The big G

It seems appropriate as the World Athletics Championships have just finished in London and Team GB finished sixth in the medal table (in large part due to the amount of UK athletes with African / Caribbean roots) to post today about two sporting legends from the 80s/90s who were an inspiration to me growing up on a council estate in Fulham.

They are Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson.

Now anyone of a certain age will know about the achievements of these athletes throughout the years during a time when you could still see NF (National Front) scrawled on walls, racism was even more rampant than it is today and people seemed to think it was impossible to be black and British.

WikipediaThompson, who is 59 now, is actually called Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson. He was born in Notting Hill to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother and suffered early childhood trauma when his dad, who was a taxi driver, was shot dead in Streatham.

He was sent to a school for troubled children at the age of seven and initially wanted to be a footballer before settling on athletics. Of course now we know he became one of the greatest decathletes of all time, with his career reaching its pinnacle in 1980 and 1984 when he won ‘the big G’ at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympic Games. He’s also won the top medal at the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

Daley was a winner and his determined persona along with his down-to-earth approach to life (apparently he hates fame) were the main characteristics that made me want to watch him and cheer his success along with the fact that he looked a bit like me.

Sanderson was born in Jamaica in 1956 and moved to Wolverhampton in England with her family when she was six. She is obviously now known as one of Great Britain’s best female javelin throwers having won the Gold medal at the Olympics in 1984 (one of six Olympic Games which she competed at) and three top prizes at the Commonwealth Games in 1978, 1986, and 1990.

When I think of Tessa the words – well-spoken, ladylike, gracious, strong and competitive come to mind – and I guess these personality traits are why she was always well-loved by the public.

http://www.tessa.co.uk/

Since the end of her amazing athletic career Tessa has continued to be an inspiration outside of the sporting world after becoming a mother to twins Cassius and Ruby Mae at the age of 57 when she adopted them with her husband.

She has also been awarded a CBE for her services to Sport England and is currently pursuing a modelling career at the age of 61.

I don’t know if sporting icons, such as Tessa and Daley, know how much their achievements on a personal level encouraged so many others, but I can say that watching them compete for the UK during my childhood was truly an inspiration to me. So I’m sure that the mixed-heritage group of athletes who put their heart and soul into Team GB last week are providing the same level of hope and motivation for countless black, white and Asian children across the UK right now.

Tessa Sanderson’s website

Daley Thompson’s Twitter page

 

 

Searching for a hero

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about role models probably because I’m realising more and more how important it is for people, especially children, to have someone they look up too, who provides inspiration and motivation and possibly a template for how you want to live your life.

In the black British community most of our role models seem to come from the sport or entertainment world, which is fine, but one of the reasons I created this website was because I wanted to show how many other role models we have to choose from who demonstrate that there is nothing in life we cannot achieve.

The hashtags #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy show how the demand for positive role models seems to be a need among people to enable them to see that there are no boundaries in life, except in the mind, and all obstacles can be overcome with a lot of persistence, dedication and hard work.

So that being said I thought that I would share with you my top five black role models – let me know yours in the comment section.

  1. My mum – she brought my brother and I up by herself on a council estate in Fulham and if I say so myself I think she did a great job.

    My mum enjoying the sunset

    She worked in the NHS for 40 years and sacrificed more than I’ll know so that we never went without.

  2. Dr Maya Angelou – poet, author and civil rights activist – there was nothing Dr Angelou could not do and despite a difficult childhood she made sure that she told her own story and was not defined by her circumstances. As Barack Obama wrote when she died in 2014: “Maya had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer.”
  3. Sir Trevor McDonald – I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Sir Trevor to get his media career off the ground over 50 years ago when racism was even more overt and hateful than it is today. But now he is regarded as one of the best journalists of our time having covered some of the world’s biggest stories and, despite being born in Trinidad, he is a national treasure in the UK.
  4. Rosa Parks – the story of Ms Parks has always fascinated me as I’ve often thought about how tired and exacerbated she must have been with segregation to refuse to get up from her bus seat so that a white passenger could sit down. She wasn’t the first to offer such resistance but her courageous stance became an important rallying symbol for the civil rights movement at the time and inspired countless other people to say ‘enough is enough’.
  5. Nelson Mandela – what more can I say that hasn’t already been said about Mr Mandela.

    Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

    There are not enough adjectives in the world to cover how much I admire his life and struggle and his ability to forgive his oppressors. I recently visited Robben Island and it really brought home to me how much black people have suffered just to be accepted as equal human beings.

