Maxine Marie James – a good woman leaves her children today

Nye kpakpa ko minshi ebii nmene – Tookwɛlɔ kpakpa ko minshi ebii nmene

Wɔke yaafoo nui minkee – NaaNyonmo ke bo aya shia shweeshweeshwee

A good mother leaves her children today.  Maxine James leaves us today to go back to the village to be with the ancestors; another journey in her life from Mavis Bank in Jamaica through to Birmingham and finally to London where her works influenced countless people nationally and internationally and where she is seen as a veritable positive representative of the Windrush generation and a true Pan Africanist.

I witnessed first-hand Maxine’s complete and total devotion of her whole life to Kabuki and William and her many nephews and nieces and Godchildren all over the place, so I know Maxine as a shepherd mother who is leaving her children today, I will never know Maxine elevated to the position of the Matriarch, a title of respect used to describe women of the Windrush generation and it is that void, that emptiness that I will miss very much –

I will never forget that evening in Sherwin House in Kennington with Maxine and Max Vardon.  There were over 3 million people unemployed in the UK at the time and that number was set to grow and yet what we were contemplating to determine our future was not to look at the number of job applications but about setting up a new business. Equinox Consulting became a reality on 20 March 1983.

We resolved that we would complete the business plan, approach the bank for a loan, the council for some start-up premises and use our skills and knowledge to provide business development services for the large number of black people who had always wanted to go into business but had never done so because they did not know who to turn to for advice and guidance.  Maxine’s ideas were about giving professional people training in business skills so that when they were ready, it would be relatively easier for them to negotiate that harsh terrain of start-up and running a business.  But like everything that happens to start-ups in business, there were many hiccups. Max eventually got a job with one of our major clients and when I was contemplating giving up too, Maxine decided that we were not done yet so forged ahead instead by signing the lease to our premises in Brixton.

From working with banks and organisations supporting business development amongst black people she championed the cause of providing training to enable young people to work for black organisations in their local areas.  The many employment projects around the many Task Forces and schemes saw Maxine at the helm of advising government in several areas of procurement and leading delegations to learn from the American experience.

Her work in advising community organisations and devising strategies for voluntary and community sectors in local areas would not have been possible without her involvement in the many communities and community organisations she got involved with and I mean actively – in many cases, her passion for some of these good causes led her to try and take over and take charge of what she should have been merely providing advice on – the burst of energy in these circumstances was just breathtaking.  When she wanted something to go her way, she invested all her time and energy to make that possible. Not many people can put in a full day of work in London, pick up their daughter from nursery and then drive all the way to Bristol in the evening for an annual general meeting often as just part of normal work.

During most of our dicey moments of looking out for new business or sustaining the old cycle, it was mostly Maxine who was out there pushing the clients and telling them that our life experiences counted for more than their hunches, that this was our community and if any sustainable solutions were to be found to the many intractable problems, then those solutions were most likely to come from black professionals than from general do-gooders and must come often after the vigorous and rigorous debate. Caught between the nexus of equality and diversity work. Maxine called it all the time for her people, she did not have to think twice, no need for a subtle strategy, and when the discussions got heated, she did not leave the kitchen, she actually turned on her own brand of an accent, that I have never been able to recognise on any linguist register.  My broad tonal Ade turned into sometimes like Adieay

Those who have been around us working may be familiar with the frequent outbursts and quarrels that characterize our discussions, but these come with some method – ensuring that our conclusions from research that we have carried out have been thorough and go beyond our opinions on the subject.  We buckle down soon and then do the work even if the disagreements are hourly or daily as the decisions should be.

I have never met a warmer person so adept at making friends with anyone and everyone, who at the heart of it all, has a curiosity to learn about others and a certain attraction to other cultures.  Maxine loved to hear all the salacious gossip of our times and she would ask questions – at least it helped her to understand some of the nuances of cross-cultural work at all times.

The natural curiosity has always been important because of the adaptions that she had to make in her life’s journey to fight for the inner strength to ask for better for her own people, to perhaps get the next generation to ask for the relevant things that would improve their chances and make incremental growth in the economic, social, political, and cultural choices that we make as a people.  She said that if we do not ask for the changes, we will never get them.

So, if we look back in the early 1980s, it was important that the notable black organisations, relocated to Brixton to create a mass, but it was also important that Brixton be regenerated at great cost to our businesses.  Maxine wanted better if it was to improve our communities.

Maxine was a team player despite her determination and competitiveness. She naturally wanted to lead with her own ideas, she but recognized that all the best ideas cannot emanate from a single fount and so she was ever so content to join in supporting others and taking on their causes and helping to shape and sometimes even make them better.

Maxine in all your endeavors, your heart was in the right place – the great idea we embarked on 38 years ago, is still a great idea!

None of us alive today have ever been on this journey that you are embarking on, so we ask that not only do you tell them exactly what is going on here, but we also ask that they send a guardian angel to help wipe away the tears of William and Kabuki. And to protect all of us whose lives you have touched in one way or another.

Maxine, you are now a Traveler navigating your way through the clouds and Homeward bound looking for God’s House.

May you find Peace and Power in the bosom of our Lord

Maxine Yaa wo ojogbann

Ade Sawyerr Tribute to Maxine James

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!

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