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!

Windrush Day 2018

Sorry for the gap between posts – it’s been a hectic few months.

Anyway, I had to return this month because there’s an important anniversary coming up for the black British community on June 22nd – the 70th anniversary since the arrival of the infamous Empire Windrush.


Now we all know, and I hope this blog has shown it too, that black people were significantly present in, and contributing to, the UK for centuries before the Windrush came to these shores, but obviously it is only fitting that we recognise this momentous occasion and celebrate the bravery of those first arrivals and the contribution they and their children have made to the UK ever since.

I have posted before about my mum taking the decision to come to the UK when she was just 19 years old to train as a nurse in 1967, and how I couldn’t imagine leaving everything I knew as a teenager for a life in a foreign country.

The 500 West Indians on board the Windrush will have faced a similar mixture of fear and trepidation – excitement at travelling to the ‘Mother Land’ but apprehension about leaving their loved ones and the life they had built for an unknown future.

Then of course, we all know that when they arrived, even though they’d been invited by the UK to come to rebuild the country after the horrendous damage caused by WWII, they were met with racism, anger and discrimination from every tier of society.

But of course they’d also come to the UK for personal reasons – to have a better life and possibly to help their families back home by sending remittances – so despite the hostility and ignorance of the British, many of them would stay and make a significant contribution to the UK financially and culturally.

I recently read on the Black History Month website that the Windrush was actually on its way back when it journeyed to the UK from Jamaica to Tilbury in 1948.

On the first leg of its voyage it actually went out to the Caribbean with hundreds of servicemen who had fought for Britain in the Second World War and were now returning to their islands with wounds and medals. I’d never heard this aspect of the Windrush story before and that’s an example of how history can be manipulated and key sacrifices forgotten.

Anyway, I’m glad the descendants of the people on the Windrush and others are making sure that those first few hundred West Indian migrants are remembered on June 22nd.

I won’t go into the recent scandal of deportations and mistreatment of the Windrush generation by the current Conservative government on this blog, but needless to say I believe it is our duty to make sure that our community’s contribution over hundreds of years, not just starting with Windrush, is never whitewashed.

So I urge everyone in the UK to salute Windrush Day 2018 by attending as many of the planned events as possible.

This is a chance for all of us to publicly show that we are proud of our ancestors and the journey they undertook; the courage they demonstrated; and the determination they displayed.

Further information – Windrush Day 2018


James Peters: England’s first black rugby union player

This month I want to go back into the archives and write about the first black man to play rugby union for England, James ‘Jimmy’ Peters (August 1879 – 26 March 1954).

Peters was born in Salford, Greater Manchester to a Jamaican father and white mother. His early life was a bit like Oliver Twist as after his father, who was a lion tamer, died (he was mauled to death by lions in a training cage), he was abandoned by his mother and sent to join another circus troupe as a bareback horse rider.

At the age of 11 Peters broke his arm, and was sent to stay at Fegan’s (yes Fegans, not Fagan’s!) orphanage in Southwark and subsequently Little Wanderers’ Home in Greenwich, where he discovered his sporting prowess and captained several of their sports teams.

Peters trained in printing and carpentry and eventually moved to Bristol, where he played for Bristol Rugby Club between 1900 and 1902 (apparently some players actually resigned because they didn’t want to play with a black man). In 1902, Peters moved to Plymouth where he represented Plymouth RUFC and the Dorset county side until 1909.

On March 17th 1906, Peters became the first black player to wear an England shirt when he won his debut cap against Scotland. It was a controversial decision because of his skin colour, and the issue around race was why Peters would not play many more games for England.

In October 1906 he was picked to play against South Africa but the Springboks refused to take the field when they noticed a black opposition player. Eventually the game went ahead, and Peters went on to be capped for England three more times between 1907 and 1908, but the issue around his race significantly curtailed his career.