 

The doctor will see you now

So as mentioned in the previous post I am currently busy trying to settle back into life in the Caribbean and continue my career as a freelance journalist. One of the best things about being my own boss, at the moment, is being able to write about issues which are important to me and then see these stories published on websites or in magazines etc which I am morally and professional in tune with, such as Black Ballad.

This week I’ve had a piece published on another platform based in the UK which is designed for women of colour and that’s called Melan Mag. This online magazine has a similar vision to Black Ballad – it was launched last year and is being run by Joy Joses who I was also privileged to interview for my MA in International Journalism.

Joy comes from a Caribbean background and it was heartening to listen to her story about why she felt Melan Mag was needed now, especially in terms of filling a creative gap, which the mainstream media has created (either deliberately or through wanton neglect), by providing content for black women in the UK who are under-represented and under-served.

Melan Mag’s website adds that it was “launched to serve as the online BFF for the UK woman of colour. Our mission is to offer a regular supply of articles, features and inspiration for smart, stylish black women…Melan Mag will feature news, information and pieces on notable black role models, fashion, health and beauty, travel and lifestyle, all with an appreciation for the black person, culture and experience.”

It is so exciting to be able to write stories which I am passionate about, which will hopefully inspire others, and for audiences which look like me and have had similar experiences growing up black in Britain.

On Friday (July 7) my first piece was published on Melan Mag about Dr Tilean Clarke – she is an inspirational entrepreneur who is dedicating her life to ensuring that women she engages with can reach their full potential.  Dr Tilean also has a Caribbean background and she grew up on a council estate in Brixton which is where she first uncovered her desire to help people better their lives.

Please read her story and share it with your friends: The doctor will see you now – introducing Dr Tilean

A stranger at home and abroad

Hello again! I’m back after a short break and ready to post some more inspirational stories about Caribbean people in the UK following my hiatus, which included a tour of Africa (one word – amazing!) and another relocation to Barbados. Yes, I am back living in the Caribbean and although no place is paradise I can truly say that this is close enough for now.

Me on top of Table Mountain

Anyway, at the moment I am busy trying to build some contacts, find stories that I want to write and maintain that all important work/life balance which always seemed to allude me while I lived in London.

I am also happy to say that I have already been able to write an article which is close to my heart for a new platform called ‘Black Ballad’. This website is the brainchild of Tobi Oredein (Twitter – @IamTobiOredein), a young and inspirational black woman who I interviewed for my MA dissertation. After meeting Tobi I knew that I wanted to get involved and write as much as possible for the site which is described as “a UK based lifestyle platform that seeks to tell the human experience through eyes of black British women.”

I am so pleased that Tobi commissioned me to write an article on my move to Barbados and why I struggle to identify as British even though I was born there, and the piece was published on Wednesday (June 28).

Please become a member of Black Ballad or subscribe to get 3 free articles a month and read my story – A Stranger at Home and Abroad by Karen Rollins

 

RIP Derek Walcott

I really do have a good excuse for not posting here since January as I’m currently working on my MA dissertation, which is due in the first week of April.

Some of you may know from the about this blog page, that this website was initially created for the first module on my MA International Journalism course at Napier University in Edinburgh, and it certainly seems a long time since I started it and embarked on being a distance learning student while still working full time. It’s been a long journey but now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel I would have to say that it was worth it.

I actually can’t quite believe my studying will soon be over and I am treating myself soon afterwards with my first trip to Africa – which I am obviously excited about (and which will probably lead to another long gap between posts – sorry).

Anyway, I wanted to put up a quick message today in respect of West Indian poet Derek Walcott who died at the weekend. If you have heard of him then I’m slightly ashamed to say that you have done better than me, as I did not know about his work or life at all until Saturday.

I was on Twitter when someone I follow posted one of his poems and said that he had died at the age of 87. I was immediately drawn to the poem which resonated with me and wanted to find out more about the author. (I know that Mr Walcott doesn’t strictly fit the criteria for this blog, as he never lived in the UK, but I hope you will indulge me, and besides he regularly spoke about how much being born in a British colony influenced his poetry).

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-interview-transcript.html

Derek Walcott – nobelprize.org

 

 

So a bit of Googling later and I realised that Derek Walcott was an extremely successful poet from the Caribbean island of St Lucia, who created a huge and impressive body of work, but was arguably most famous for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 and his epic poem Omeros, which was a Caribbean version of The Odyssey.

