of the London Community Foundation, and a non-executive director of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Yet Maxine somehow found the time to serve as a governor of a primary school in Lambeth, and to chair the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Leadership Forum, which was sponsored by the National Health Service Confederation and the Royal College of Nursing.

Left-wing stalwart

A passionate campaigner and activist, Maxine James was an active member of the Labour Party for more than 20 years.

She held several positions, most recently as the chair of Streatham Constituency Labour Party in south London – the first black woman to hold this position in Streatham, an area of south London with a sizeable Ghanaian presence.

She established the very first Labour Party Ethnic Minorities Forum in the UK, providing a template for other constituency Labour parties to follow. At the time of her death, Maxine had just been elected to the regional executive committee of London Labour.

She was a devoted life partner to William, the proud mother of their daughter, Kabuki Tayo, and a long-term friend of Ghana by extension. She visited the country many times, her most recent trip being in 2019. Maxine was survived by a brother, an aunt, many cousins, nephews, nieces and colleagues, as well as countless friends.

Her vivacious and caring spirit touched many and made an impression on even more. She lived and struggled for causes she believed in strongly, committing to the service of others, creating opportunities and improving lives.

The Constituency Labour Party held an event in honour of Maxine James on 9 September. Present to deliver tributes were Bell Ribeiro Addy, the Labour MP for Streatham, as well as representatives of other Labour Party groups with which Maxine was associated.

Her funeral service took place at Chatsworth Baptist Church in West Norwood, south London, on Thursday (23 September). She was laid to rest at Streatham Park Cemetery, also in south London.

Cards and letters of condolence can be sent c/o Bell Ribeiro Addy MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. So can cheque donations to the family of Maxine James (made payable to William Ward-Brew). All will be passed on to the family. You can also sign an online book of condolence at https://rememberancebook.net/book/maxine-marie-james.

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