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

 

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.

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

Have you heard of Olive Morris?

I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Olive Morris until today although I’m not surprised because that kind of ignorance is why I started this blog in the first place.

I came across Olive’s story today when someone I follow on Twitter posted about a seminal book called ‘The heart of the race:Black women’s lives in Britain’ which is 30 years old today.

This book was published when I was nine-years-old and I think it is a sad indictment of the UK school system that I had not even heard about until now.

I’m not going to pretend I know much about it but the introduction to the book states: “this book originally came about as a response to gaps in the historical record, especially concerning Black women.

“Histories were being produced about Black struggles as a whole, but too often Black women’s roles and experiences were left out or diminished. The white-dominated women’s movements in the UK were also repeating the same thing: documenting ‘herstory’ from every angle except our own”.

I find it really moving that in 1985 there were people who recognised that the story of how Black people (especially, in this case, women) have and are contributing to the UK was not being heard and wanted to address it.

But it’s also a little bit sad that 30 years later IMO this topic has still not been properly addressed beyond a few committed and passionate individuals and organisations.

Anyway, back to Olive Morris who was a leading voice in the Black women’s movement in the UK and spoke out on a range of social issues especially housing and education.

Olive Morris at a rally

Copyright: BBC

Olive came to the UK from Jamaica when she was 9 years old and grew up in South London. During her teenage years she was involved in political activism and later co-founded several influential civil liberties groups including the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent.

During the 1970s, which we all know was a turbulent time for Black people in the UK due to widespread racism and discrimination, Olive could be called on to mobilise and organise people and ensure their voices were heard. She was evidently a strong, committed and active woman who was determined to stand up for vulnerable people who may otherwise have been ignored by the system.

Instead of sitting around, bemoaning the way things were, Olive set about trying to make them better and her courage in the face of what must have seemed daunting odds, is to be admired, even if you might not agree with all of her ideas or methods.

People like Olive don’t come along often but when they do they shake up the establishment and show other individuals that we can all make a difference.

Sadly, Olive died of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1979 at the age of just 27, but I’ve often said you don’t have to live a long life to make an impact on the world and it’s clear that she certainly did from what I have been reading.

I really think that learning about Black Caribbean people such as Olive, Claudia Jones, Walter Tull, should be compulsory in British schools.

I certainly wish that I had known some of these stories when I was growing up – it may have helped me to realise just how much Black Caribbean people have added to the history of the country I was born in and so deserve to have their sacrifices remembered.

Further reading:

https://rememberolivemorris.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/om_biog.pdf

https://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com/category/remembering-olive/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8310000/8310579.stm