Once again I find myself wondering why I was never told about Mr Walcott while I was in school and exposed to the artistry of this St Lucian wordsmith and his talent with the English language. As someone who has always written poetry myself, it would have been such an inspiration to read and know about a leading writer from the Caribbean who was being recognised on the international stage.

Anyway, now we have the Internet so I guess there is no excuse not to educate yourself and even though I am sad that I have only found out about Mr Walcott’s work because of his death, at least I can enjoy the beauty of his craft now alongside the knowledge that he was West Indian born and bred and was extremely proud of that fact, and in sharing his gift with the world managed to show it a little bit of what Caribbean people are capable of.

Love after love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. – Derek Walcott

A history of black Britain

I’m constantly coming across black British people, especially my generation from the 1970s, who say they were not taught enough about their own culture in school.

Obviously we were educated in the UK, so to some extent you can’t expect to get the same history lessons (or perspective) as someone taught in the Caribbean or Africa, but I think most people would accept that we (as in every state school pupil in England) seem to learn a lot about American history and European history alongside British history but there was (and probably still is) very little time spent, if any, on black ancestry.

It was only after I went to live in Barbados when I was 33 and tried to fit in to a different culture, albeit the home of my parents and immediate ancestors, that I really realised how ‘British’ I was.

I also became acutely aware of my limited knowledge of Caribbean history and especially in terms of how it fit in and contributed to the development of the British ‘Empire’. I think I have been actively trying to make up for this deficit ever since.

Anyway, I recently came across a course which would probably fill in some of the history blanks for me and many other black Britons.

It’s being advertised by Goldsmiths University in London and I just wish that it had been around when I was a teenager and I also wish that I had time to go on it now (I’m currently researching my MA dissertation while working three jobs so barely have time to eat).

It’s called Black Britain: A History of Struggle and Triumph

goldsmiths

Copyright: Goldsmiths University

It’s running every Tuesday for 6 weeks from January 17th and will run again in the Summer at a cost of £150.

According to the website accompanying the course, it is for “anyone seeking to explore and share their experiences of the history and cultural roots of Black people and ‘Black culture’ in London.”

It adds that participants will “learn how it came to be that Britain was a key destination for migrating workers from the Caribbean in the 1960s …The course will highlight the contribution of people of African descent to the rich history and culture of Britain and will explore film, photography, literature and biography that will generate great conversation.”

I think it sounds like an interesting six weeks and I’m happy to promote it to anyone who visits my site and might be interested – don’t forget to tell your friends.

Hopefully, one day soon I may go on a course like this, or something similar, because any method that’s striving to ‘complete’ our education as black British citizens, has to be welcome.

I would also argue that people from other races should also go along if it is something that they are interested in because we all learn, and hopefully advance, when we know more about each other.

First black British TV news presenter

Happy New Year!

I wanted to start 2017 on this blog by writing about my own profession – journalism. If you’ve read the Why create this blog? page, you’ll know that I started this website as part of my MA in International Journalism and now I am writing my dissertation for the course, for which I have decided to research the lack of diversity in the British media and how this is contributing to black Britons creating their own ways to make their voices heard.

Anyway, during the course of my dissertation research I am obviously looking into the history of black people in British media and I came across the surprising news to me, which I wanted to share, that the first black TV news presenter in the UK was not Sir Trevor McDonald or Moira Stuart as I grew up believing but was, in fact, Barbara Blake Hannah.

If you’ve never heard the name before then I am sure you are not alone!

Hannah is a journalist from Jamaica and in the Guardian she set the record straight about her short stint as the pioneering black face for news on British TV in 1968. She writes that she was “appointed one of three on-camera reporters on Thames-TV’s daily evening show, Today with Eamonn Andrews”, in a role that involved interviewing all of the high-profile personalities at the time.

Unfortunately her appearance on TV was relatively short-lived as the producers came under pressure from racists to have her removed, so nine months after her debut her contract was terminated.

Of course her efforts were not in vain though as five years later, in 1973, Sir Trevor made it on to our screens followed not long afterwards by Ms Stuart, and no amount of ignorance was going to stop black people from pursuing journalism careers and making a contribution to the fourth estate after that ball had started rolling.

