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 Hilary Robertson-HicklingHilary is on her way to the UK to attend The Ninth Annual Huntley Conference – When They Were Young -22 February 2014.

This is the first of her two blogs

The preparations for travelling to England this time are different from those made when I first visited in the flesh at age 21 in 1975, when I came on subsequent trips eventually leading to a period of residence from 1997-2000 and then subsequent trips. This time I am preparing to meet a new group of people at the Huntley Conference, at a master class I will conduct with MIND on fostering resilience in African Caribbean people. Before my first trip I had travelled in books, through the BBC, through oral and written history and in the school that I attended the Queens School established in the year of the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. I was born at the end of the colonial period in Jamaica and have grown up in a post colonial society struggling with its difficult past and making efforts to transform itself.

I am armed with a very expensive visa, have been preparing for my classes to be taught by others at UWI in my absence, organizing my clothes for the winter, getting my website, blog and other postmodern stuff together to promote  my book, White Squall On The Land and myself to my new audience via ebook. I am getting the understanding of real and virtual life. My husband has visited, studied and worked in Britain and he too is intrigued at the new and old country which we shall see. So we are preparing for the adventure, which lies ahead.

I am a librarian’s daughter, who loves the smell, the touch, the look of books.  I think that libraries are magical places and now I face the fact that we access books through the internet, tablets and other devices. I have loved to read since I was a small child and have had the opportunity to meet many authors through their books or even in person.

And now I have become an author to share my narratives and those of my extended family across the African and Caribbean diasporas to give voice to many ordinary people engaged in the extraordinary business of living in a world which renders some invisible and minimizes their contribution to global civilization in the 21st century. Our very resilience in the face of many daunting odds is at the heart of my thoughts and what I write.

The task has become more urgent as I teach thousands of young people in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies Mona School of Business and Management. They come increasingly from deeper rural and deeper innercity Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. They face the poverty, uncertainty, desire for better that their cousins across our diasporas and people of other races and classes face. I know that our stories must be told to encourage, inspire and give hope tears and laughter. As I realize that one way of making people feel hopeless is to deny the knowledge of their roots and possibilities. As Pan African Hero Marcus Garvey noted, “A people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots.”

I have long harboured the urge to write more than the academic papers, which I suspect that few read and have had columns in the local newspapers where I have engaged in what is known as public scholarship. For me the knowledge which we unearth through our research rightly belongs to our societies and should help in the business of solving our problems. It records our individual contributions to the world and reflects our hopes, failures and aspirations. My own interest in psychology and the elements of our behavior continues to grow, I teach about behavior at the workplace and how to change dysfunctional behavior which gets in the way of our progress.

So when my husband and I worked in mental health in Birmingham England in the last decade of the 20th century we grappled with the experiences of African Caribbean migrants and their children and grandchildren. We tried to understand what kept them well and what made them ill. So our research in psychiatry, psychology and theology helped us to come to an understanding of pathways to healing for those who were mentally ill. My PhD thesis at the University of Birmingham was about this quest for healing in that Black British Community. The migrant comes in search of a better life only to find that some of the things that he or she thought that had been left back home are still present.

My interests and research converged and the many journeys of my own extended family to Britain, America, Africa and elsewhere came to occupy my mind. I have tried to escape from these thoughts about migration and loss, black identity, racism but the thoughts continue to occupy my mind. So my research unearths the letters kept by my mother from one of her uncles in Panama at the time of the second decade of the 20th century when he suggested to his brother, my grandfather.  “Mr. Hungry was riding a grey horse and white squall was on the land.” This letter provides the name for my book. White squall is extreme hunger, which is evident as dry spittle at the corner of the mouth. We know that this was just another cycle of famine, which required West Indians to go to build the Panama Canal, to cut cane in Cuba and to go to where the economic opportunities were available. Another cycle brought people to England in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Now I believe that those who are the descendants of who Erna Brodber sociologist and author calls “Africans enslaved in the New World” continue into infinity migrating, striving, returning. Through my book White Squall On The Land, which continued from Birmingham to The UWI Campus I have followed the trajectories and hope to write more on the themes of this book, to encourage our young people to find their voices to write and express their experiences. Academic success is one possible route to the reclamation of selfhood denied them by history. I share this book and books written by other people and tell them to write their story. We are the same people from Jamaica to Brixton, to Birmingham and wherever else we go. I hope to meet and share these experiences with them at the Huntley Conference on Saturday 22 February 2014.

Like the Huntleys and John La Rose, Rosemarie Hudson and others in Britain developed outlets for the stories of the lives of thousands.  In Jamaica and across the Caribbean there have been publishers like CARIMENSA at UWI, which specializes in matters of a psychological and psychiatric nature and originally published White Squall On The Land.  Neither writing nor getting published is easy but we have to make the time, use the resources available in our institutions, defy the critics and keep the faith. This is a message from a very mature woman who will have turned 60 the day before the Huntley Conference aptly titled, ‘When They Were Young.’

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