Hilary attended The Ninth Annual Huntley Conference in London, where she conducted a master classs on Resilience and the African Caribbean Community on 22 February 2014.
My journey to England in February 2014 was filled with excitement and anticipation, and as my publisher Rosemarie Hudson reminded me: ‘You’ve not come to London to work or study but to reflect and enjoy the experience.’ Winter makes demands on the human body so we took great care to be appropriately dressed. We travelled from the Domus Medica – our temporary home in Wimpole Street in Central London – by bus, train and taxi, using the internet to plan the route.
Our previous visit to England in 2011 seems a lifetime away. At the Huntley Conference on 23 February this year, where my book White Squall on the Land was launched my husband and I met many people who were in the business of publishing, writing and community activism – and made new contacts and friendships. My PowerPoint presentation on, The Story of White Squall on Land was well received and there were questions about future collaboration and the linkages between the Caribbean and the UK. My books were purchased, and I was delighted to sign them.
The conference consisted of engrossing presentations about family archives and their importance to the development of identity; also, the topic of the significant contribution of African and Caribbean people to the world. This subject is frequently unnamed and ignored! Participants of three generations were present and there was evidence of the support and solidarity necessary for survival in the changing, often hostile, context in Britain. There was much laughter and camaraderie as well as moments to honour those who had now become ancestors, like Jessica Huntley.
We visited relatives in Willesden, who had come to England in 1965 from Jamaica, and relived some of the moments of family history in Hanover Jamaica and London. Their home had been my first home when I visited the city aged 21 in 1975. The neighbourhood had changed, I discovered, many of the Caribbean families who once lived there have been replaced by Eastern Europeans and Asians.
I was interviewed on three occasions, including a joint interview with my husband, conducted by Patrick Vernon. We made visits to my husband’s psychiatric colleagues, and also to my high-school friend, the playwright Patricia Cumper (author of One Bright Child).
At a master-class I conducted on Resilience and the African Caribbean Community, the response was heartwarming. The organizer, Hari Sewell, was very pleased with the turnout and the response of the academics, mental-health professionals and service users who were in the audience.
During this trip, we also enjoyed the food, and the sights and sounds of a changing London, crossing cultures, crossing languages. I often thought of the changing face and place of the African and African Caribbean population in Britain as I saw the anguished face of Stephen Lawrence‘s mother now a Baroness as she spoke of the fight for justice for her dead son.
After ten days it was time for home so we left London on a BA flight, which had almost two thirds of its passengers seeming to be multi-generational black Britons, their families and co-mates. The flight was uneventful on one level but my mind was very occupied, processing the experience and thinking of how many stories the passengers of all races might have to tell.
And as I neared Jamaica I thought about this centuries-old relationship with Britain and about our 51-year-old post-colonial independence struggles with identity and the profound psychological and economic transformations which were required to make the transition into independence. The discourse continued on the very next day when I started to discuss the trip with the students at UWI and showed the same PowerPoint presentation, which I had prepared for the Huntley Conference.
My students asked many questions about the trip and I provided information to update them about: Walter Rodney and his publishers Bogle-L’Ouverture, founded by the Huntleys, and I reminded them that we have a responsibility to research and publish our own stories.
I am implementing new strategies in social media such as this blog as my HopeRoad publisher encouraged. I might well be like new wine in an old wineskin . . . but I hope that I won’t burst!