In the rich tapestry of history, there are individuals whose unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have paved the way for a more inclusive and just society. Gerlin Bean, a Jamaican-born activist and advocate, is one such remarkable individual. Throughout her life, she has been a driving force in the fight against discrimination and inequality, particularly within the Black community in the United Kingdom.
Early life and education
Gerlin Bean was born in 1940 in Hanover Parish, Jamaica, a country with a complex history of colonialism and racial injustice. Growing up in this environment, she witnessed firsthand the struggles faced by Black individuals and communities. She grew up in a rural setting where she learned about communal living and developed a strong sense of community. Her upbringing instilled in her the values of mutual aid and resilience, which would later shape her activism.
Bean’s journey in social justice began when she moved to London to pursue her education. She initially trained as a nurse, specialising in general and psychiatric care. However, she soon realised that her passion lay in community development and youth work. This realisation led her to shift her focus and become an advocate for addressing the systemic issues affecting Black children and young people in inner London.
The Black Women’s Movement
During the 1960s and 1970s, Bean actively participated in the feminist and Black nationalist movements in England. The Black Women’s Movement was a vital and transformative force within British feminism. This movement emerged in response to the intersecting oppressions faced by Black women, addressing issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Bean’s contributions to this movement were instrumental in amplifying the voices and experiences of Black women and challenging the status quo.
Gerlin Bean was deeply involved in organising and mobilising Black women to effect change. Alongside other influential activists, she co-founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in 1978. OWAAD provided a vital space for Black and Asian women to come together, discuss their shared experiences, and strategise for collective action. The organisation played a crucial role in galvanising Black and Asian women nationwide and empowering them to challenge systemic inequalities.
Gerlin Bean also founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group. This groundbreaking organisation provided a platform for Black women to unite, share their stories, and collectively advocate for their rights and well-being. The group became a symbol of empowerment and solidarity within the community, inspiring similar initiatives across the country.
Through these organisations, Bean sought to address the specific issues that affected Black women, such as racism, sexism, and classism. She advocated for equal educational opportunities, fair wages, adequate housing, and comprehensive family support programs, including counselling services, child care, and healthcare.
Bean’s work extended beyond the feminist movement. She was actively involved in the Black Liberation Front and the Black Unity and Freedom Party, where she played a crucial role in community organising and activism. Her dedication to social change and ability to mobilise communities made her a respected and influential figure in the fight against discrimination.
Advocating for education and youth empowerment
One of the key areas where Gerlin Bean focused her efforts was education. She recognised that the school system was failing Black children and young people, perpetuating cycles of disadvantage and limiting their opportunities for success. Determined to address these systemic issues, Bean became a passionate advocate for education reform and youth empowerment.
Bean understood that racism permeated all aspects of society, including the education system. She worked tirelessly to expose and challenge the racial prejudices ingrained within educational institutions. Through her activism, Bean sought to dismantle the barriers that prevented Black children from receiving a quality education and achieving their full potential.
Move to Zimbabwe
In 1983, Bean left England and moved to Zimbabwe after independence. She dedicated herself to development programs for women and children, working to empower and uplift marginalised communities. Bean’s expertise and experience in community development and activism allowed her to make a significant impact during her time in Zimbabwe.
Back to Jamaica
After her time in Zimbabwe, Bean returned to Jamaica, where she continued her advocacy for women’s and children’s rights. She became the managing director of 3D Projects, a charity organisation that provided assistance programs for children with disabilities and their families. Through this role, she ensured that children with disabilities had access to education and resources to thrive.
Bean’s dedication to community education and empowerment led to the establishment of schools and other educational programs focused on disability awareness and inclusion. Her work extended beyond disability rights, as she also served on the St. Catherine’s Parish Council, where she contributed to local governance and policy-making.
Gerlin Bean’s contributions to the feminist and Black liberation movements have left a lasting legacy. Her tireless efforts to fight for equality and social change have paved the way for future generations of activists and advocates. Bean’s work continues to be celebrated and recognised, particularly during events like the UK Black History Month, where her activism is highlighted as an inspiration for others.
Her commitment to amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and addressing systemic injustices serves as a reminder of the power of grassroots activism. Bean’s advocacy for the rights of Black women, people of colour, and individuals with disabilities has helped shape policies and programs to create a more inclusive and equitable society.