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

 

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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

Powerlist of influential black people

The Powerlist of the top 100 influential black people in Britain has been released today (25 October).

It contains and highlights the success stories of several people of African and African Caribbean descent in the spheres of business, education, science, media, the arts, and sport among other sectors.

Tech entrepreneur and educator Tom Ilube has topped the list.

Copyright: @tomilube

Copyright: @tomilube

The first Powerlist was published in 2007 and according to the website it was the “brainchild of the then New Nation Newspaper editor – Michael Eboda – who subsequently left New Nation and established his own publishing company, Powerful Media”. The aim was to “provide professional role models for young people of African and African Caribbean heritage”.

It has since led to the creation of a charity, called the Powerlist Foundation, which specialises in leadership courses for children.

So, you might ask, after 10 years of creating this list, does it show that black people are becoming less or more influential in Britain?

I read an interesting analysis by the list’s creator himself Michael Eboda ahead of its publication in the Guardian, which unfortunately painted a largely bleak picture. He claimed that in terms of public life and especially areas such as the Cabinet and the High Court ,we are still mainly unrepresented, whereas in the private sector there seems to have at least been a bit be more diversification.

You don’t need me to point out how important it is for black people to have a voice in all aspects of UK life, and to provide positive role models for our young people to follow and look up too.

I don’t believe in positive discrimination at all but if there are areas, such as the upper echelons of the police force and the judiciary where there are no black people at all, something needs to be done, because obviously this is unreflective of the society we live in and could lead to discrimination and discourse.

Interventions that might work to address the imbalance could include campaigns reaching out to schools known to have a large number of black children, hosting community events and information drop-ins in specific parts of the country, holding free talks and encouraging influential black people to reach out and take part. I could go on.

Basically there is no excuse in the 21st Century for black people to still be left behind in the UK in any area – either through their own indifference or society’s.

I started this website as my own small contribution and even though I know its reach is small, I really believe that even if it makes one person think differently, then it will have achieved something.

Anyone reading this can also try to make a change in whatever way possible – become a mentor, write about your black British experience and share it to encourage others, support black businesses, go to a positive event that is promoting black empowerment, make a list of black heroes and find out more about them so you can educate others – we are all one but collectively we can help each other and change things for the better.

I hope the Power list emboldens anyone who sees it to know that there is nothing we cannot achieve – even when the odds might be stacked against us – and to realise that individually we are strong but together we are a positive force to be reckoned with!

 

‘An extraordinary life’ – Gloria Cameron

So with Black History Month around the corner (sidestepping the issue of whether we need one / should have one etc) there were lots of things that I could post about right now set to happen all over the UK.

Despite the arguments for and against the month itself, I must admit that I do think it is generally well supported, and obviously it is a great chance for us to tell our own story which, as you know, is a passion of mine and part of the inspiration for this website.

Anyway, while looking at the myriad of celebrations going on in London I was sent a newsletter from my own council Hounslow, which has quite a sizeable Black community, and is putting on a few events including performances and workshops etc.

One of the activities that caught my eye is a book reading taking place at Hounslow Library on Thursday October 20th (unfortunately I am working so won’t be able to go).

It’s by Gloria Cameron, a Jamaican woman who moved to the UK when she was 25 and created a successful career as a Justice of the Peace. She was awarded an MBE from the Queen in 1980 for services to the community and had a business opened by Diana, Princess of Wales.

Copyright: Gloria Cameron

Copyright: Gloria Cameron

The book is called ‘Case dismissed! An ordinary Jamaican woman; An extraordinary life’ and it chronicles her childhood in Jamaica before she moved to the UK, where she gained national recognition for her community work.

Gloria herself says the reason she has written the book is because she felt it was important for the next generation to know what black people faced when they came to the UK in larger numbers in the 1960s and 1970s.

She told the Voice newspaper: “A lot of young people now have no idea what their parents and their grandparents encountered coming [to the UK]… I don’t think you can blame them, because I don’t think enough books have been written. People of past generations have not written enough books to educate them. This is why I wanted to write this book.”

She added: “I was also conscious that my life story can contribute to preserving our visual and oral history for the next generation. I really hope my story resonates with people everywhere and inspires them to pursue their passion and to become successful individuals.”

I really wish more of our older generation would share what they went through growing up ‘back home’ and when they came to start a new life in England. It is so important for all of us to know their stories, however small, so that we know how much sacrifice has been made to ‘get us a seat at the table’ and therefore do not squander it or take it for granted.

I have previously shared the story of my mum on this blog, who came to England when she was 19 and worked for 40 years in the NHS facing racism and discrimination, but successfully raised two children on her own who have hopefully made her proud.

I encourage everyone to ask their parents and grandparents about their journey – we need to know these stories of heroism and perseverance which demonstrate that there is so much more to us than what we sometimes see in the media.

We must speak up and speak out!

Black soldier and firefighter honoured

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

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

London Fire Brigade

George Roberts – copyright London Fire Brigade

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here:

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

Groundbreaking wartime firefighter recognised with blue plaque

World War One hero who could throw bombs 74 yards

International Slavery Remembrance Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell everyone you know about Slavery Remembrance Day.

