“Are you part of a multi-cultural family?” – Breaking down barriers and building “Harmony”
Carol Kayira, a young white mother of mixed race children, struggled to find resources and information to meet the cultural and identity needs of her children whose father was Black African. Carol’s personal experience was that mixed race children are a bridge between communities and she was determined to speak out. Carol made contact with other mixed race families and couples in London, starting up local meetings in the Lambeth areas within London, and HARMONY was born in 1972.
One day while washing up I decided to ask the universe to show me what I could usefully do with my life, since I seemed to have failed to find out for myself! Within 5 days the idea of starting an organisation to bring together interracial families dropped into my mind! It appealed to me for several reasons: to bring together interracial families for a positive reason and help destroy the media image of mixed marriage meaning problems or simply an excuse for sensational black/white sex articles. To act as a resource for all information on interracial matters especially practical things like skin and hair care, etc. To counter downright prejudiced statements such as one Enoch Powell made in 1971 about mixed race children being a factor of tension in the community. Also, there were lots of ethnic associations in Britain but none represented the interests of mixed race children. And last but not least to make friends with other people who had an interracial dimension in their lives.HARMONY newsletter No. 25 1978 Carol Kayira
Carol wrote to Johnnie Walker’s Radio 1 programme in 1972 and the producers invited her onto the show to talk about her idea of developing Harmony with like-minded people across the UK. The response from the public was of overwhelming support and the development of Harmony commenced with local groups being formed across the country during the 70s & 80s . We’ve spoken to members, current and from earlier years, who remembered Carol, and who had been encouraged and inspired by her enthusiasm and dedication in ‘making mixed race matter’ and bringing up children to know they did ‘belong’ and that interracial living was a normal everyday experience.
Eve Manghani is one of many people who met Carol when Harmony was based in London and here she shares memories and thoughts of the earlier years of the work carried out by Carol.
“My Thoughts and Memories of Carol and Harmony”
by Eve Manghani.
I saw a poster on a board in Morley College, London. It said ‘Are you part of a multi-cultural family?’. I was instantly interested as my husband was Indian and we had two Anglo/lndian sons.
I phoned the number given and spoke to a person with a lovely, friendly voice. That person was Carol. After the usual pre-amble we decided to meet and discovered that we lived a few streets away from each other. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a person with the most ‘open, friendly, positive’ smile you could imagine. I knew straight away we would be friends – never mind Harmony. For many years we were close friends and enjoyed lots of happy moments with our children. Over the years I watched Carol build up Harmony. She was such a positive person with a driving force. She had such a loving, giving nature that nobody could refuse her demands or squash her ideas.
Carol started a Harmony centre in Mitcham, a local based centre run by a formidable Cockney lady called Aunty Doll . Carol organised everything that went on there. Many families came to the centre for advice and support, some came just for Carol’s ‘drop scones” or Aunty Doll’s stew. Carol also started ‘Multicultural lunches’. These were really wonderful. Everyone would meet at a different person’s house once a month or each week during school holidays. We all took along our own special food according to our culture. The children all played together (or fought together!) as the parents sat around sharing thoughts and learning about each other’s culture. Also we were able to seek support or friendly advice if we were experiencing difficulties in a mixed race union. My family have learnt tolerance and understanding of other cultures through Harmony. My sons have become proud of their dual heritage after meeting other mixed race children.
Carol set up yet another venue at Brixton at an enormous old church building. It was a great success. Carol had never been afraid to take risks! Carol had the inspiration, drive, commitment and most of all the love that helps conquer barriers. Everyone has benefited from knowing Carol. I feel privileged and grateful to have been her friend.
Paul Egbers-Kane is a current member of PIH who joined the membership during the 90s and here are his thoughts and recollection from those days to current times.
I sat in some AGMs & workshops at the PIH’s premises in Slough amazed & overwhelmed hearing people chat & debate freely about how are we defining ourselves and creating our own space
I joined PIH in 1994, partly as a humanities graduate & partly from soul-searching. Having been referred to as “half-caste” and “coloured” all my life, I wanted to meet and hear what other people of Mixed heritage have to say about what it means to them to be Mixed race. I grew up in a rural Hertfordshire village and I had hardly met any people of colour by the 90’s, let alone Biracial or Mixed race. So I sat in some AGMs & workshops at the PIH’s premises in Slough amazed & overwhelmed hearing people chat & debate freely about how are we defining ourselves and creating our own space
Since joining PIH 28 years ago I have attended AGMs, workshops, webinars and seminars with professional speakers and lecturers sharing their in depth research into Mixed race statistics, and found it fascinating hearing about all the new “Mixed & Other” Census categories and Mixed race being the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK. Many facts & statistics we learn in PIH conventions are fascinating & empowering although some sadly confirm our worst suspicions & show there is still a long way to go in having Mixed race recognised & respected as a unique & distinct racial / ethnic group. I have admired the defiance & stubbornness of some Mixed race individuals who insist on the right to self-define and get the best of both worlds and freely mix & mingle between racial groups, thereby claiming our true racial heritage & rights & freedoms.
