About Karen Rollins

I am a journalist in my early 40's. I was born and raised in London, England but moved to my parent's country of birth, Barbados, last year. Barbados (for those of you that don't know) is in the West Indies and is the most easterly of all of the Caribbean islands. I love being a journalist (most of the time) because I love writing, meeting new people, finding out interesting things and getting paid for it. Writing has been my passion since I was little and my mum used to read me all sorts of fascinating stories (my favourite author is Charles Dickens). I knew from very early on that I would be happy if my career involved some sort of writing and ever since I learnt how to write I have always had a pen in my hand and later was never far from a keyboard. Last year I finished writing my first novel and eventually I will try to get it published. In the meantime I am trying to settle into life in the Caribbean sun.

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!

Black soldier and firefighter honoured

Today I read about one of the first black men to serve in the British army and the London Fire Brigade – Trinidadian-born George Arthur Roberts.

Roberts was honoured last week with a blue plaque, organised by the Southwark Heritage Association, at his former home in Camberwell where he lived from 1923 to 1970.

London Fire Brigade

George Roberts – copyright London Fire Brigade

Born in Trinidad in 1890 he served in the army and made his way to the UK when the First World War broke out. He joined the Middlesex Regiment and earned the nickname the ‘Coconut Bomber’ when he threw bombs back over enemy lines in the same way that he used to throw coconuts as a child. He was wounded at the Battle of Loos and then in the Battle of the Somme.

When the war finished he briefly went home to Trinidad before returning to the UK and settling in Peckham. As World War Two began he joined the National Fire Service and battled blazes during the Blitz.

By all accounts George Roberts had a remarkable life, as in between his service he also helped establish the ‘League of Coloured People’, which was set up in 1931 to address the needs of Britain’s black community.

In 1944 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his courage as a Blitz firefighter at New Cross Fire Station. He stayed in London for the rest of his life and died in 1970.

George Roberts is another shining example of the contribution Caribbean people have made to the UK – he put his life on the line for his ‘adopted country’ countless times and deserves to be recognised and remembered.

Read more here:

One of the first black men to serve in the British army honoured

Groundbreaking wartime firefighter recognised with blue plaque

World War One hero who could throw bombs 74 yards

International Slavery Remembrance Day

Did you know that August 23rd is recognised as International Slavery Remembrance Day? No, me neither. I hadn’t even heard of this day before and I doubt many schools/organisations or other important bodies will be holding events to mark it but obviously that doesn’t diminish its importance.

The terrible consequences of the transatlantic slave trade are remembered on August 23rd because that’s the day a successful uprising of enslaved Africans took place in 1791 on the island of Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti).

So wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki - It is not wrong to go back and get that which we have forgotten.

So wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki – It is not wrong to go back and get that which we have forgotten.

I’ve just been reading about it and one part of the country that seems to be doing its bit on the day is Liverpool which has organised a range of events on Tuesday including a lecture by writer/poet and hip hop star Akala and a walk of remembrance.

In London I found details on an Afro-fusion festival which is currently going on in Brixton and lasts for three weeks ending on August 29th. According to the festival’s organisers its “main intentions are to celebrate and promote Afro-Caribbean arts and culture whilst at the same time re-examining the transatlantic slave trade and our subconscious view on the continent of Africa as a result.”

The Royal Museums Greenwich are also having a Day of Reflection from 11am-4pm – which will include lectures, re-enactments and a solemn commemoration ceremony by the River Thames and Black History Studies are holding ‘Breaking The Chains’ film festival which culminates on Friday September 2nd with the film Tula: The Revolt which is about how the Haiti uprising spread to Curacao.

A memorial service also took place in Trafalgar Square on Sunday August 21st, which was apparently the first one ever (hopefully of many) and on Tuesday itself people are being asked to observe a two-minute silence at 11am in honour of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

I really hope that this day will grow in importance and will be talked about more, especially in schools and universities, as more people become aware of it and do their bit to spread the word.