Read more here: Slavery Remembrance Facebook page

Britain’s first Black female MP

When I first started this blog for my MA in International Journalism I knew that one of the areas I really wanted to cover was the impact of Caribbean people on British politics.

As a child of the ’90s I was acutely aware that in 1987 the first four Black MPs to serve in the House of Commons had been elected including the first Black female MP Diane Abbott who is of Jamaican descent.

As I dug deeper I was surprised to find that these trailblazers were actually preceded into public office by two members of the House of Lords, Sir Learie Constantine and Lord David Pitt, and that they had followed Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns who had become the first person of Caribbean descent ever elected to public office in the UK as far back as 1903.

But I guess Diane Abbott stands out from this group because she was the first Black female MP so when I started this blog I really wanted to talk to her about her experiences not just as an MP but as a Black Briton.

I contacted her office for an interview and her PA returned my email and asked for my questions which he said he would put to Ms Abbott even though she is busy campaigning to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor – I sent back a long list including:

– what was it like growing up as a black child in Britain in the 60s and 70s
– did you feel any conflict between being Black and being British
– what was it like being elected in 1987 along with Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant, Paul Boetang
– what were your main goals as a young black, female politician
– was being in public office all that you expected

Unfortunately Ms Abbott did not get back to me and I am still waiting for any sort of reply.

However this week I read that she had given an interview to the BBC’s Witness programme, during which she talked about her political career and what it was like to be the first Black female MP, and if you can take a listen I recommend it – BBC witness: Britain’s first Black woman MP.

Black British exposure on the BBC

So I’m not sure if someone from the BBC is following this blog but alongside a few recent documentaries highlighting the immense contribution of Black Caribbean people to the British Armed forces, which I have covered quite a bit on here, they have now also latched on to Cecile Emeke who I also mentioned a few months ago when I found her latest series ‘Ackee and Saltfish’.

The BBC magazine article is plugging Cecile’s YouTube channel about the Black British experience and I think it’s great that she is enjoying national exposure so please check it out – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32848057.

You can also find Cecile’s YouTube channel here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSv7x7CZ8TduR2t0SXB5KQA

Fighting for King and Empire

Well it seems a few people might be beginning to understand the value of Caribbean people to Britain over the decades, as there seems to be almost a plethora of news, exhibitions, articles and programmes that have emerged recently celebrating the theme of this website.

The BBC are showing a documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May) that fits in nicely with some of the posts I have put on here about the brave men and women from the West Indies who voluntarily fought in WWI and WWII for ‘the mother country’. The film, called ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes’ will be shown on BBC Four tomorrow at 9pm and will then be available on demand on the BBC player.

The promotional copy for the documentary says: “This programme is based on a film entitled Divided By Race – United in War and Peace, produced by The-Latest.com.

During the Second World War, thousands of men and women from the Caribbean colonies volunteered to come to Britain to join the fight against Hitler. They risked their lives for King and Empire, but their contribution has largely been forgotten.

In this programme, some of the last surviving Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories: from torpedo attacks by German U-boats and the RAF’s blanket bombing of Germany to the culture shock of Britain’s freezing winters and war-torn landscapes. This brave sacrifice confronted the pioneers from the Caribbean with a lifelong challenge – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people.

In testimony full of wit and charm, the veterans candidly reveal their experiences as some of the only black people in wartime Britain. They remember encounters with a curious British public and confrontation with the prejudices of white American GIs stationed in Britain.

After the war, many veterans returned to the Caribbean where they discovered jobs were scarce. Some came back to Britain to help rebuild its cities. They settled down with jobs and homes, got married and began to integrate their rich heritage into British culture. Now mostly in their 80s and 90s – the oldest is 104 – these pioneers from the Caribbean have helped transform Britain and created an enduring multicultural legacy.

With vivid first-hand testimony, observational documentary and rare archive footage, the programme gives a unique perspective on the Second World War and the history of 20th-century Britain.”

I’m going to try and watch it – I hope you will too.

See also:

http://www.the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes

http://newafricanmagazine.com/britain-divided-by-race-united-in-war/

West Indian officers in WWI

I read recently on the BBC website about a man of Jamaican descent called David Louis Clemetson who volunteered to join the armed forces in WWI and became an officer in the Yeomanry in 1915 which is today’s equivalent of the territorial army.

The BBC suggests that this would make him the first black officer in the British army rather than Walter Tull although it does admit that Tull was an officer in the regular army which is an important distinction. But these two men along with another man of Jamaican descent called George Bemand (who apparently lied about his black heritage so he could get around regulations which forbid black officers in the British army at that time) were obviously incredibly brave and proud.

In fact according to the BBC article on Clemetson, 16,000 West Indians served in the rank and file in WWI in segregated units like the British West India regiments and I am extremely honoured that these soldiers were willing to die to secure a better future for generations unknown.

I also find it endlessly fascinating that so long ago people who were descendants of slaves were voluntarily fighting for the British and dying for the Empire.

These stories seem to be coming to light more and more because of the centenary of the first World War and I am glad that we are finding out about this rich history which shows the unbelievable contribution people of Caribbean descent have made to this island over many years in blood, sweat and tears.

Check out the full story of David Louis Clemetson on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31796542