There are PIH members & trustees who give talks in schools, social services, fostering & adoption and the police, all helping to raise the profile of Mixed race consciousness & awareness of the Mixed race presence in society and the benefits and contributions we make to society as well as the barriers and prejudice we are still up against from monoracial groups & individuals. From time to time we see high profile Mixed race politicians & celebrities (eg ‘Our Megan’) in the limelight and we are keen to see how they get treated as this reflects societies’ attitudes and behaviour towards Mixed race people because obviously how we are perceived by others is important as well as how we self-define.
The UK’s Mixed race population is tentatively finding it’s feet, its voice, and it’s place not just in the UK, US, Canada & other countries where races freely mix, but in a world that is increasingly free to travel, emigrate & intermarry. And where advertising used to reinforce racial stereotypes, is playing a big role in normalising images of interracial couples and families and pushing integration forward, in spite of the doomsters & gloomsters who claim that integration has failed, the evidence clearly shows otherwise, and you can’t argue with facts & figures!
I was literally 1 year old at PIH’s inception, and just as I have played a peripheral role in PiH over the years & envision a huge & powerful organisation come 2072, so do not underestimate the potential of PIH, as it has evolved considerably over the last 50 years and it is constantly attracting new generations of curious, inquisitive & defiant Mixed race families, professionals & individuals, who all got something to say.
In my time the racial landscape in the UK has changed dramatically from verbal abuse & assaults on the street, to interracial & mixed couples being so normal now, nobody bats an eyelid, albeit the HARMONY is confined to highly eclectic urban areas, but city lifestyles & attitudes are the moral compass that the towns & villages follow, and the highly Mixed urban landscapes set the tone and the flavour for the racist hillbillies to follow.
In humble my opinion PIH will grow & evolve and play an important role in the rapidly evolving ethnic landscape of the UK, and it’s trustees all deserve MBEs, arise Dame Val….
Yours in harmony, Paul Egbers-Kane
Nina Swift, interviewed Carol for her mixed race research in 1979.
My research showed that in a mixed relationship the white partner was positive about the joys of having children from two cultures etc etc and the black parent was saying – “our children will face racism – society will see them as black” etc.
I became aware of Harmony in 1979 when I interviewed Carol Carnall (as she was then) as part of research for my dissertation on the racial identity of mixed race children. I visited her in Boreham Wood.
It was in 1986 that I took the job of National Organiser when we moved to Street, Somerset, near the newly purchased Harmony centre in a village nearby called Meare. The centre was really run down, the wind not only came through the cracks in the windows but the cracks in the walls. It is unrecognisable now. The work of Harmony included running residential courses at the centre, which must have been a tour de force for some. Mae Lee was the warden then.
Harmony offered a chance for my girls who were living in “White” Street to mix socially with a broader range of members. For me it all seems a world away now, and my memory of names and individuals is hazy. I know that as an organisation the members have been supportive and helpful and good to have know even though it was fleetingly, so thank you to Harmony for offering me the chance to be involved at that time .
From my initial wonder about how mixed race children identify themselves – seeing my mixed race pupils at my school in Deptford greeted by “What you looking at you little black b*stard” – by their white mothers!!!!! was the start of my questioning, – to my research that definitely showed that in a mixed relationship the white partner was positive about the joys of having children from two cultures etc etc and the black parent was saying – “our children will face racism – society will see them as black” etc. Often after talking to a couple I would feel as I left that I had opened a Pandora’s box for them. But these are issues that did need to be talked about. The white mums of black children at my old school did not intellectualise in that way. And moving on to meeting Carol and realising there was a support network out there looking at issues of transracial adoption and even the simple thing of caring for black hair and skin.
Although I had a very short snap shot of time I respect Harmony for still going after 40 years* and I am sure the issues are the same, the struggle for funding the same, the need for publicity the same – eg do mothers of new racially mixed babies get an information leaflet about Harmony – they should be in every hospital so the support is in at the beginning.
Well done and Happy Birthday Harmony on your Ruby Anniversary*,
Edited version of Nina Swift’s article ‘Harmony Centre Meare’ published in PIH 40th Anniversary* Newsletter 2012.
HARMONY ACROSS BRITAIN
The following accounts illustrate the diversity of HARMONY groups and the wide range of their activities.Extracts from HARMONY Newsletter No. 25 1978
Portsmouth and Southampton HARMONY Group started by Sue Adeyemo in 1976.
