My holiday afternoon with Dr Martin Glynn and Dr Jo Shah

The following are my notes of a conversation between Jo and Martin. I recommend you listen for yourself.


I am glad I am alive, and I am glad I am of some use.

I am 63 now (so me coming from a culture where age is respected and means wisdom I am very pleased).

I am the original black nerd, from a street background. Grew up in a house with a library and radio was my theatre (I am jealous). Telling stories at 16.

Just don’t tell him he can’t do something. Remember Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The journey

This person comes up and tells me he was a producer for Radio 4: have you ever written a radio play? That’s how I got my first radio commission.

Then someone asked me to write for TV, for Casualty. Then he read a book. Offered to write a script for it.

Then he did an adaptation of Mark Twain. It got accepted.

Then into criminology in academia, via work in prison. This was after a realisation that the real stories of men (especially Black men) were not making into the public consciousness. It made me angry. Masters (without a first degree) and then a PhD. I was an artist before.

I aspired to get into Broadway and West End.

Transformative narrative, from an entertainment narrative.

Race is not for the swift but for those who can endure.

“You are not going to come into your own until you are in your 50s and 60s. The life before is an apprenticeship”. Thank you Martin; I am just getting started.

What makes people to stop offending?

Do black men have a voice outside of the criminal justice system and mental health? To understand black men is to understand me.

My children are the ages as Trayvone Martin and Stephen Lawrence. I am because we are, and we are because I am.

Navigating the (white space) of the academy

It’s like being in a prison. The only difference is the job titles of those in charge. They operate with sensitivity, but you are still on a plantation. You look outside from the university; into the field which is the community.

I always wanted to create counter-narratives. I still do. So Critical Race Theory and intersectionality were a logical place to be.

I am not an artist or an academic; I am a storyteller. My doctorate enables me to tell my stories; so, they’re not thrown into the bin.

Academia; it’s just buildings.

When I hear someone complain about a photocopier, I want to say to them: you’re lucky; you have a photocopier.

Someone said to me: how come you are an academic; you sound too rough.

I realised I was surrounded by people speaking properly.

The oppressive nature of white spaces such as the academy.

If I come to work too early, people may think I am a cleaner. A saying from the 1960s: I might be a toilet cleaner but at least I am not black.

Decolonisation requires resources.

Interest convergence. The institution is now interested. The only change is that which is wholesale; anything else is just tinkering.

A lot of us have forgotten who the enemy is.

Where do I position myself? What resources do I have? What tools do I need?

I am not cut out for university. If 6 Black people are sitting together in the cafeteria, people think it’s a new Black Lives Matter movement. But if 6 white people are sitting together: “they’re having a discussion”.

For six or seven hours we think we are equal. But the moment I get out on the street and I get stopped by the police…

His favourite place in the library is not the classroom but the library.

God did not put me on earth to go to university, but he put me in spaces to get experience. He put me in university to show people what it’s like outside. University can give you the tools to transform the community. It’s a place to strengthen my brain capacity.

Funny stories

How dare you talk about Romeo and Juliet to illustrate gang warfare!

Was it because I was black!

Reflections on the life so far and what next?

Ask him a question. He says, “do you want me to give you an educated response?” It’s been very disappointing.

My mum said: always have something to fall back on. Nothing lasts forever. So, I can do lots of things.

Successes and learning

The biggest success has been failure; to talk about failure. I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded. The students want to know how I overcame failure.

I always want to connect with students as humans. So, I share ‘me’ along with my content.

In traditional societies it was the elders and story tellers who passed on the wisdom. There is not enough story telling in university.

In my contract it talks about attainment but not about the competencies I have brought to the academy.

In my lessons I say: your experience matters. Let’s talk about it. Let’s weave it into the learning.