A Sign of Things to Come in a Diverse and Merry Month of May

 

A live band at the Sweeps Festival: Edward II, the English roots band that uniquely blend the rhythms of the Caribbean with traditional songs from the British Isles

It certainly has been a merry month of May. Kicking off with the May Day celebrations in Medway followed by the feverishly pitched but joyous royal wedding and still plenty more festivities to come in my part of the world before the month is over.

A few words about the royal wedding which has consumed British attention since the happy announcement back in November last year. We at Diversity Business confess to have been smitten by the Meghan effect. We are pleased to see a woman from a mixed race background being included into the royal family. Kudos to them for being forward-sighted. If the wedding ceremony is anything to go by with lovely touches of Gospel singing, evangelist style preaching and wondrous young cello player Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Meghan is certainly changing the way they do business. A modern, vital and exceptionally talented addition to the family. Congratulations to the happy couple we look forward to their unfolding role as ambassadors to the commonwealth.

May Day celebrations kicked off in my neck of the woods with the curiously called Sweeps Festival. It is an annual event which dates back to the 17th century when the chimney sweep men and boys were given a day off to enjoy the traditional May festivities. Today local folk dress down in tattered clothes and blacken up their faces to mimic the chimney sweeps of the time! As a relative newcomer to Rochester and the Medway towns, the first time I witnessed this event and the act of blackening up like the abolished black and white minstrels show, I got a bit miffed that this type of thing was allowed to carry on.

I was soon enlightened about the origins and significance of allowing the sweeps, a group from the most marginalised echelons of society to mix and mingle with the establishment. Tatters and all with faces covered in soot this was the one day they were accepted as part of mainstream communities and were given recognition for what they do.

Today the sweeps festival is made lively with hundreds of Morris-Dancers, live bands, local craft market, fun fair, traditional may pole dancers and the Jack in the Green. The festival has won me over. I look forward to taking part every year, particularly because of the changing demographics of Medway towns, with more minority groups pouring out of London into north Kent and transforming communities and cultures like this Jamaican food stall selling delicious jerk chicken.

And it’s not over yet. The Dickens Festival beckons at the end of May. Rochester’s most famous son is celebrated in a three day festival which covers the last bank holiday of the month. Residents dress up in famous Dickens characters like Fagin, Miss Havisham, the Artful Dodger, Samuel Pickwick and many more to parade the high street and make merry.

Yes May 2018 has been full of festive fun, cheer and inclusiveness. All the traditional ceremonies are breaking barriers, reinventing themselves to stay relevant to changing communities. After all the noise about immigration and the disgraceful Windrush debacle, we hope this trajectory is a sign of things to come.

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