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Vicar's crusade for new civil rights movement

UNSTOPPABLE: Rev Canon Eve Pitts

A NEW civil rights movement is about to be born in the UK, if a Birmingham-based Church of England vicar gets her way. And since Rev Canon Eve Pitts has a reputation for being unstoppable – watch this space as the saying goes.

She is planning to lobby the government and the local authority to recognise August 1st – Emancipation Day – as a national day in Britain to remember those who were enslaved.

Emancipation Day, already a national holiday in many former British colonies in the Caribbean, is the anniversary of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which made slavery illegal in August 1834.

Rev Eve was talking to The Voice following her latest in a trilogy of church services to honour and remember the millions of enslaved ancestors who were snatched from Africa to labour and die among the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

Her third service, called Sons Arise, encouraged men to celebrate their blackness and free themselves from the ‘chains of history that still bind them.’ She believes many in the black community are still afraid to look back and honour their past, however traumatic.

RARE

Men were indeed in the majority during Sons Arise at Holy Trinity, her inner-city church in Birchfield, something she said was a rare sight in Anglican churches attended mostly by women.

“Someone told me afterwards that I pointed a gun at the congregation in a very beautiful way,” laughed Rev Eve. “They said it was meant to be a compliment and I take it in that way. They told me a lot of the men who came to the service had no time for Christianity, so to get them through the door was a major achievement. And I agree.

“I believe that the days when you could go off and do your own thing and build your own empire have gone. We have to build our own civil rights movement and I think we have the foundations in place to do so.

“We have to develop a new economic understanding; we cannot blame others for their financial power. There has to be a new reflection in the mirror for us all to see who we are, not who people say we are.

“Our service was about honouring our yesterdays, while changing our tomorrows – it’s about creating a new narrative out of the old, into a new future. There is such a waste of black manhood which I see for myself when I walk into the bookies and the pubs.

“Many of our black men are living dysfunctional lives. The chains of history still bind them. This has to be a time for healing because we are hungry for real change.”

HURDLES

Keynote speaker Professor Robert Beckford, one of Britain’s leading theologians, brought up not far from Rev Eve’s church, spoke of his Jamaican-born father, who though hardly able to read himself, made sure that his own children could read and write before they went to school.


KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Professor Robert Beckford

He spoke of the hurdles black men face trying to ‘thrive and strive in a place not made for them’ often ‘being at war with ourselves.’

He praised African Americans for supporting black businesses in the US and wanting to spend their dollars within their own community.

“They are so more attuned to supporting black people, to supporting them economically in everything they do,” he said.

Prof Beckford explained how he felt black men fell into three categories. The first are those who he called ‘colour blind’ who simply don’t see colour.

“These are usually people who have made it and have kicked away the ladder, so that no one else can join them and make no effort to engage within the community.”

He said the second category is the man who embraces issues of race and takes a pride in seeing black students doing well.

The third category has a ‘complex self perspective’ where men recognise ‘they are a hybrid people, which can be a great strength.’

He said: “They are part African, part Caribbean and part UK and they can embrace these differences within themselves. We have to nurture the genius within ourselves.”


ENTREPRENEUR: Former footballer Reuben Hazell

Second speaker Handsworth-born ex-professional footballer Reuben Hazell praised his mother for bringing both him and his three siblings single-handedly.

And he also praised his uncle Bob Hazell, the legendary Wolves defender, who provided him with the vital role model he needed in life, calling him his ‘saving grace.’

Now a successful entrepreneur running a corporate catering business, Reuben stressed the need for black people to support their own businesses and spend money in their own community.

“We have the power to make our community grow,” said the father-of-three. “We need to change society and it starts with our minds.”

A second annual service to remember enslaved ancestors will be held at 3.30pm o Sunday 18th September at Holy Trinity Church, Birchfield, Birmingham, B20 3DG.

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