People in Harmony is a well established organisation for mixed race people, couples and families. Whilst we have been active for over 40 years, what really keeps us young is the need to respond to constant social change and new challenges to people in mixed race situations.
We organise high quality annual conferences with themes such as education, health and social care. In April 2008 and October 2009 People in Harmony hosted conferences, ‘Understanding the experience of mixed race families and young people: improving services’ and ‘Mixed Race, Mixed Racism & Mental Health’ for professional groups such as social services, education, health and the police on developing mixed race sensibilities across public services. It targeted professionals such as teachers, social and health workers and the police to interest them in developing greater sensitivity to mixed race needs. These conferences consolidated our regular ones with topics such as Education, Arts, Health, Social Care, Arts, Criminal Justice, Identity etc., that are organised for members and are open to the public to attend.
Research by Bristol University in association with Birmingham LEA1 showed that mixed race children are still disadvantaged in the school system and we were involved in campaigning for LEAs and politicians to take note of the research and to investigate ways of improving the education of mixed race pupils. Our 2005 annual conference focussed on this very point, with leading researchers and educationists speaking to an enthusiastic audience in Ealing.
In the 1970s, when the charity was established, there were deliberate political moves to emphasise the disadvantages of racial mixing and its perceived potential for disruption. Misguided perceptions of race mixing had been a spark in the widespread unrest in areas such as Notting Hill and there was a general disapproval of all things mixed race. At this time mixed race families got together for support and to share ways of dealing with problems of racism, isolation and general lack of resources. An important early function of People in Harmony was to bring about contact with others in similar situations and establish a community of like-minded people. For many early members this was a lifeline.
Over the years different problems have become apparent through the membership. Hostile criticism of transracial adoption affected some families. The continuing over representation of mixed race children in the public care system remains a serious and unresolved issue. Rejection by family members has been an issue for some. The difficulties in reuniting with an absent parent has been the experience of others. The Census debate around ‘racial’ classification continues to be a question of importance to the mixed race community, which is, in some ways, linked to questions of identity and self-identification for mixed race people. There are many areas of interest and concern within the mixed race community that People in Harmony has been, and continues to be, in a unique position to debate and support.
We offer telephone and email support, information service, publications for sale, a website and egroup discussion list for members and a quarterly newsletter. We arrange annual conferences on topics of current interest, organise occasional stand-alone conferences and participate in training and discussion events organised by other organisations. We would like to develop further work with schools. We have run music, art and personal journeys workshops. Our members have also produced videos of their personal journeys and have written poetry and articles, which are published in our newsletter.
At present we are looking for volunteers to take this work forward and to participate in a variety of ways. We are also looking to recruit more trustees for the management committee. People in Harmony has changed over the years both in response to the social trends that have affected mixed race people and their families and because of the skills and interests of volunteers. Whilst the core beliefs in the value of diversity and opposition to mixed-racism have remained constant, activities and the topic focus of our work has been responsive and flexible.
Anyone who is supportive of our aims is welcome to join the membership and participate in discussions and activities. Volunteers to share in the work of the organisation are particularly welcome and anyone wishing to volunteer as a trustee or in any other capacity should make contact here. There is great scope for using all sorts of skills such as creative work, practical help, project management, office work and other abilities so there is room for us all.
We are a very diverse organisation with members from different ethnic and social backgrounds and no one should feel excluded – to do so would miss the point of PIH completely.
2Understanding the Educational Needs of Mixed Heritage Pupils by L Tickly, C Caballero, J Haynes & J Hill, University of Bristol in association with Birmingham LEA DfES RR549 2004
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