Event review: Secrets of the 1817 Slave Registers Uncovered – a talk by Paul Crooks

By - Tuesday 17th October, 2017

Black History Month comes to Croydon via an enlightening talk by historian Paul Crooks

Photo public domain.

October is a unique month in our yearly calendar, fêted by our attempts to lay off the booze in exchange for raising awareness and funds to battle the ‘big C’. For some of us, we get to rekindle our inner child by playing dress up and our high-street retailers get a small boost in revenue as a result of more pumpkins, sweets and fancy-dress sales. For me, October is a time of reflection and celebration. A time to remember some of the challenges my ancestors faced – but, more importantly, this is a time to celebrate both past and recent successes made by people of my ethnic heritage. As a local resident of Croydon, I was impressed to hear that seasoned historian, speaker and author Paul Crooks was paying the big town a visit to share his story of how he traced his African ancestors enslaved on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. As part of the Croydon Celebrates Black History Month programme, the talk was held at Croydon Central Library with an interested and inquisitive audience.

In the words of James Baldwin: “Know from whence you came… if you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go”. This phrase is the epitome of Paul’s voyage of discovery, which led him from the suburbs of north London to the soulful islands of Jamaica and eventually the Gold Coast of West Africa. I was intrigued by the level of detail Paul presented during his talk, from transcripts of slave transactions to images of mass baptisms (this was new to me!). He took us through the process of tracing his four-times great-grandmother (Ami Djaba Brown) – and it wasn’t surprising why his efforts have gained him credibility for his discoveries in African Caribbean genealogy research. Slavery is still an elephant in the room, one that most of us shy away from talking about. Growing up in Nigeria, hardly anyone talked about this dark shadow from our past and, similar to Pandora, when I opened this box, I quickly realised why most people tend to keep it closed.

We’ve made some progress but there is still a lot to learn

This time last year, we celebrated Black History Month at my place of work. A part of me was positive that my working environment was promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity. The other part of me was unsure a working environment was a safe space to explore such a sensitive topic. The awkward quizzes and reflective debates highlighted that, as a collective society, we’ve made some progress but there is still a lot to learn – hence why Paul’s search for knowledge on this topic should inspire us, regardless of our race or cultural backgrounds. The session was evidence based (very detective-like), and as Paul spoke, I envisioned the range of emotions he went through on this quest even though he maintained an extremely professional yet personal manner throughout his talk. I could feel his elation when he finally connected with his distant relatives in West Africa.

A safe space for a discussion that requires sensitivity

I found listening to Paul answer questions from the audience rather interesting; I couldn’t sense any grief or anger. What I observed was a man who had arrived at a stage of active acceptance. He has written to the British government for formal reparations and restitutions owed to his ancestor, Ami Djaba Brown. While none of us can guarantee what the result of his request will be, I know I left this event with more answers than questions. Paul created a safe space for a discussion that requires sensitivity; balancing this with transparency is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s only through this honest dialogue that we can fully build understanding, empathy and respect for the past 400 years of black history.

If you haven’t participated in any of the many diverse activities hosted throughout the month, I implore you to give it a go! You won’t regret it.

You can see all of the events on offer in Croydon here.

Ola Kolade

Ola Kolade

Programme Management and Church Leader, Ola Kolade has lived in Croydon for over 13 years. He has worked in both corporate and non-for- profit sectors, giving him a wealth of experience in Change and Stakeholder Management, Strategic Leadership and Community Engagement. He is passionate about social action and inspiring people to be more active in their local community through volunteering. He is Conservative Party Candidate to represent Norbury Park on Croydon Council. He tweets as @MrOlaKolade.

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  • https://finallyfiona.com Fiona

    Excellently written, an event I would have liked to attend. Great to see black history being talked about and celebrated within our community.

  • Anne Giles

    Well written!