Brixton is one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan areas in London. The epicentre of gentrification with Brixton Village along with well known and respected high street brands flocking to Brixton High Street. It wasn't always as vibrant and popular to people outside of the area. I often heard stories from my parents about Brixton, the riots, suss law and young Black Men in particular being singled out, not given any opportunities whatsoever to defeat stereotypes. Institutionalised racism was rife. Brixton was associated with negativity, crime and deprivation.
When I recently interviewed Reggae Reggae sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots on Mi-Soul Radio he reflected on what life was like being a Rastafarian, living in Brixton which inspired him to release his latest album 'Rise Above'. It was a tragic tale of no jobs, no hope and survival in an oppressed and prejudice society under Margaret Thatcher's government. Levi's early days of being an entrepreneur were dented. He explained what life was like in Brixton, trying to get a job " I know Brixton is the centrepoint for anything which is cool now, back then if you were looking for a job for instance, you had to make a job application, you didn't want to Brixton as your address. As Brixton was perceived to be a no go area, life for Levi and many Rastafarians in Brixton was tough. The dream to become an entrepreneur or even put it down on a work application was simply not accepted "You cant be an entrepreneur. You cant even spell entrepreneur much less. "You were in from Brixton."
That was the general perception experienced by Levi. The stereotyping went beyond the work place. Levi highlighted the problems he faced along with other locals trying to get back home to Brixton "If you were taking a taxi from across the river and you were trying to get home after you've done some shopping or gone to a club at night you perhaps want to say you want go to Stockwell. You would have to get out at Stockwell and walk an extra mile to Brixton. It was that bad. That's what I grew up under".
For those intent on moving away from the area seeking a better life for their families they couldn't get away "If you had a house in Brixton in the 70's and you wanted to give it away for free you'll find that difficult to do". The government and society in general had ignored Brixton. With the Scarman report things changed and Brixton was finally given the opportunity to shine and be like any other part of London, investment, improved race relations between Police and local communities. It wasn't all doom in gloom as Lenny Henry focused on Brixton life on his weekly 'Lenny Henry Show' in the late 80s running a pirate radio station and the infamous Brixton Broadcasting Corporation.
Brixton today is certainly not what it used to be back in the 70's and 80's. It's now peppered with fancy bars, fashion outlets, restaurants. The middle class have moved in but the communities who helped to get Brixton out of the rut have been edged out due to high rents and social cleansing. Levi has placed the foundation which has paved a foundation not just for young Black Men but working class White Men in Brixton to be given an opportunity to shine and build their businesses. Levi Roots entrepreneurial success is one of many positive stories that has come out of Brixton. He is an inspiration to the community and beyond.
Levi Roots album 'Rise Above' is out now.Suggest a correction