About Karen Rollins

I am a journalist in my early 40's. I was born and raised in London, England but currently live in my parent's country of birth, Barbados. 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. Now I am focused on living life to the full because it is too short not to make the most of it!

Merry Christmas and a happy 2018

Hello everyone,

I just want to wish you all a great Christmas filled with happiness and love, and a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

Karen

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Slave reparations: How much is enough?

Recently I wrote an article for Black Ballad magazine about the arguments for and against slave reparations.

I wanted to share the link to the story on this blog because I feel like the slave trade is often the elephant in the room which some people don’t want to talk about.

I’ve said before that my education in a UK state school in west London was wholly inadequate when it came to teaching me about black people and their contribution to the UK for centuries, and I think an ultra-sensitivity around the slave trade may be partly to blame for that.

The fact is that slavery is a massive part of our history as black people and quite frankly, we have nothing to be ashamed of about it so we should see it as our duty and privilege to know of it, and to teach our children all about it as well.

Anyway, please read the article (you have to subscribe to get 3 free stories a month) and let me know what you think in the comments section.

Black Ballad: We need to change the conversation around slave reparations

Top 100 influential UK black people

miller

Photo from powerlist.co.uk

The list of the 100 most influential black people in the UK is out again, and the highest honour has been given to businesswoman Gina Miller.

Ms Miller topped the 2018 Powerlist of 100 black people because of her successful challenge to Brexit which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Ms Miller argued that starting talks to leave the EU would mean changing UK law and so it could not be done without a vote by all MPs in Parliament – and the court agreed.

I completely admire Ms Miller for her campaign, which saw her vilified in some parts of the media (namely the Daily Mail), and even led to her receiving death threats from umpteen numpties. Despite this barrage of hatred she continued her court fight, which was basically in all of our interests, because it was brought to ensure that democracy prevailed.

Whether you want the UK to leave the EU or not, it would be ignorant in the extreme not to realise the importance of what Ms Miller set out to prove – that MPs, who are elected by the people and represent them, not just the Prime Minister (who at the time was Theresa May who had not even been elected to that position) must have the final say when there are changes to UK law.

I hope this recognition, by an independent panel who rated nominees on their “ability to change lives and alter events”, shows Ms Miller that there are hundreds of thousands of people who supported her case and are glad that she had the guts to pursue it.

The other interesting aspect of the list this time, is the large number of black women who are on it. They make up half of the names listed and include composer Shirley J Thompson, Ofcom Chief Executive, Sharon White, and Professor of Nursing at Sheffield Hallam University, Laura Serrant.

The rest of the list, which recognises people of African and African Caribbean heritage, is made up of people from all walks of life including lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators, sportspeople, musicians and media personalities etc etc, and amply demonstrates how diverse the black talent pool is in the UK.

Here’s the top ten:

  1. Gina Miller – business owner, political activist
  2. Ric Lewis – chief executive and chairman of Tristan Capital Partners
  3. Ismail Ahmed – World Remit founder
  4. Sharon White – Ofcom chief
  5. Dr Nira Chamberlain – professional mathematician
  6. Jacky Wright – chief digital and information officer, HMRC
  7. Sandra Wallace – UK managing partner, DLA Piper
  8. Professor Laura Serrant – Professor of Nursing, Sheffield Hallam University
  9. Dr Shirley J Thompson – music composer, visionary and cultural activist
  10. Edward Enninful – British Vogue editor-in-chief

 

Forging a black British identity

I recently read about a book from historian, curator and artist Eddie Chambers (who was born in the UK to Jamaican parents) and I wanted to post about it here because it’s all about black British identity and its emergence over the decades from when black Caribbean people began emigrating to England in larger numbers from the 1950s until the present day.

Roots and Culture: Cultural Politics in the Making of Black Britain‘ (published at the end of 2016) explores how black people who came to the UK and their children who were born British, used various influences from the Caribbean and Africa to shape their UK identity, and in so doing created their own version of ‘British-ness’ which merged music, art, food, sport, fashion and all other aspects of life.

https://art.utexas.edu/about/people/eddie-chambers

Eddie Chambers. Copyright: University of Texas at Austin

According to Mr Chambers’ website the book “chronicles the extraordinary blend of social, political and cultural influences from the mid-1950s to late 1970s that gave rise to new heights of Black-British artistic expression in the 1980s. Eddie Chambers relates how and why during these decades “West Indians” became “Afro-Caribbeans,” and how in turn “Afro-Caribbeans” became “Black-British” – and the centrality of the arts to this important narrative.

“The British Empire, migration, Rastafari, the Anti-Apartheid struggle, reggae music, dub poetry, the ascendance of the West Indies cricket team and the coming of Margaret Thatcher – all of these factors, and others, have had a part to play in the compelling story of how the African Diaspora transformed itself to give rise to Black Britain.”

Regular readers of this blog will know about my own struggle with being black and British so I think it’s a fascinating topic. As a child of Caribbean immigrants born in the UK I’m always happy to learn about the background to issues which probably impacted me during my childhood years, in some cases, without me even knowing.

I’m also always interested to discover how black people who came to the UK when there were not that many of us here, fought against the tide while creating space for their children to ‘fit in’. No doubt this would’ve been a difficult balancing act for many as they strove to remember where they had come from and what they had been through but also ‘assimilated’ into UK life.

I think at these times especially, when homegrown terrorists are attacking the UK and Europe, it’s essential that more people examine and delve into the complex relationship between being born black in Britain and what it means to develop an identity which fits with who you are and makes you feel accepted.

It’s also valuable to move the conversation surrounding race so that it goes beyond the ignorance of racism and hatred of bigotry, and demonstrates exactly how much we have achieved in a relatively short space of time.

Hopefully this book and other efforts will help us and others to fully understand the battles that have been won, while lauding the positive contribution black people (and other races) have made, and continue to make, to the development of the UK’s cultural landscape. That, of course, is also one of the main reasons why I started this blog.

Further reading:

The rise of black British identity – in pictures (The Guardian)

A review of ‘Roots and Culture’ by the Voice newspaper

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.