Ansel Wong has gone from student firebrand to being a prime mover and shaker in education and the arts in an effort to reshape Britain’s cultural landscape

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Trinidad-born Ansel Wong settled in the UK in 1965 to study for a degree in English and American Studies at the University of Hull. During his time there he became involved in radical student politics. After graduating he moved to London, where he became active in the West Indian Students Centre (WISC) in Earl’s Court, a main focus of black student activity at the time. Beyond this he worked with the Black Liberation Front, editing its paper Grassroots under a pseudonym to protect him from possible police scrutiny.

Having studied acting and dance in Trinidad, he set up the Black Arts Workshop to help black youngsters articulate their experiences through drama. A further impetus was the Caribbean Artists Movement, which was attempting to develop a revolutionary black aesthetic in Britain. It would meet at WISC, enabling Ansel to spend time with some of its major figures, including John La Rose, Andrew Salkey and CLR James.

Ansel went on to teach at several London secondary schools, where he encouraged pupils to embrace their culture and learn more about their history. He helped to create the CLR James and Ahfiwe supplementary schools as part of a grassroots challenge to racism within the education system. The latter was the first such school to be funded by the now defunct Inner London Education Authority.

In the 1980s, Ansel was principal race relations advisor in the Ken Livingstone-led Greater London Council (GLC), working closely with policy chiefs, Herman Ouseley and Paul Boateng, to establish equality in public service delivery. When the GLC was abolished by Mrs Thatcher in 1986, he worked for the London Strategic Policy Unit and contributed to the setting up of Black History Month.

He later held leading education posts in London’s Lambeth and Ealing councils, and in 1992 became vice principal of Morley College. Ansel has spent a lifetime promoting intercultural understanding, to this end working with such bodies as the Notting Hill Carnival Trust and English National Opera. In 2011, his continuing efforts to nurture carnival arts saw him taking a band to Shangai to play ‘mas’ before millions of Chinese TV viewers.

In September 2018, to mark Time Out magazine’s 50th anniversary, Ansel was among the 50 people featured as helping to shape London’s cultural landscape.

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