Black history Brixton style

Simone Richardson meets Sulaiman Lee whose charity bookstall by Brixton station is in history books and might just be the subject of a PhD degree

portrait of man in front of flag
Sulaiman Lee

The raid on Sulaiman Lee’s charity bookstall outside Iceland on Brixton Road at 6pm on a Thursday evening in September 2016 brought back memories for many of policing from the 70s and 80s.

Police claimed dozens of Metropolitan and British Transport police, one of whom used a CS gas spray, were looking for drugs and weapons as well as “unlicensed traders”.

The heavy handed operation drew a large crowd of commuters and residents astonished and outraged at the police behaviour which was also criticised by then Lambeth council leader Lib Peck who said she was speaking to police to prevent another such incident.

Today, Sulaiman is still there, promoting Black history books.

open air book stall display

Perseverance is in his nature – as he has shown during the past 12 months of lockdowns and other restrictions.

Sulaiman was born and grew up in Tottenham – at the other end of the Victoria Line from Brixton.

His dad, who passed last year, was legendary music producer Bunny Striker Lee.

His family, with Jamaican heritage, “believed in the liberation of African people and African pride, culture and history. They put me on the path that I am on today,” Sulaiman says.

That path sees the stalls of the Black Child Promotions charity in Brixton on Thursdays and Fridays as well as in Tottenham, Camden, the West End, and as far afield as Birmingham.

Another family priority was education and Sulaiman made his mother and father proud with his second degree – a masters in business administration (MBA) achieved with a distinction from Anglia Ruskin University.

His first degree, from Middlesex University, is in business marketing.

Sulaiman recalls the day in 2016 when he and colleagues “were attacked and arrested by the police and the Brixton Community came out to protest for our release!”

Social media footage of the scene went viral and it was reported by national television and newspapers.

Fittingly for a man dedicated to Black history, it is also recorded in the Sunday Times best seller Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala. “On pages 177 to 178,” says Sulaiman.

“The community kept our books safe when the police arrested me and returned every book with not one book missing when we were released from Brixton police station,” he recalls.

“The community also protested for me when I was in the cell. They demanded our release (two other charitry workers were also arrested).

“They came with drums and a megaphone protesting, putting the pressure on the police station.

“I was released because of community pressure and got no further action.”

Sulaiman has since stepped further into what he calls “a natural and organic progression” with the help of his uncle and mentor Nkrumah Pepukayi.

“With his over 50 years of experience and expertise in Black book distribution he has helped mentor me since I was a child,’’ says Sulaiman.

Black Child Promotions itself has now been in existence for 18 years.

“I would love to evolve and create a long-lasting legacy like my uncle and mentor Pepukayi, who has been in the business of books for 50 years,” says Sulaiman.

One way to do this, and a possible goal of his, would be a third degree – making the community bookstalls he has worked on for so long the subject of a PhD.

To find out about the books on offer “the community can visit our community book stalls in Brixton every Thursday and Friday,’’ says Sulaiman.

“Even though I am from Tottenham, I see Brixton as my home also.

“It is a cultural hub and a very good place to galvanise the grass roots. It is also a good place to promote education on Black culture and history!’’

Police and other officials please note: the books are offered freely, and donations that people who take one make go to the Marcus Garvey Foundation’s London headquarters, the Maa Maat centre