A new portrait of one of Britain’s first black MPs, Bernie Grant (1944-2000), has been unveiled in Parliament this evening. Drawn in 180 hours using pencil and charcoal by hyper-realist artist Kelvin Okafor, the portrait of the former Labour MP for Tottenham will now join the Parliamentary Art Collection.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the election of Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng as the first ever black MPs, and Keith Vaz as the first MP of Asian descent since the 1920s. Guyana-born Bernie Grant is well remembered for his passionate work campaigning for racial equality and against oppression, as well as making his mark in the House of Commons by wearing a traditional Ghanaian cotton robe at the State Opening of Parliament.
In Parliament, Bernie Grant was forthright in his criticism of discriminatory policing methods, immigration rules and institutionalised racism in health. He was a strong advocate for housing and education, and for greater resources for inner city areas. Internationally, he took a leading role in establishing contacts with black communities and politicians throughout the world, demanding recognition of Britain’s colonial past. He was Chair of the All Party Group on Race and Community and the British Caribbean Group, and served on the Select Committee on International Development. A champion of social and racial justice, and a pioneer for diversity, after his death in 2000, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair described him as “an inspiration to black British communities everywhere”.