In 1910, Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident, but he defied the odds and continued to play rugby union until 1912. The next year, after growing increasingly disillusioned with union, Peters returned to the north west of the country and took up rugby league and played for Barrow before transferring to St Helens in 1914, until he retired from the game.

The fact that Peters was none as “Darkie Peters” during his rugby career tells you all you need to know about the racial climate at the time. Every time he ran out onto the field, Peters must have been stared at, taunted and called names, but his love for rugby and skill at the game was enough to make him continue to play.

It would take 84 years before another black man would play for England, Chris Oti, but it is testament to the contribution of Peters and others after him that now no one bats an eyelid when a black player is chosen for the International rugby union team. In fact, one of the reasons I have always vehemently supported England’s rugby union and rugby league sides is because of the number of black players that were around in the late 80s/ early 90s when I was getting into sport.

Oti, Jeremy Guscott, Martin Offiah, Victor Ubogu, Steve Ojomoh, Adedayo Adebayo et al are players I could relate to, and I was more than happy to cheer them on when they were wearing the England shirt, and felt immense pride whenever the national side won.

Of course, I had no idea until recently that James Peters preceded them all, but I am so glad that through this blog I have learnt a little about his life and legacy.

Sources: World Rugby Museum / Black History Month / ITV News / Wikipedia

Black Panther: My thoughts

So I want to share some of my random thoughts on ‘Black Panther’ and although you may be thinking this post is slightly ‘off brief’, I’d argue that the film does showcase the talents of several black British actors who have Caribbean roots, so hopefully I’m more than justified in critiquing it on this blog.

wakanda (2)

Copyright: Marvel

Disclaimer: If you don’t want to know what happens in the movie then I suggest you look away right now.

First of all, I haven’t been so excited to see a film since, well, as long as I can remember.

I’m a sci-fi fan and have seen a lot of the Marvel movies, but none have made me feel anything like this one, and even before the opening scene I was ready to give the film 10 out of 10 just for making me excited to go to the cinema again.

So let me start with what I liked about the film – everything!!!

Just kidding, but I loved pretty much everything that matters – the cast and casting, the story arc, the pace, the visual effects, the script, the costumes, the characters etc etc.

Black Panther oozes style and class, and that’s not just because it’s filled with some of the best looking ‘brothas and sistas’ ever (one friend said “there aren’t any ugly people in it!”), but also because this is a film that’s aware of how it’s speaking for a community – and it has a lot to say!

There aren’t many films that transcend the movie industry and represent something more, but this film is definitely one of them.

Before I went to watch it, some friends who’d seen it before me said it filled them with pride in their blackness. They were uplifted to see people who looked like them referred to as kings and queens, and it made them feel even better to see these people with their natural hair, wearing African clothing, and kicking ass!

Some of my friends said the movie also made them proud of how many amazingly talented black people there are in the world right now, taking centre-stage in more ways than one, and using their platforms to make powerful statements.

Black Panther speaks to, and for us, and it spoke to me as not just a movie about what might have been had Africa never been colonised and our ancestors never been stolen from their land, but as to what we are capable of achieving when we treat each other as the royalty we are, and unshackle (not uncouple) our minds from the past.

Now we all want to live in Wakanda, and why not? It is obviously ideal – the sunsets are beautiful, it appears to have no crime, the people love themselves and how they look because they haven’t been influenced by a disapproving outside world, men and women have equal rights to contribute and reach their full potential – I could go on and on.

Of course you might say, it’s a fictional country so it would be perfect, but the premise remains that this points to what is possible and what heights people can reach when there are no limits.

Trouble only arrives in Wakanda from outsiders who want to use the country’s precious and mystical substance, Vibranium, for something evil.

And that is where the main protagonist comes in. An outsider, who is actually half Wakandan, in the form of villain Eric Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) who has plans to depose the popular and much-loved new King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), steal the throne, distribute Vibranium to the black masses and force the country and its people into the world spotlight.

