The big G

It seems appropriate as the World Athletics Championships have just finished in London and Team GB finished sixth in the medal table (in large part due to the amount of UK athletes with African / Caribbean roots) to post today about two sporting legends from the 80s/90s who were an inspiration to me growing up on a council estate in Fulham.

They are Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson.

Now anyone of a certain age will know about the achievements of these athletes throughout the years during a time when you could still see NF (National Front) scrawled on walls, racism was even more rampant than it is today and people seemed to think it was impossible to be black and British.

WikipediaThompson, who is 59 now, is actually called Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson. He was born in Notting Hill to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother and suffered early childhood trauma when his dad, who was a taxi driver, was shot dead in Streatham.

He was sent to a school for troubled children at the age of seven and initially wanted to be a footballer before settling on athletics. Of course now we know he became one of the greatest decathletes of all time, with his career reaching its pinnacle in 1980 and 1984 when he won ‘the big G’ at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympic Games. He’s also won the top medal at the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

Daley was a winner and his determined persona along with his down-to-earth approach to life (apparently he hates fame) were the main characteristics that made me want to watch him and cheer his success along with the fact that he looked a bit like me.

Sanderson was born in Jamaica in 1956 and moved to Wolverhampton in England with her family when she was six. She is obviously now known as one of Great Britain’s best female javelin throwers having won the Gold medal at the Olympics in 1984 (one of six Olympic Games which she competed at) and three top prizes at the Commonwealth Games in 1978, 1986, and 1990.

When I think of Tessa the words – well-spoken, ladylike, gracious, strong and competitive come to mind – and I guess these personality traits are why she was always well-loved by the public.

http://www.tessa.co.uk/

Since the end of her amazing athletic career Tessa has continued to be an inspiration outside of the sporting world after becoming a mother to twins Cassius and Ruby Mae at the age of 57 when she adopted them with her husband.

She has also been awarded a CBE for her services to Sport England and is currently pursuing a modelling career at the age of 61.

I don’t know if sporting icons, such as Tessa and Daley, know how much their achievements on a personal level encouraged so many others, but I can say that watching them compete for the UK during my childhood was truly an inspiration to me. So I’m sure that the mixed-heritage group of athletes who put their heart and soul into Team GB last week are providing the same level of hope and motivation for countless black, white and Asian children across the UK right now.

Tessa Sanderson’s website

Daley Thompson’s Twitter page

 

 

‘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!

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

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

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.

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

 

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

Clive Myrie: Always a story to tell

I found a story this morning on the BBC website that I want to share on this blog. It’s not completely relevant to what this blog is about but I found it fascinating especially as it gave me some insight into a journalist I admire – Clive Myrie.

Clive Myrie

BBC – Clive Myrie on assignment

Myrie was born in Bolton in Lancashire in the 1960s to Jamaican parents and since 1996 he has worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC. He’s just finished working on a special series of programmes for Panorama called ‘What Britain Wants’ and his episode is about finding work.

The episode will be shown on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (Mon 16th March) and the promotional coverage on the BBC website features some insightful glimpses into Myrie’s personal story.

It chronicles how his Jamaican uncles joined the Royal Air Force and fought in World War II and goes on to detail why his parents came from the Caribbean to live in the UK and how Myrie learnt, by watching and following their example, the benefits of hard work.

Myrie talks about his parents making sacrifices to look after him and his siblings and you can tell that their courage inspired him to do what he is doing today.

He also goes on to say how much he admired Sir Trevor McDonald when he was growing up and why it was so important to see someone that looked like him on the TV. In an interview with The Independent newspaper Myrie bemoans the fact that there are not enough black people following in Sir Trevor’s footsteps, he says: “You’ve only got to look at the TV screens to see there’s not the kind of representation of black Britons on the screen as one would like.”

But he has made the breakthrough and even though he is now based in Brussels there is no doubt that he is very British and his story is inspirational and certainly adds another strand to the rich tapestry of Caribbean people living in the UK.

Check out Clive Myrie’s story here on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-02b18d60-92f2-4158-b34b-10c85dae2bc0

‘Ackee and Saltfish’ by Cecile Emeke

Even though this blog was created for my MA in International Journalism (distance learning) from Napier University and has now been submitted for grading, I’m hoping to try and keep it going, as I’ve really enjoyed exploring the history of black Caribbean people in the UK and telling their stories.

The truth is the project is more extensive then I could have imagined as the contribution of Caribbean culture to the UK spans so many years, across so many sectors and IMO every individual who has made a significant impact in a particular area deserves to have their story heard and shared.

I said before in the post on ‘Why create this blog?’ that I want this site to be as inspirational and motivational as possible, not just for black Caribbean people, but for anyone who is facing adversity or obstacles (whether racial or otherwise) and needs encouragement. It seems there is nothing more uplifting than discovering other people who have overcome the odds to make a success of their life.

So I’m going to try to keep posting stories on the achievements of black Caribbean people in the UK in the past and present.

And on that note one such person I came across recently is Cecile Emeke who is a British-Jamaican filmmaker and the creative force behind a film and web series about the black British ‘experience’ called ‘Ackee and Saltfish’.

Ackee and Saltfish

Copyright – Cecile Emeke

Cecile has been interviewed recently on the success of her production which “aims to capture the full range of the black and African diaspora, especially in Europe” and obviously the write-up grabbed my eye because this blog has a similar aim.

Anyway I found her story fascinating so if you want to know more about Cecile and her work I have added some links below and I will definitely be watching previous and future episodes of ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ to see how it portrays what it is like to be black and British.

If you plan to have a look as well, or have already seen it, or have another film/series you think black Caribbean people in the UK will be interested in, please let me know via the comments section.

Click on the links to find out more about Cecile Emeke and ‘Ackee and Saltfish’:

https://www.facebook.com/cecileemeke

http://www.ackeeandsaltfish.co.uk/about2

http://www.blackgirlstalking.com/interviews/filling-the-gaps-with-strolling-an-interview-with-cecile-emeke

A historic voyage of discovery

The history of black Caribbean people in the UK is long and varied, as I hope I have been demonstrating through the posts on this blog, but there will always be one event that is forever linked with our past in this country and that is the arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948.

On that ship were over 490 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad which was the largest number of black Caribbean people to come to Britain at one time.

The people that arrived on the Windrush were brave, bold and enterprising and the others that followed shortly afterwards would undoubtedly thank them for taking that first step and showing the way.

My video montage posted below (with captions) charts the arrival of the Windrush and highlights some of the achievements of those on board as well as their descendants.

The Windrush voyage was history in the making and its arrival nearly 70 years ago shows how far Caribbean people have come.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)”.

References / further reading:

http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/empire-windrush-jamaica-sails-british-history

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/windrush_01.shtml

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/arrival-ss-empire-windrush

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107829.html