Sunday 8 March 2020 – International Women’s Day – Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, JA.
Normally I would celebrate International Women’s Day by joining a #MeToo march in London, meeting up with some friends or sending a few tweets. The Mary Seacole Foundation is a sister body to the Mary Seacole Trust. It is based in Kingston. Their secretary Sonia Mills reached out to our chair Trevor Sterling a while ago and invited us to join them for their relaunch event, entitled Welcome Home Mary Seacole, today, International Women’s Day 2020. And that was why I decided to come to Jamaica instead.
And what an event it has been. This is the programme:
We enjoyed original performance poetry, music, communal singing and a series of speeches. The standard was extremely high. The compere, Vivian Crawford, Director of the Institute of Jamaica, was gracious and amusing. Plus, everyone heeded that very important but often forgotten advice to speakers to leave your audience wanting more.
Trevor gave a stunning address, supported by slides of the statue unveiling and the work of our Youth Advisory Committee. He had the audience cheering and stamping, especially when he made an impromptu presentation to two groups of school children in the audience. Please meet our new Young Ambassadors in the attached photo.
I had to follow Trevor. I decided to celebrate the mature women in the audience and remind them that we all have more to give if we look hard enough. That seemed to land well. I then talked about the mixed blessings of a mixed heritage like mine, and how this can lead me, on a bad day, to feel that I belong in neither one culture nor another. How Mary Seacole seemed to rise above such feelings and forge her place in any society, and how that helps me to dig deep, on the difficult days, especially when I am experiencing anxiety or depression.
I talked about equality, which as women we must continue to fight for. And how, as a white woman, the fight against racism is not someone else’s fight, it is all of our fight. And I got a cheer for saying that we are all part of the human race.
Which you might think had been forgotten back in the UK. We heard from the gentle, self-effacing senior nurse Yvonne Grant MBE, who, since her own retirement in 2006, opened The Open Arms Homeless Centre, supporting over 2,000 people to find a way out of sleeping on the streets of Kingston. Even as I write this, volunteers at the centre are helping people recently deported from the UK, who left Jamaica in the 1960s or 70s as young children. Those for whom, for whatever reason, things have not gone well. Imagine landing in a small, poor country with no welfare system where you know no-one, dirty and hungry, with no money but still burdened by the problems that got you thrown out of the wealthy country you thought of as home. And then imagine how good it feels when the Open Arms Centre picks you up and gives you a meal, a hot shower and some clean clothes and helps you start to get your life back on track. It made me feel ashamed to be British but proud to be a member of the same human race as Yvonne and her colleagues.
On behalf of the Mary Seacole Trust, I would like to thank Sonia Mills and everyone at the Mary Seacole Foundation for making us feel so welcome in Jamaica. And for helping to remind me, as Mary often does, that we are all members of the same human race.
Happy International Women’s Day.