Killmonger wants to ‘liberate’ black people around the globe by arming them with Wakandan technology and encouraging them to use violence to take power from the predominantly white governments who have oppressed them for centuries.

I had mixed-feelings about Eric, and I actually read an interesting article after watching the film which expertly examined the character, and made me realise why I didn’t dislike him.

It argued, among other things, that Eric is not a ‘traditional villain’ mainly because the kernel behind his plan (to lift up black people who’ve been oppressed and beaten down for so long) is not really evil but is something a lot of us want, and is even actually what is partially put in motion at the end of the film.

We might not like how Eric proposes to go about it, but it’s not difficult to get on board with the idea of making the world more equal for all races by overthrowing the overt and covert racism which infiltrates the fabric of most Western societies.

I presume the varying methods of Eric and T’Challa were meant to echo the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr during the American Civil Rights struggle – that’s certainly what I got from their intense dialogue and fighting scenes.

We all know that with those two individuals, even though the ideal was the same – black liberation – how they wanted to go about it was markedly different (at least initially).

But in the end Eric is defeated, although not necessarily because of what he wanted for his people, but more because of his lust for power, which even led to him destroying Wakanda’s long-established succession plans (in the form of a field of Vibranium), making it clear that he had no intention of ever leaving the throne and pitting him against the people he wanted to rule.

Eric did not appreciate the rituals of the kingdom, and wanted to control Wakanda in an oppressive fashion, which mirrored the tactics of the colonists he was supposed to despise (and some African leaders since then as well).

He said he’d learned from them how to take what you wanted, but he had not learned that this method is unsustainable, as human beings are not the easiest animals to dominate for too long. Eventually we will plot, plan, scheme and overthrow because the human spirit is even stronger than Vibranium, and can never be oppressed to the same degree as the human body.

I went to Africa last year, and one of the most moving sites I visited was the slave museum in Zanzibar, which is built on the site where slaves were held before being shipped thousands of miles from Africa – never to return.


Outside the museum there is a monument which consists of five slaves in a pit who are chained together at the neck – the chain is an original (let that sink in) and signals the terror and bloodshed which took place on this historic site.

In the cramped and claustrophobic chambers beneath the museum, I received a horrifying firsthand glimpse of what black people went through as they waited to be hauled onto ships that would take them to Europe, the Caribbean and North America.

These chambers are so small that even me, at just over 5ft tall, could not stand up straight in some places. I broke down and sobbed as I imagined the hundreds of men, women and children who were kept in those holes, standing in their own waste, crying and dying where they stood, all because they had dark skin.

I say all of this to demonstrate just one of the reasons why Black Panther has become such a ‘moment’ for the black community and why it meant so much to me.

A black director, black screen writers, black producers, black actors and actresses et al in a multi-million dollar (maybe soon to be billion dollar) Hollywood movie, rightly fills us with pride, and most importantly of all with hope.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting swept up in some sort of ‘Obama is President, racism is dead’, hysteria – I’ve been around too long to fall for that (and look who we have now – racist in chief!).

But I can’t help but think that this movie, along with other slight but ongoing tremors such as ‘Black Girl Magic’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, the natural hair movement, and black people in general increasingly owning and loving their skin colour, are all signs that we are maturing as a race and reaching a place of no return, where black people know, and truly believe, that ‘we control we’ and there is nothing we cannot do.

I urge you to go and watch the film, and if you’ve already seen it, go and see it again and again and again – as many times as it takes to fill you with the mantra that ‘individually we are can make a difference, but collectively we can change the world’.

Wakanda forever!


Goodbye Cyrille

So most of you will probably know that former footballer Cyrille Regis died suddenly on Sunday (14th January 2018) – he was just 59 years old.

There’s no doubt that Regis was a pioneer for black British footballers – I can only imagine what he went through when he played, and had to listen to countless racists and hooligans as they booed, heckled and shouted monkey chants and other insults while throwing bananas onto the pitch.