Hannah later worked for ATV-Birmingham and then BBC-TV’s ‘Man Alive’ before returning to Jamaica in 1972. She has since gone on to have a successful career as a writer and film-maker in the Caribbean.

So now that I am working on my dissertation I have to admit that I am, perhaps naively, actually quite surprised at the lack of diversity in the British media. According to the most recent figures from City University in December 2015 – journalists in the UK are 94% white and 55% male.

How this has come about is a bit of a mystery to me as black people are much better represented in areas which you might think would easily cross over with media, such as the entertainment industry and sport, but for reasons which I hope to explore in my dissertation there are just not many of us working in TV, radio, newspaper or online newsrooms as writers, producers or editors. And of course even fewer in the top echelon and decision-making positions.

I think I’ve said before on this blog that when I was growing up and I decided to be a journalist, my main inspirations were white TV reporters such as Kate Adie and Martin Bell – mainly because I wanted to be a war correspondent – and I never really considered their colour, or whether there were many black journalists or if journalism was a profession that black people could succeed in. I just knew that I wanted to write and tell stories.

However, I hope you’ll agree that it is worrying in a multi-cultural society, when one of its most important and influential sectors does not represent a large proportion of its people, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see the issues around discrimination and marginalisation this might cause now and in the future.

Anyway, I will keep posting on here are much as possible while I study and of course if you have any ideas about black, British people who should feature on the site then I’d be glad to hear about it.

I wish you all a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2017.

Black and British on the BBC

Gosh where does the time go? I looked around and it was the middle of November.

Anyway, just a quick post to say how extremely happy I am about the Black and British season currently airing primarily on BBC Two.

I watched a documentary on Wednesday (9th November) called Black and British: Our Forgotten History by David Olusoga and it rang so true to me because it’s part of what I’ve been trying to do on this website – namely bring to life the stories of black heroes and heroines which seem to have been lost and are certainly not taught to us in school or usually mentioned in the mainstream media.

David Olusoga

David Olusoga – copyright BBC

It was a thought-provoking and powerful story of Britain’s multicultural past and amply demonstrated just how much black people have always been intertwined with the United Kingdom going back as far as the third century AD.

One of the most poignant aspects of the programme for me was the story of a white man called Cedric who could trace his ancestry back to a black servant called Francis Barber. Barber was born a slave in Jamaica but eventually ended up living in York in Samuel Johnson’s house. Apparently Cedric is just one of about two to three million ‘white’ people in Britain who actually have a black ancestor – it was a fascinating twist which demonstrates how many of us are connected in ways we probably don’t even know.

The documentary was a series of eye-opening stories which eloquently demonstrated the fact that black people have been living and contributing to the development of Great Britain for centuries and have just as much right to be here as anyone else.

After the documentary there was another programme called Black is the New Black and I really enjoyed this simple, storytelling first person approach which just involved famous UK black people talking about what it means to them to be black and British.

Black is the New Black

Black is the New Black – copyright BBC

Featuring the likes of Lenny Henry, Dizzee Rascal, Naomi Campbell, John Sentamu and Les Ferdinand – it was like listening to friends recalling home, school and work life in the 70s and 80s and most of their experiences strongly resounded with my own.

I’ve said before on this website that I struggle on a daily basis with fitting into Britain – obviously I know that I am British by birth, but my skin colour seems to exclude me from fully claiming the label of my birth nationality.

Some people might say a sense of belonging is all in the mind, and to some extent I’d agree, but let’s not be naive enough to think that society, the media, and how our fellow citizens react to us does not play some role in how we feel we integrate into where we are from, and whether we feel as though we truly belong.

This website was partly developed out of my ‘belonging deficit’. I felt the need to know exactly how much black people had contributed to the UK so that I could feel a sense of pride and possession as well as learn from their experiences and achievements.

I will be watching as many programmes as I can while the Black and British season is on so that I can be encouraged, uplifted and empowered – I highly recommend that you watch them all too.

It is also definitely worth visiting the Black and British BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0499smp – for lots more interesting insights and stories.

Powerlist of influential black people

The Powerlist of the top 100 influential black people in Britain has been released today (25 October).

It contains and highlights the success stories of several people of African and African Caribbean descent in the spheres of business, education, science, media, the arts, and sport among other sectors.

Tech entrepreneur and educator Tom Ilube has topped the list.