Our family had been dormant members of HARMONY since 1972, simply receiving the quarterly newsletter and reading rather wistfully of the activities taking place in London which we had just missed by moving from there only months earlier. In due course we learned from Carol that there were new family members in the Southampton area. But then out of the blue in the early summer of 1976 we received a letter from a family living less than a mile from us, who had received our address from Carol when they wrote for information about HARMONY. We got together, and eventually decided to form our own group.
Carol sent us the names of the people in Southampton and at very short notice they came to our first HARMONY meeting in August 1976. There were 9 members present and since then we have held quarterly Sunday evening meetings in each other’s homes, alternating as far as possible, between Portsmouth and Southampton. Our first family’ gathering was a New Year party in January 1977 which one of our families kindly hosted. The practice we adopted then and which has been repeated since was that each family brings enough to feed itself, with an assortment of sweet and savoury. Then all the food is put together and everyone helps themselves. The following New Year’s party was also graciously hosted by another of our families, but by 1979 our numbers were too large to be accommodated comfortably in anyone’s home. But by now we were fortunate to have among our members a family who run the Portsmouth YMCA and they kindly offered us one of their rooms. That party was- a great success and we had plenty of space to organise party games. Each family had been asked to come prepared with at least one game, so with 8 families present there was never a dull moment!
The group has also during its 3 years existence organised at least 2 summer outings each year. These have included visits to Marwell Park, Fairthorne Manor, Southampton Zoo and Southsea Beach. These outings we find are particularly enjoyed by the children of all ages who are beginning to get to know each other quite well now. We also took an active part in One World Week (October 1978) preparing African food for an Inter-Faith Celebration and holding a HARMONY stall in Portsmouth Guildhall Square on the Saturday.
We usually get an average of at least 12 members present at our Sunday evening meetings, with a different selection of faces at each one, though always the same nucleus! The group consists of about an even number of mixed marriage families and adoptive families, plus the parents of one half of a mixed marriage family! Our area has also extended somewhat and we now embrace families to the east of Portsmouth as far as Emsworth and Arundel.
A letter from a Southampton HARMONY family.
We are an adoptive family with 3 natural children aged 13, 11 and 9, and 2 brown sons aged 3 and 7. Our first contact with HARMONY came after reading about it in a Playgroup magazine. Living in a predominantly ‘white’ area our children are somewhat of a novelty! They rarely meet adults or children who look like them and for several terms the 7 year old was the only brown child in his school.
HARMONY seems to us vital as a means of giving them friendly contact with adults and children of different colours and for us all to share the pleasure of each other’s company.
Their brownness is something of which both have been well aware since about 2.5 – 3 years of age and we feel that they need to feel proud of what they are and to know that we are proud of them to. It isn’t easy – most children want to be like their contemporaries. Chris the older boy once said when I asked if he minded being adopted said ‘No, but I sometimes mind being brown’. That is the last thing we want him to feel and we are sure HARMONY can help him very much. But that isn’t all! Our 3 older children owe a lot to HARMONY. They have met people from all over the world and enjoyed their company. Their pride in, and enjoyment of, their brown brothers is greater for this. Multiracial living is a happy reality to them which was unknown to us as children!
A & J.
Thames Valley HARMONY Group started by Kris and Jette Iyer
My wife and I were first members of the Ealing group and we still keep in touch with this group. Jette and I have been in touch with Carol from January ‘74 and joined the Ealing group in June ‘76. We were active members of that group and when we moved to Wokingham in April ‘77 we still kept in touch with that group, but, due to the distance involved could not take part in all the activities of the group.
In May 1978, Jette and Tomiko [Harmony family members] got together informally At the same time we heard from Carol that Pauline and John [Harmony family members] had moved to this area. It was decided to start a group when we all met for a picnic in a local beauty spot known as ‘The Ridges’ followed by a get together in our house for chat. During the afternoon plans were made to get together for picnics and coffee evenings on a regular basis and we have had 3 picnics and 5 coffee evenings. The children’s Christmas party was held at Pat and Arthur’s house and was enjoyed by one and all. We had hired the services of a conjurer and (here we reveal it!) Brian M’s father volunteered to act as Father Christmas. We have named our group Thames Valley group and we would like to hear from anybody in the area around Reading and Berkshire.
Recently a teacher living in Wokingham wrote to HARMONY for information. Carol was able not only to send the newsletter and Harmony leaflet, but to put him in touch with the Thames Valley group. This was his reply: “Thank you very much for your most helpful letter. I have introduced myself to the local representatives of HARMONY. Jette and Kris have proved to be most friendly and approachable people, and I have already been to a Community Relations dance and lunch with them I feel the £2 I am enclosing is more than value for money.”
Ealing (West London) HARMONY Group
Ealing’s earlier events concentrated on activities for the children (it seems that most of our members’ needs are concentrated in this area). The most enjoyable are activities which can involve not only children of all ages, but adults too.
