The London Borough of Ealing and the black education movement in London bear the imprint of Willis Darnley Wilkie’s tireless struggle for children’s education rights and social justice.
Born 3rd October 1926, Willis was one of that early group of post-War migrants recruited from Barbados to come and work on London Transport. Arriving here in 1955,he was to spend the following fifty-eight years of his life in public service; initially as a transport worker, then local government officer, social worker, teacher, community organiser, political activist and independent consultant.
Like so many others of his generation, his life was spent within the crucible of British racism, an experience that defined the trajectory of his life and his achievements against all the odds.
Willis became a social worker with Kensington & Chelsea and then in Ealing, and was highly respected among his colleagues and the entire community. Despite the demands of the job, he made time, with his late wife Edna Wilkie, to act as a one-man citizens advice bureau, law centre, housing and welfare rights service and education advocacy service. He firmly believed in collective action in pursuit of change in society and so pooled his skills and expertise with others. In 1975 he and others founded the Caribbean Parents Group which became a powerful voice and advocate for parents and students. That led in 1980 to the establishment of a Supplementary school. Willis and Edna played a major part in its creation and running over many years. He went on to run small support groups for young people, encouraging them to get training and pursue their careers.
He was not only concerned with the social and educational wellbeing of the community, but also its economic disadvantage. Thus, he led the CPG in setting up a credit union in 1990 which operated successfully until 2012.
WiIlis was twice nominated for a gong from the Queen and each time he refused, in part because he always felt his achievements were the result of collective effort. He did however, cherish the recognition of his local community. In March 2004 he was given the top prize in Ealing’s inaugural Pride in Our People Award: ‘for the massive difference he made in the lives of those around him’. Other awards, including awards in his name, and recognition have followed.