By recognising this day we can all show how vital it is that we don’t forget the injustices suffered by our ancestors, while also celebrating how far we have come because of their sacrifices but keeping our eyes, hearts and minds open to how much still needs to be done in the fight against racism and for full and unconditional inclusion.

Please tell everyone you know about Slavery Remembrance Day.

Read more here: Slavery Remembrance Facebook page

Calling all black Londoners

So I must start by apologising for not posting on this blog for months – life has just been too hectic and I have not had the time I would like to devote to communicating on the site. But I hope I can make some more time in the future, so thank you if you are still out there and interested in what I am posting on the contribution of black Caribbean people to the UK.

So in my first post back, I would like to draw your attention to an event I saw advertised on Twitter which fits in nicely with this blog as it’s a lecture series examining the black community in London before 1948.

Obviously some people reading this will not be based in London so can’t take part but even if this message just highlights the work of Black History Studies, which is running the series, then I will be happy.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating that it is essential for everyone to know more about their history and especially in this day and age when more than ever people must be made aware of who they are and where they are from, so that they don’t become lost and detached from their roots and susceptible to brainwashing and manipulation.

Anyway please check out the course and Black History Studies when you get a chance – and check back here for more posts on black people in Britain which I promise I will produce more of in the future.

Black Londoners: The history of black people in London before 1948 – a short course

Filmmaker and history-maker: Steve McQueen

So it seems appropriate as the row over the ‘all-white’ Oscars rumbles on (#OscarsSoWhite), that the person I want to post about today is a leading Black British director, producer and screenwriter who was born in London in 1969 with parents from Trinidad and Grenada – Steve McQueen.

McQueen is probably best known for winning an Oscar for Best Film in 2014 for his screen adaption of the 1853 slave memoir of Solomon Northup – ’12 Years a slave’ – this was the first time any film with a Black director or producer won an Academy Award for Best Film. The movie, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita N’yongo, also won a BAFTA and Golden Globe as well as a Best Director award for McQueen from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Steve_McQueen

By Aprillamb

In fact McQueen has been rewarded for his work quite a bit – in 2011 he was honoured with a CBE for services to the visual arts and in April 2014 Time magazine included him in its annual Time 100 list as one of the ‘Most Influential People in the World’.

But what makes McQueen so interesting for me is the fact that he grew up in West London in the 70s and 80s (just like me). He also often tells a story of how he was stereotyped at school, in his case, being put into a class full of mainly Black boys who were thought of as ‘academically challenged’ – so basically written off.

But instead of using this experience and his dyslexia to feed a bitter notion of neglect, anger and under privilege, McQueen was able to develop his talent for art and visual design and has now gone on to have a successful career in Hollywood.

So, as with all of the people I try to highlight on this blog, he is a great example of someone from a Caribbean background who has contributed significantly to the UK and his life demonstrates how you should not let how you have been treated in the past define your whole future.

I am also excited about McQueen’s future projects which include a film biopic on Paul Robeson (who I have previously written about on this blog) and a BBC Drama about the lives of Black Britons between 1968 to 2014.

Speaking about that project McQueen said: “I don’t think there has been a serious drama series in Britain with black people from all walks of life as the main protagonists.”

12_Years_a_Slave_

By GabboT

Speaking about the current Oscars controversy in The Guardian he quite rightly points out that this issue goes beyond under-representation of ethnic minorities at a high-profile award show.

He said: “I’m not interested in just talking. This is an important issue. It’s an us issue. Again, this is not about black, not about white, this is about us how we want to improve our environment and our society, and who we are. So, let’s get on with it. Let’s fix this. It’s ridiculous! There’s no real debate is there … really?”

I completely agree with him but I do think it is people like McQueen who can make a difference, however small, in how Black people are perceived and the opportunities we are given especially in leading industries such as film and the media.

It’s great that he has enjoyed so much success and it shows that when you have a dream you must never let anyone dissuade you from pursuing it especially because of your colour – we must become our own cheerleaders and constantly use examples such as Steve McQueen to teach our young people that there is nothing that they cannot achieve if they believe in themselves.