Forty years ago a very sick teenager set in motion a decades-long campaign when he spoke out against the racism he saw trying to find a foothold in his home town.
Danny Martin was just 16-years-old and already battling cancer when he took on another fight against the National Front and others of their ilk.
Danny wrote a letter to the Crawley Observer, calling on people to make a stand for what he knew to be right – unity. His letter ended with the line: “Leave the British race and join the human race”.
For 40 years, the Crawley Campaign Against Racism (CCAR) has used those words as its battle cry, with members doing all they can to build harmony among the many communities who call our town home.
Months after the campaign was born, Danny succumbed to the cancer, dying at the tragically young age of 17, in February 1977.
On Saturday (September 3), people of all colours and all religions met at The Hawth to celebrate his work and his legacy, and the theatre soon rang with music, laughter and applause.
Hosted by comic Sajeela Kershi, the evening saw acts exploring areas as diverse as reggae, dance and the spoken word. The Pound Hill Dancers and the Thomas Bennett Reggae Group in particular gave a glimpse of some of the outstanding talent blossoming within our multicultural town.
Queenie Hopcroft, one of the founder members of the CCAR, said she thought Danny would have been very happy to see the campaign reach its 40th anniversary.
She added: “Because that’s what Barbara and Les, his parents, set out to do – to do something about Danny’s words. And that’s what we did. Even 40 years later we’re doing something about what Danny started.
“Danny gave us the seeds for all that we did and all I hope we will continue to do. He was very much in our thoughts, especially those of us who were in at the start.”
The celebration was the idea of the campaign’s entertainments manager Manmohan Sunan – and Queenie was initially concerned the plans were too ambitious.
She needn’t have worried as the hundreds who braved the rain on Saturday evening left with smiles on their faces and a new appreciation of the work being carried out.
Crawley mayor Raj Sharma told the audience: “Many things change – and so they should – and they have improved. But every now and then racism shows its ugly head. We are here to make sure it doesn’t. We at CCAR want to ensure that all citizens of Crawley are protected.”
It was good to hear Mr Sharma recognise that things are not yet perfect – it would be wrong to pretend Danny’s words had triggered the birth of some kind of utopia – but you would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realise the CCAR has made a huge difference over the years.
For three generations our children have lived together, played together and grown up together. Every child has schoolmates from cultures all over the world – and that can only make for a stronger, more harmonious society.
When Danny died, people lined the streets to pay their respects as the hearse went past. His mother, Barbara, continued to carry the torch of tolerance and equality in her son’s name, continuing to with the CCAR until her death, at the age of 85, in February 2015.
Her absence was keenly felt on Saturday by all who knew her.
The Observer’s report of Danny’s funeral in 1977, stated: “Although Danny was very much a product of his own generation, with all its difficulties, he recognised that, whatever a person’s race, colour, class or creed, all men deserve equal treatment.
“He believed all people were of equal value and should be on equal terms.”
Surely he would be proud to see the work being carried out in his name.
To find out more about the Crawley Campaign Against Racism, search for their page on Facebook or call 01293 527347.
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