Copyright: @tomilube

Copyright: @tomilube

The first Powerlist was published in 2007 and according to the website it was the “brainchild of the then New Nation Newspaper editor – Michael Eboda – who subsequently left New Nation and established his own publishing company, Powerful Media”. The aim was to “provide professional role models for young people of African and African Caribbean heritage”.

It has since led to the creation of a charity, called the Powerlist Foundation, which specialises in leadership courses for children.

So, you might ask, after 10 years of creating this list, does it show that black people are becoming less or more influential in Britain?

I read an interesting analysis by the list’s creator himself Michael Eboda ahead of its publication in the Guardian, which unfortunately painted a largely bleak picture. He claimed that in terms of public life and especially areas such as the Cabinet and the High Court ,we are still mainly unrepresented, whereas in the private sector there seems to have at least been a bit be more diversification.

You don’t need me to point out how important it is for black people to have a voice in all aspects of UK life, and to provide positive role models for our young people to follow and look up too.

I don’t believe in positive discrimination at all but if there are areas, such as the upper echelons of the police force and the judiciary where there are no black people at all, something needs to be done, because obviously this is unreflective of the society we live in and could lead to discrimination and discourse.

Interventions that might work to address the imbalance could include campaigns reaching out to schools known to have a large number of black children, hosting community events and information drop-ins in specific parts of the country, holding free talks and encouraging influential black people to reach out and take part. I could go on.

Basically there is no excuse in the 21st Century for black people to still be left behind in the UK in any area – either through their own indifference or society’s.

I started this website as my own small contribution and even though I know its reach is small, I really believe that even if it makes one person think differently, then it will have achieved something.

Anyone reading this can also try to make a change in whatever way possible – become a mentor, write about your black British experience and share it to encourage others, support black businesses, go to a positive event that is promoting black empowerment, make a list of black heroes and find out more about them so you can educate others – we are all one but collectively we can help each other and change things for the better.

I hope the Power list emboldens anyone who sees it to know that there is nothing we cannot achieve – even when the odds might be stacked against us – and to realise that individually we are strong but together we are a positive force to be reckoned with!

 

‘An extraordinary life’ – Gloria Cameron

So with Black History Month around the corner (sidestepping the issue of whether we need one / should have one etc) there were lots of things that I could post about right now set to happen all over the UK.

Despite the arguments for and against the month itself, I must admit that I do think it is generally well supported, and obviously it is a great chance for us to tell our own story which, as you know, is a passion of mine and part of the inspiration for this website.

Anyway, while looking at the myriad of celebrations going on in London I was sent a newsletter from my own council Hounslow, which has quite a sizeable Black community, and is putting on a few events including performances and workshops etc.

One of the activities that caught my eye is a book reading taking place at Hounslow Library on Thursday October 20th (unfortunately I am working so won’t be able to go).

It’s by Gloria Cameron, a Jamaican woman who moved to the UK when she was 25 and created a successful career as a Justice of the Peace. She was awarded an MBE from the Queen in 1980 for services to the community and had a business opened by Diana, Princess of Wales.

Copyright: Gloria Cameron

Copyright: Gloria Cameron

The book is called ‘Case dismissed! An ordinary Jamaican woman; An extraordinary life’ and it chronicles her childhood in Jamaica before she moved to the UK, where she gained national recognition for her community work.

Gloria herself says the reason she has written the book is because she felt it was important for the next generation to know what black people faced when they came to the UK in larger numbers in the 1960s and 1970s.

She told the Voice newspaper: “A lot of young people now have no idea what their parents and their grandparents encountered coming [to the UK]… I don’t think you can blame them, because I don’t think enough books have been written. People of past generations have not written enough books to educate them. This is why I wanted to write this book.”

She added: “I was also conscious that my life story can contribute to preserving our visual and oral history for the next generation. I really hope my story resonates with people everywhere and inspires them to pursue their passion and to become successful individuals.”

I really wish more of our older generation would share what they went through growing up ‘back home’ and when they came to start a new life in England. It is so important for all of us to know their stories, however small, so that we know how much sacrifice has been made to ‘get us a seat at the table’ and therefore do not squander it or take it for granted.

I have previously shared the story of my mum on this blog, who came to England when she was 19 and worked for 40 years in the NHS facing racism and discrimination, but successfully raised two children on her own who have hopefully made her proud.

I encourage everyone to ask their parents and grandparents about their journey – we need to know these stories of heroism and perseverance which demonstrate that there is so much more to us than what we sometimes see in the media.

We must speak up and speak out!