I lost my uncle Fred last week, he was technically my great uncle but you know how in black families all elders related by blood (or not) become your aunties and uncles. Fred wasn’t even his real name but that’s just another thing Jamaicans like to do - gift people with random names. Fred was my grandads half brother, both my grandparents passed many years ago. I very much looked at Uncle Fred and his sister Aunty Evelyn as my elders; as a connection to Jamaica. All I really knew was that the Seivwrights came to Newport, South Wales from Jamaica and settled along with the Isaacs, Freckletons, Salmons, Carnegies, Webbes. All of these large bold families from all over Jamaica - connected and rooted in the Land of Song - Wales.
It’s easy to overlook how hard our elders worked to settle in a new country and “assimilate”, we all know that Great Britain did not welcome them with open arms. Yet even today in Newport, South Wales you don’t have to travel far to see the influence and fruits of our Jamaican elders' labour. From thriving Pentecostal churches, yard food shops, sound systems, gospel choirs, the annual Pill carnival filled with floats, music and jerk pans! This is a version of my Welsh city - a version that doesn’t seem to make it across the borders.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “I didn’t know there were black people in Wales”. I was always defensive of these comments when I was a teenager, labelling people as ignorant or snapping why don’t you open your mind and travel the world a bit! I hated that the idea of being Black and Welsh didn’t register with people, almost as if they weren’t allowed to occur at the same time. It is an age-old story that being mixed-race you can feel conflicted in your identity, I ticked that box. Surrounded by a large Caribbean community, living with my Welsh family it wasn’t so much I didn’t understand my Welsh-Jamaican identity, it was more so I didn’t feel it was widely accepted.
Earlier this week, Aleighcia Scott wrote about the similarities between Welsh and Jamaican cultures and it was so perfect! There are small nuances that resonate between both cultures that are almost amplified when these cultures unite! So yes friends, there are black people in Wales and we are loud and proud - we sing in gospel choirs in the mountains, we protest for equality along the beaches, we cook two two jerk at carnival and say the most well known Welsh phrase on nights out - “Rwyn Hoffi Coffi” pronounced “Royne hoff-ee coffee” meaning “I like coffee”.
I left Wales to go to University in Birmingham just shy of my 18th birthday. Back then, all I wanted to do was leave for a bigger city, I thought I had outgrown Wales and truthfully I loved being away for about 3 years. As my studies and career kept me in the Midlands I started to long for home. I had never really found a sense of home outside of Wales. I missed the mountain walks with my Mam, the salty sea air of Barry. I missed the friendliness of walking down the street and saying "good morning" to strangers. The longer I stayed away, the more I thought I was losing my Welsh-ness. Turns out you can't lose it - Wales is a part of who I am!
The reason I started this editor's letter highlighting my Uncle Fred is that it can be so hard when you see your elders pass, they are the anchors that keep our communities together. For me Fred symbolised my roots - my connection to Jamaica, rooted in South Wales. I worried that with his passing this root would become unstable. I didn't expect myself to feel the grief that hit. I don’t even know if it was Fred’s death or lockdown 2.0 or both but it really knocked me off my A-game and I wasn’t really prepared for that. BB’s Wales week was approaching and I needed to represent the unbelievably talented women who pitched their ideas and delivered the amazing content of this week. I didn’t have time to grieve.
As I was coming to terms with saying goodnight to Uncle Fred, I was reminded of the new community that is helping raise me - Black Ballad. The incredible head of editorial Jendella supported me more than she even knows leading up to Wales week. Tobi and Bola offered me guidance and helped me refine my visions and Ness gave me that cheer I needed to make it across the finish line. As for the other regional editors - we laughed, we worked hard, we shared tips and ideas together and we are a team. That’s the essence of Black Ballad - a community.
I reflected on this opportunity, being able to work directly with the Black Ballad team; being able to showcase stories from Black Welsh Women; being able to connect with Welsh Women who I didn't even know before this project. The truth is my heart is bursting with pride. One thing I learned from the thoughtful stories and amazing writers who contributed this week is that it’s always important to end with an optimistic thought. So here goes...
I took on this opportunity thinking Black Ballad needed a regional editor for Wales, turns out I needed Black Ballad more than they needed me. BB is the community that will lift and raise Black British women and their voices and stories. Our stories may seem small to ourselves, but they can have so much impact - I hope that reading about the entrepreneurship, creativity, vision, talents and passions of the Welsh Women highlighted this week will help amplify what it means to be Welsh - pride; giving; community and optimism! After all, we can all do with a bit of Welsh optimism to get us through 2020!