a shoebox, a square and a shared experience – the ’81 uprisings’ remembered.

By Mkuu Amani

In Brixton last Thursday, Empathy Museum’s A Mile in My Shoes: 81 Uprisings, an exhibition that offers attendees an opportunity to gain a valuable shared experience, arrived in Windrush Square.

A Mile in My Shoes: 81 Uprisings is located in a shoebox built to a size and length to comfortably accommodate several human beings at a time. 

The exhibition consists of audio representations gathered from many individuals, alongside a chance to actually wear a pair of their shoes. 

It’s a unique concept that echoes the sentiment of walking in someone else’s shoes hence gaining empathy for their personal experience. 

The exhibition focuses on the 1981 uprisings that tore through the UK in response to the racism that formed a part of the ‘black’ experience. 

Riots erupted in key cities such as Toxteth (Liverpool), Handsworth (Birmingham), Chapeltown (Leeds), and Brixton (London). 

According to the Empathy Museum website, ‘A Mile in My Shoes: 81 Uprisings brings together stories from people who were there at the time and who felt the reverberations through homes, streets, and communities across the country – in ways we all still live with today.’

The launch event took place at the Black Cultural Archives, where, in chilly conditions, several speakers took to the platform on the forecourt. 

Amongst the speakers was the museum’s Assistant Producer, Olivia Douglass who said, “Empathy Museum exists to give people the opportunity to see the world from someone else’s perspective. This project does that like no other.”

Olivia Douglass

Professor Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman

Ros Griffiths

Storytellers unite. Some of the contributors gather at Black Cultural Archives for the launch event.

Jennifer Blake (left) and Jimmy Jagne – whose stories were two of the thirty-five gathered for the exhibition.

Lorna Gee provided inspiration, motivation and of course, the musical entertainment.

Also amidst the audience were several of the ”storytellers’ whose recorded audio contributions made the exhibition possible.

Jennifer Blake, one of the founding members of the Walsall Black Sisters Collective, was one of them.

She agreed to share her story when Empathy Museum approached her in 2022 and travelled from the Midlands to be at the launch event.

Jennifer said, “It was crucial to attend the launch and to mark the significant role the uprisings of 1981 had on the formation of Walsall Black Sisters Collective a few years later.”

“The uprisings put a stark spotlight on the lived experience of racism, exclusion and the scourge of limiting life chances for black people in the UK,” she continued, adding, “It’s likely, Walsall Black Sisters would not have received support and resources for its formation without this. My story provides valuable insights into the legacy and the impact of the uprisings of 1981.”

The shoebox landed in Brixton’s Windrush Square in the early hours of Thursday morning. It will remain there until 27th April. 

It’s open to the public daily. 

To find out more: A Mile in My Shoes – 81 Uprisings

More about the events of 1981 from Mkuu Amani: The Fire, The Bridge and The War Zone

Mkuu Amani

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