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.

Calling all BAME writers

And following on from my post earlier in the month about the Bare Lit Festival – I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested to take part in this competition for Black and Ethnic Minority writers living in the UK – BAME Short Story Prize – it’s organised by The Guardian and the 4th estate and has a prize of £1000 for the winner.

And please also check out a publisher that I just found on Twitter called Kamaria Press which calls itself a “not-for-profit African and Caribbean publishing house with the aim of distributing original and uninhibited works of literature” – this is the Facebook page – Kamaria Press

I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again, it’s so important that our story is told in our words and we must support each other as much as possible for this to come about.

I am happy to promote any organisation, event and/or individual that is dedicated to the aim of encouraging and enhancing the Black community in Britain.

Further reading:

Well-Read Black Girl

Marie Claire article on the ‘invisibility of black women writers’

Happy New Year

So Christmas and the New Year are out of the way and it’s time to once again start posting on this blog – I just hope there are still people out there following it.

I’ll begin with a simple shout out for a new event taking place in February showcasing writers and poets from the Black Caribbean community, amongst others, called the ‘Bare Lit Festival’.

Bare Lit Festival

Bare Lit Festival

According to the event’s website the festival, which is the first of its kind dedicated to Black and ethnic-minority writers, has been created because “last year, the UK’s three largest literary festivals featured over 2000 authors… and of those only 4% were from Black Caribbean, Black African, South Asian or East Asian backgrounds”.

The festival has been organised by a group called Media Diversified which “seeks to cultivate and promote skilled writers of colour by providing advice and contacts and by promoting content online through its own platform”.

I’ve said before on this blog how important I think it is that as a community we try to support and encourage each other, so it would be great if anyone who sees this post could also promote it, as well as trying to go along next month.

Let’s hope it leads to new recognition, respect and exposure for writers in the UK from all kinds of backgrounds.

Further coverage:

The Bookselller – Bare Lit Festival to celebrate BAME authors

LondonList: New Festival celebrates ethnic minority writers

Jamaica’s Booker Prize winner

So I’m a bit behind on this one as it happened in October however it’s definitely worth mentioning on this blog so forgive me if you know already, but the Man Booker prize winner for 2015 is a Jamaican author – Marlon James.

Man Booker Prize

Man Booker Prize

James is not only the first Jamaican to win one of the most prestigious International prizes for writing, which is an amazing achievement, but his book ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings‘ is all about Jamaica and its political history interwoven with a mythical plot to assassinate legendary reggae singer Bob Marley and told from seven different perspectives.

Marlon is only the second Caribbean writer to win the Booker Prize in its 47-year history – Trinidadian-born V.S. Naipaul claimed the honour in 1971 with his book ‘In a Free State‘.

Currently living in the US, James was born in 1970 in Kingston, and ‘A Brief History…’ is his third novel. The book had already won two other awards before the Booker Prize and was also a finalist in 2014 for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Marlon James (@MarlonJames5)

Marlon James (@MarlonJames5)

Michael Wood, Chair of the Booker Prize judges, said: ‘This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.’

'A Brief History of Seven Killings'

‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’

Marlon now lives in Minnesota after being offered a teaching job at Malacaster University. His decision to live in America is directly linked to his homosexuality which unfortunately still makes him a target in his home country.

In a riveting article written in the NY Times, Marlon provides a fascinating insight into his contrasting life as a gay man in Jamaica and the US and I highly recommend you read it – NY Times: From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself

So congratulations to Marlon James. I really hope that Jamaican’s are aware of him and his internationally recognised writing achievements – he is doing his country proud and as a Caribbean descendant I am happy to shout about it.

I’ll be buying the book – I hope you will too.

Further reading:

BBC: Man Booker Prize winner 2015

‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’: Oneworld Publications

Man Booker Prize official press release

Black History Month

So just a quick post to draw your attention to some of the events that are going on to mark Black History month. I don’t know if it’s me but this year there seems to have been even more effort put into making BHM more meaningful and telling some important stories.