But from all accounts Regis faced this unbelievable vitriol with courage, dignity and skill.


@cyrilleregis Twitter

The words ‘hero’ and ‘trailblazer’ are bandied around far too much, but both of those titles are more than fitting for Cyrille Regis. During his time on the pitch he became a ray of hope for every black child in the UK who dreamed of escaping their reality and finding ways to reach their full potential.

Regis was born in French Guiana (as it was known then) and moved to the UK with his family in 1962 when he was four years old, after his father Robert, who was a labourer from St Lucia, had emigrated a year earlier in search of a better life.

Regis trained as an electrician and worked in that trade until he became a professional footballer. He was playing semi-professionally for Hayes when he was spotted by West Bromwich Albion’s chief scout Ronnie Allen and moved to the club in 1977 for an initial fee of 5,000.

Regis was at Albion at the same time as two other black footballers, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham, and the trio would later be nicknamed ‘The Three Degrees’ by their manager Ron Atkinson. Whilst at West Brom he also played in a testimonial match for Len Cantello which pitted a team of white players against a team of black players – the black players won 3-2!

During his career Regis played for Coventry (where he won the only major cup of his career – the FA Cup in 1987); Aston Villa; Wolves; Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City.

Regis had dual French and British nationality but chose to play international football for England – which speaks volumes!

He made his debut for the national side in February 1982, becoming just the third black player to be capped by England at the highest level at that time, after Viv Anderson and Laurie Cunningham, but he only played in five international matches.

After football Regis worked in various coaching roles before becoming an accredited football agent. In 2008, he was awarded an MBE.

When Regis’ death was announced on Monday 15th January the number of heartfelt and glowing tributes showed what a difference he made to so many people. His former manager Atkinson told the BBC that Regis was “the best centre-forward”, but was “a better bloke than a player”.

Viv Anderson added: “Cyrille was a demon on the pitch but off it he was a kind and warm-hearted person. All three of them [Regis, Cunningham and Batson] were pioneers. I still look up to them. They forged a way for everybody and were admired by all, not just West Brom fans.”

It’s so hard to describe how much of an impact Cyrille Regis and other black sportsmen and women had in the UK during the 1970s/ 80s when race relations were at an all-time low and racism was rife.

I can only talk from my personal experience and say that I am beyond grateful for the pain and sacrifice they must have gone through in order to make it a little easier for the ones that came after them.

The dignity they displayed, and the equality that they worked so hard for, did and does lift up countless black British children, who can only aim to leave a legacy as inspiring and enduring.

Cyrille – thank you and sleep well.

Read more – Cyrille Regis was a ‘football pioneer’


Happy New Year

Hello everyone and Happy New Year!

I hope 2018 is already exceeding your expectations and providing you with lots of hope for the future.

The motivation for this post just came to me when I saw an advert on Facebook, and I felt that I had to share it because the product fits in with what I am trying to do with this site.

The advert was for black history flash cards – a new resource offered by Urban Intellectuals for black children and adults, to inform them about their rich cultural and intellectual history which, as I have said countless times before, is not often recognised.

On the website it claims that this 52-card series is “designed to combat the miseducation and suppression of Black achievements around the globe… (and) gives a strong foundation of the many untold stories and unknown figures that have given shape, colour, and definition to the worlds of academia, science, civil rights, education, the arts, and more.”

I know if I had children I’d definitely buy them these cards, which are filling a shameful gap left by education systems around the world, because it’s obviously essential to educate our youth about black pioneers in many fields who have paved the way, (while sometimes facing seemingly insurmountable odds), for us to follow.

When our children know their history they will become a confident, inspired and empowered generation who will know their worth and know that there is no limit to what they can do.

I think the cards are a great idea and there are plans for more so I hope our community and others will support the initiative – spread the word.

Click this link to take a closer look at the black history flash cards.

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


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.


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.


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