BME champion and housing association founder dies aged 85

John Oke, who spent his career championing black and ethnic minority (BME) groups in north London, has died aged 85.

Mr Oke was well known for his dedication to various community organisations over the years, and was known affectionately to many as Uncle John.

He is most notably remembered in the housing sector for founding Odu-Dua Housing Association in 1988.

He became the landlord’s first chief executive and was later the association’s chair. He called his work to establish and run Odu-Dua his “proudest achievement in this country”, according to his family.

As well as his work in housing, Mr Oke had been a trustee of the Camden Community Law Centre since the mid-1980s and only stepped down last year due to illness.

He spent much of his career helping young people in north London, acting as a parent governor and governor of a number of local Camden schools as part of his community work.

Maggie Rafalowicz, a director at Campbell Tickell, who worked with Mr Oke, said: “He was very passionate about providing opportunities for BME communities – be it housing or employment, community development.

“He was committed to giving people a chance.”

Mr Oke was a founding member of the Camden Black Parents and Teachers Association, later the CARAF Centre, after becoming concerned that large numbers of young black and mixed-heritage British people were leaving school or being permanently excluded with little to no formal qualifications.

The centre still works to support parents and children across the London area.

Dorian Leatham, the former chief executive of Hillingdon Council, said Mr Oke was “one of the kindest, most gentle people” he had ever come across.

“He always wanted to do the best for his community and always tried to get people to work together for the benefit of the greater community,” he said.

Mr Oke was born on 3 February 1934 in the Yoruba town of Ogbomosho, south-western Nigeria and died on 13 September at his home in Kentish Town, London.

He had been diagnosed with cancer eight years previously, battling long and hard before finally losing his fight to the disease.

His family said: “Dad was tireless in his work, both paid and unpaid, for communities in north London. He is survived by four children, two grandchildren and the legacy of the hundreds of BME lives his work has impacted.”

A service to celebrate his life and faith will be held at Golders Green Crematorium on 2 October at 3pm.

The family have asked that in lieu of flowers, people should send memories and photos of Mr Oke to okewolej@yahoo.co.uk.

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