BHM_640x280 The Black Cultural Archives are putting on a range of events including a look at the lives of Black people during the Georgian era 1714 – 1830 – Black Cultural Archives – Black History month events

BHM-webbanner3 Goldsmiths University are also marking the month with various events which are part of the official launch of the institution’s upcoming – MA in Black British Writing Goldsmiths – Black History Month events

BlackHistory And Black History Walks London is having a talk on “the African, Caribbean and Asian war effort with video clips and interviews with black Spitfire & bomber pilots, Nigerian and Somali troops fighting in Burma, black and asian women secret agents, u-boats in the Caribbean and the importance of Africa and India’s raw materials.” – http://www.blackhistorywalks.co.uk/talks/talks-on-african-history-of-london

There are also events going on in other parts of the UK – check out the Black History Month website for more information – Black History Month – National Listings

I think it would be great if Black people in Britain supported as many of these events as possible because all of our stories are important, and it’s essential we learn about them, especially from the people who experienced it first hand – no one can tell ‘our story’ more truthfully and clearly than us.

Scotland’s first black professor

Apologies that it has been so long between posts!

Today I want to write about a leading Caribbean scientist / educator who I came across while I was researching this blog a few months ago.

Like most of the people I’ve written about on here, I’d never heard about him before, and again I think this is a failing of the British education system which IMO does not provide black and ethnic minority students with enough positive role models or information about our rich, diverse and amazing history.

http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/professor_palmer.htm

Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Sir Geoffrey Henry Oliver Palmer was born in St Elizabeth in Jamaica in 1940 and moved to the UK in 1955 to join his mother who had emigrated to Britain a few years earlier to work as a dressmaker.

When he came to the UK just a few months before his 15th birthday he was apparently assessed as educationally subnormal and placed into a secondary school in North London, but he was recognised for his cricketing abilities and played sports at a high level while also gaining six O’levels and two A’ levels.

Just a quick internet search for Sir Geoffrey will provide you with enough information to justify his inclusion on this website as yet another sterling example of how Caribbean people have been, and are continuing, to make a difference to the fabric of British society.

Here is a quick list of some of his achievements outside of his specialisation in grain science and technology:

  • In 1989 Sir Geoffrey became Scotland’s first black professor
  • In 2001 he wrote a short story / fable about racism called ‘Mr White and the Ravens’
  • In 2007 he was named among ‘the 100 Great Black Britons’ list
  • In 2014 Sir Geoffrey was knighted for services to human rights, science, and charity

I first heard about Sir Geoffrey when I read an article in March in The Telegraph in which he said that claims Scotland is ‘more tolerant’ of immigration is a myth.

I wasn’t surprised to read what he had to say on the issue as obviously I live with racism and discrimination on a daily basis, but it was interesting to know what someone who has done so well and made such an important contribution to the UK, thinks about the issue of prejudice.

In one part of the article it says: “Sir Geoff told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that when he was interviewed in 1964 by Sir Keith Joseph, who later became an architect of Thatcherism, he told him he should “go back to the Caribbean and grow bananas”.

Sir Geoffrey added: “That sort of prejudice no longer exists, but if you want to know whether prejudice exists against immigrants per se, just look around your office and see how many immigrants you have working next to you.”

Now Sir Geoffrey is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts in his field and it’s inspiring to know that someone who came to the UK as a teenager from the Caribbean and was almost written off in terms of his educational ability and several more times because of his colour, has achieved so much professionally and personally.

Further reading:

100 Great Black Britons – Sir Geoffrey Palmer

‘Times Higher Education’ article on Sir Geoffrey

Second Coming: A film review

So a few weeks ago I went to see a film called ‘Second Coming‘ at the Hackney Picturehouse.

Obviously going to see a film in the cinema is not really that special nowadays but this film stands out because it is written, directed and stars Debbie Tucker Green who is black, female and British and it features a predominantly black cast including superstar Idris Elba.

