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Toyin Agbetu, also known as Oluwatoyin Agbetu (born 1967), is a British African social rights activist, community educator and filmmaker, who founded in 2000 the Pan-African group Ligali. Agbetu emerged on the international stage on 27 March 2007, during a Westminster Abbey church service held to recognize the 200th anniversary of Great Britain's Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance at the commemorative event, which marked the British government's decision to end the Atlantic Slave Trade, although slavery in British colonies would continue until 1834.
In a dramatic display, Agbetu slipped past security guards at the 2007 service and strode into the open area in front of the church altar, standing three metres away from the queen and shouting that the service was an insult to those of African heritage. In subsequent interviews he called the service a self-congratulatory exercise for those who promote oppression and those who continued to prevent the social and intellctual freedom of oppressed peoples. As reported in major media, he yelled at the queen: "'You should be ashamed. We should not be here. This is an insult to us. I want all the Christians who are Africans to walk out of here with me!'" He was wrestled to the floor by security guards and removed from the church.
Subsequently, a storm of media interest erupted, much of it negative. The Crown Prosecution Service advised that no charges be brought against him. Agbetu's intervention has been described as "an iconic moment in the modern history of African emancipation struggles". Agbetu himself later explained in The Guardian what happened from his perspective:
I was moved to make a collective voice heard at the commemorative ritual of appeasement and self-approval marking the bicentenary of the British parliamentary act to abolish what they disingenuously refer to as a "slave trade".
The "Wilberfest" abolition commemoration has eradicated any mention of resistance, rebellion and revolution instigated by millions of African people. ...
I stood up with my arms raised in a gesture of nonviolence and said "Not in our name" to Dr Rowan Williams, who was attempting to lead the congregation, which included a number of African people, to their knees to beg God's forgiveness for slavery. I went to the Queen and said that in the history of the Maafa, the British are the Nazis - but where the Germans had the humanity and humility to apologise and make reparations for the Holocaust, she, in not doing so, shames not only herself but her nation.
I then turned to Tony Blair and told him he ought to feel ashamed for his behaviour. Blair quickly averted his gaze. The rest of what I said was directed to the members of my own community who were present. I don't believe it was right for us to have remained in a venue in which the British monarchy, government and church - all leading institutions of African enslavement during the Maafa - collectively refused to atone for their sins.
Then a gang of men attempted to drag me out through the back door on my knees. I strongly asserted that I would be walking through the front door, on my feet, as an African.
From late 2007, Agbetu wrote a weekly column called "Nyansapo" for the New Nation newspaper, and in 2009 started a weekly interactive community radio program called the Pan African Drum. He is also the author of publications that include Ukweli - A Political and Spiritual Basis for Pan Africanism (2010), Revoetry - Poems from an African British Perspective (2010) and The Manual: The Rules for Men (2002).
Having founded in 2000 the Ligali Organisation, with the aim of challenging negative media representations of the African British community, Agbetu in 2010 resigned as the head of Ligali to become its curator-administrator. while continuing to strive for a Pan-African voice for the oppressed. As described on its website (ligali.org), Ligali is "a Pan African, human rights focused, non-profit voluntary organisation. We work for the socio-political and spiritual empowerment of African people with heritage direct from Africa or indirectly via African diasporic communities, such as those in the Caribbean and South America."
Among Agbetu’s additional initiatives are "The Stuff You Should Know", a project aimed at informing young people of their rights, the "No N Word" campaign (focusing on stopping the rampant use and negative reclamation of the "n word" in media and social institutions), and support for establishing a national "African Remembrance Day".
- "Beauty Is..." website.
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- David Smith, "You, the Queen, should be ashamed!" The Guardian, 27 March 2007.
- Taylor-Hunt, R. (2007). "Facing up to England's part in the slave trade", The Times (UK), 29 March 2007.
- "No charges for slavery protester", BBC News, 30 May 2007.
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- Toyin Agbetu, "My protest was born of anger, not madness", The Guardian, 3 April 2007.
- "The Ligali Founder", biography on Ligali website.
- Agbetu, "The N-Word & Insidious Racism Debate Position by Toyin Agbetu", britishblackmusic.com, 17 October 2006.
- "Beauty Is... (2014)" at BFI.
- "Beauty Is...", British Films Directory, British Council.
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- "‘Beauty Is…’ Defying Desirability Standards for Women", The British Black List.