Sheffield library dedicated to black literature ‘will help tell untold stories’

Sheffield's only library dedicated to black history and culture has been officially reopened following a major refurbishment.

Friday, 8th February 2019, 14:45 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th February 2019, 09:35 am

Volunteers have spent two years reviving the library at the Sheffield And District African Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA) building on the Wicker, after it fell into disuse.

It has been renamed The Basil Griffith Library in memory of a much-loved Jamaican teacher, whose proud legacy of educating people young and old those in charge hope to continue.

SADACCA chief executive Olivier Tsemo, Sheffield's lord mayor Magid Magid and library manager John Kamara at the official opening of SADDACA's Basil Griffith Library

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Everything in the library, from the books, DVDs and games on the shelves to the artwork on its walls, has been chosen to celebrate the cultural heritage of people of African and Caribbean descent.

Many of the titles it stocks, ranging from Caribbean cookbooks to children's stories with black protagonists, cannot be found at other libraries in the city.

The library’s manager John Kamara described it as a 'vessel to preserve the culture of people of African descent', ensuring their experiences and contributions are not forgotten.

Library manager John Kamara

He claimed that it was particularly important to offer a different perspective on the past to the predominantly Anglo Saxon one taught in schools, and to highlight the role black people have played in British history, which gets little publicity.

“It gives people the opportunity to reconnect with their history and their culture, and it’s accessible to everyone,” he added.

Project manager Jason Cuffe told how he hopes the library will get more people reading.

SADACCA CEO Olivier Tsemo at the official opening of the Basil Griffith Library

“Within the black community I think reading can be viewed as not being that exciting, so we’re trying to change that perception by creating interactive sessions and workshops,” he said.

“Black history is often narrated around American figures like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, but we want to show the Sheffield community about the contribution black people have made to British history.”

The library reopened last October and has proved popular so far but bosses are keen to get even more people through the doors by raising awareness and hosting events, including workshops for local schoolchildren.

Jason Cuffe, Olivier Tsemo, Coun Jackie Drayton, Christina Ramsey and John Kamara at the official opening of SADDACA's Basil Griffith Library

Sheffield's lord mayor, Magid Magid was the guest of honour at its official reopening yesterday.

Basil Griffith was the secretary of SADACCA’s forerunner, Sheffield's West Indian Community Association, and ran adult literacy classes and a Saturday school for young people during the 1970s.

He taught many of his students to read and write for the first time, and he was passionate about celebrating black heritage.

For SADACCA’s CEO Olivier Tsemo, the library is a key part of a range of exciting new projects being run by the association as it attempts to reach out to more members of the community, especially younger people.

The music studio, which has hosted some of the biggest names in British reggae music, is reopening; Project Kairos has been launched to help young African-Caribbean people achieve their potential within the classroom and at work; and regular business workshops are being held to support local entrepreneurs.

“Many young black people in Sheffield have been left behind and we’re trying to give them the opportunities they haven’t had in the past,” said Mr Tsemo.

Chris Morris, manager of the music studio at SADACCA

“Many members of the black community have low literacy skills so encouraging more people to read, and giving them the chance to read books by black authors which aren’t available elsewhere, is really important to us.”

He added that SADACCA relies on fundraising, donations and the hard work of volunteers, and he called on Sheffield Council to do more to support its work.

The Basil Griffith Library is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 7pm.

SADACCA's building on the Wicker, which is home to the Basil Griffith Library
SADACCA chief executive Olivier Tsemo in the bar
Sheffield's lord mayor Magid Magid with library manager John Kamara at the official opening of SADDACA's Basil Griffith Library