I thought it was an ambitious, sensitive and thought-provoking film but what I loved most about ‘Second Coming’ is that it showed black people in ‘normal’ situations – there was no violence, gratuitous sex, swearing or anything else that usually accompanies a black person in a feature film.

It wasn’t about slavery, drugs, the ghetto, racism or any other weighty subject that we of course must not shy away from, but don’t have to be defined by all of the time.

And because of that I found it to be a breath of fresh air.

Second ComingThe film just follows an ordinary black family of three who are going about their every day existence – eating, talking, going to run-of-the-mill jobs and school, and just trying to get on with life which we can all relate to.

The couple, Mark and Jackie, played by Idris and the equally superb Nadine Marshall are seen having meals, getting ready for bed, going to work, visiting extended family and just living.

Their 11-year-old son JJ, who is played by the outstanding Kai Francis Lewis, goes to school as per usual, has a girl as a best friend and a wonderful affinity for nature which at one stage sees him take home an injured bird which he hopes to nurture back to health after his friend damages its wing (more on that later).

The ‘twist’ in the film (and I’m not giving anything away by mentioning it) is that Nadine’s character is pregnant, and she finds this difficult to accept, primarily because she has a history of miscarriages and also because she hasn’t slept with her husband, or anyone else as far as we are told, for months.

The early part of the film is spent building up the relationship between Jackie and the audience and it wasn’t hard for me to like her as she reflected so many things that I could relate too – she tied her hair up at night (as I do), she spoke with a London accent (as I do), she spent most of her time at work (as I do) or at home looking after her family and was in all ways just your typical, black British woman.

So we find out early on that Jackie is in denial about her pregnancy and after a series of bad dreams/ visions involving water and a grilling by her best friend (played by the writer Debbie Tucker Green) we also find out that Mark probably isn’t the father.

Mark is still in the dark but eventually finds out the ‘happy’ news about the baby from JJ. However as his wife gets big very quickly and is obviously further along in her pregnancy than he realised it doesn’t take too long for him to work out that he can’t be the dad.

This revelation leads to one of the most tense, emotionally-charged and difficult scenes in the film when he confronts Jackie and also drags in their son into a heated, but one-sided argument, that leads to more questions than answers.

The couple’s relationship falls apart and Jackie becomes increasingly isolated and desperate as she struggles to understand what is happening to her and deal with her nightmares which are getting more strange and vivid.

Eventually she takes drastic action to end her predicament and this is another scene in the film that IMO was well-managed and sensitively acted, written and directed.

While in hospital Jackie is given psychiatric treatment and in these sessions it slowly becomes clear that even she doesn’t have any answers and so the audience must accept that it will never really find out how she became pregnant or who the father is. Although some parts of the story moved slowly I was completely gripped as it became obvious that this was not going to end all tied up with a neat bow.

Anyway, eventually the baby is born and the film, which has a general grey feeling of prevailing sadness throughout, actually ends on a quite uplifting note with a family BBQ where the baby girl is already walking and is the centre of attention as she is fussed over by her doting big brother.

Meanwhile Jackie and Mark sit on white plastic chairs and reminisce about their long history which hints at the possibility of a happy ending, even after all they’ve been through. And to symbolise the revival of their relationship, the bird that their son JJ was nurturing but had died and was buried, emerges from its grave and is fully healed and able to fly off into the sunshine.

So, what I loved most about this film really was that it didn’t pander to stereotypes or preconceived notions. I really felt part of the family’s mini-drama and the fact that at the end we are left to interpret whether the main character has really experienced a ‘miracle’ or was just having some sort of pregnancy-induced mental breakdown is the perfect way to leave it.

The film is essentially about how the extraordinary clashes with the ordinary every day and sometimes we are just too engrossed in living to see or accept it.

I hope Debbie Tucker Green and ‘Second Coming’ get some deserved exposure and recognition and that other film makers see that when you cast black people you don’t always have to go beyond the every day to tell an amazing story.

Rating: 9/10

Other reviews of ‘Second Coming’ –

The Guardian review of ‘Second Coming’

The Telegraph review of ‘Second Coming’