A fun afternoon was spent in a member’s cellar painting and glueing cardboard boxes and wallpaper. Kite flying would have been more fun if the weather had not been so cold – the same goes for the egg rolling at Easter on a local hill. There have been picnics at local parties. Wehave held monthly coffee evenings which have played an important part in consolidating relationships within the group as well as facilitating discussion on various relevant topics etc. It is a way of maintaining contact and momentum – events are planned. Some of the evenings take on a particular theme such as ‘Music from around the world’. Everyone brings a favourite record. Or, someone brings their slides of a trip home to the Caribbean. Various speakers have been invited: A local member of the National Association of Multiracial Education (NAME) George Young MP. Conservative MP for Acton (a lively exchange, that!) Chris Power – multicultural education.
We have had International Evenings where each member brings a dish. These seem to have been particularly enjoyable and other HARMONY groups are invited. It is an opportunity to exchange group news and ideas. A major fund raising event was last year’s ‘HARMONY Spring Dance”. It was very successful and we hope to repeat it on May 25th. 200 people attended last year and we hope for 300 this year. A-telegram was sent on behalf of Ealing HARMONY to the Home Office deploring the proposed deportation of a Kenyan Asian family. And HARMONY members supported the campaign to prevent a National Front meeting at the Town Hall. There is the annual Xmas party – each child receives a book with a multicultural bias as a present and £10 was collected this year for the Tony Bravo appeal. We also take part in People to People week in Ealing each October, as part of these activities in 1977 we had a joint gathering with Ealing International Voluntary Service. In 1978 we combined with a local Methodist Church to hold a multicultural harvest supper -samosas as well as baked potatoes!
There are many more local HARMONY groups from across the UK featured in this same newsletter and we will be updating the web page with further information on the activities that took place as part of the 50th anniversary.
The George Padmore Institute, London, hold some Harmony newsletters 1972-1981 Ref: LRA/01/03
“to exchange practical information relating to family life, especially the bringing up of children, including adopted and fostered children of mixed race; to work with young people, schools and all organisations interested in learning more about mixed marriage and race” (Harmony: Aims – undated).
Set of newsletters (incomplete) issued by Harmony, a UK organisation aiming to bring together interracial families for advice, support and friendship. The Secretary is given as Carol Kayira and the Chairman as Marjorie Boye-Anawomah. Carol Kayira describes how she set up the Harmony group from scratch, aided by an unexpected launch via the BBC when her letter about the project and her experiences was read out by Johnnie Walker during Housewife of the Day, a feature on his Radio One show in 1971  (see newsletter No. 25).
The aims of Harmony are listed on an accompanying document: to contact and help as many mixed marriage couples as possible; to arrange contacts between families living abroad and those intending to go overseas; to exchange experiences through a newsletter and meetings; to provide confidential discussion and counselling for those thinking of entering into a mixed marriage or steady relationship; to exchange practical information relating to family life, especially the bringing up of children, including adopted and fostered children of mixed race; to work with young people, schools and all organisations interested in learning more about mixed marriage and race; to “add another voice to those campaigning for immigrants’ rights, anti-apartheid, and for the establishment of a multi-racial society” (Harmony: Aims – undated).
The set of newsletters run from December 1972 to Spring 1981. The first 4 newsletters are single sheets: December 1972; January 1973; February 1973; March . In the January 1973 newsletter, we find the following text: “We acquired a useful new member, Sarah La Rose, who with her husband runs a bookshop specialising in African and West Indian books, at 76 Stroud Green Road [New Beacon Books] … No doubt Sarah will be able to help us a great deal with one of our aims, i.e. to find and make available useful and interesting literature.” The rest of the newsletters have multiple pages: No. 8 (Winter 1974/75); No. 8 (sic) (Spring 1975); No. 10 (Summer 1975); No. 11 (Autumn 1975); No. 14 (Spring? 1976); No. 15 (Autumn ); No. 16 (Winter 1976/77); No. 18; No. 25 (Spring ; No. 27 (September 1979); No. 28 (January 1980); No. 29 (March 1980); No. 30 (June 1980); No. 31 (September 1980); No. 32 (Winter 1980); No. 33 (Spring 1981).
Subjects covered in the newsletters: relationships; identity; education; adoption; language; inter-faith couples; nationality bill; nuclear disarmament; racial harmony; racism; toys; book reviews; hair care; recipes. There are personal testimonies, especially around physical and emotional identity. NB: Newsletter No. 25 explains how Harmony started up and why. The file also contains publicity for a conference What About the Children? on the subject of mixed race children and their place in society. The conference was organised by Harmony and the Friends Community Relations Committee and was held on 17 June 1976 in London. The newsletters are also accompanied by lists of Harmony activities as well as notices for AGMs and meetings (no minutes included, other than decisions reported in the newsletters).