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Jamaican Whit Stennett honoured for accomplishments

‘STALWART’: Whit Stennett MBE, left, with poet Deanne Heron and organiser Tony Reeves

THE TOWN of Old Trafford played host to its first black Lord Mayor recently in a celebration of his life and appreciation of the work he has done throughout the borough.

Tributes were made to the former Mayor Whit Stennett MBE, at the packed event, which was attended by his friends, family and the constituents he has served as a councillor since 1993. Tony Reeves, coordinator at First Cut Media, who planned and organised the event said: “Whit is one of the founding fathers of the African Caribbean community in Manchester.

It is important that we as a people recognise the challenges and commitments people like Whit overcame and made to make situations better for us. “We must try and preserve all the good things about our rich history, heritage and culture for future generations.”

Cllr Stennett represents Labour in the Clifford ward of Trafford, but has been an active member of the community since here arriving in the UK from Jamaica in 1959. He immersed himself in many community organisations and played an instrumental role in the Jamaica Society where he encouraged and welcomed all sectors of the community.

But Whit says his community role began way back in Jamaica, on the shores of Discovery Bay, St Ann where he helped out at Sunday School and read the scales for local fisherman who were unable to read themselves. He said this ‘set him up’ for the roles he went on to undertake.

Whit describes his role as a ‘two-way process’: “The people that I have served in this community have put their trust in me to enable me to do the things I have done. I came here with fire in my belly and there are no barriers that can be put up that I can’t tear down or jump over.”

His strong fighting spirit has won Whit much admiration and respect from members of the community and tributes on the night spoke of him being a “great stalwart”, “quietly blazing the trail”, “God-fearing” and “humble”.’

Local youth engagement manager David Esdaille, said: “Whit has always been extremely authentic and consistent. Over the years that I’ve known him he has always lived the life that he spoke about. He had integrity.”

In 2008, Whit self-published a book about his life entitled A Bittersweet Journey. The book recalls the highs and lows of his personal life and includes the tale of when he was struck by lightning as a teenager and miraculously survived.

He documents everything fro the racism he encountered among fellow churchgoers, his territorial army service t becoming the borough's the borough’s first black councillor and eventually the borough’s first black Mayor. He also penned a book for children, ‘Corpie and the Big Fish’.

Caribbean Genealogist and black historian, Linford Sweeney, first met Whit when he worked for Manchester Council for Community Relations (MCCR) in the early 1980s. “We have travelled a similar road where serving the Afri- can-Caribbean community and writing were concerned.

“After his tenure with MCCR came to an end, Whit threw all his might behind the STEP Programme, which he had developed to mentor African-Caribbean young people. As a result of the programme, we engaged in many activities, events and stimulat- ing conversations about our community.

“It was always Whit’s way to seek the opinions of key people within the community, and I am honoured to be one of those people – even after more than 35 years,” said Linford. Whit’s daughters talked of their childhood memories of their father’s activism and the community groups he established, but perhaps the most touching tribute of the night came from Whit’s proud wife Gwen, who ended by saying: “He did what he could for the community and then became a councillor and I have supported him all the way.”

During the evening guests enjoyed poetry read by local writer, Deanne Heron, and food was provided by the Caribbean restaurant, Jerk Junction.

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