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Birmingham church celebrates ancestors at special service

PICTURED: Rev Canon Eve Pitts

THROUGH drumming, poems, spiritual songs and powerful words from a leading academic, senior cleric the Rev Canon Eve Pitts honoured African and Caribbean ancestors during a special ‘Arise’ service in Birmingham.

For the past three years, the pioneering Anglican priest has been campaigning for a national day of remembrance to honour the millions of people who died as slaves – sacrificed for the greed of the sugar industry.

The service put a spotlight on Africa’s grand past of Queens and Empresses and the congregation was encouraged to call out their many ancestors during a period of remembrance when Holy Trinity Church in Birchfield was plunged into darkness.

“In case you were in any doubt that you don’t belong, the age-old question of where we come from is still with us,” said Rev Eve. “We are here to remember lest we choose to forget.”

Soprano Abigail Kelly received a standing ovation for her beautifully delivered spiritual songs and poet Suzy Rowland recited her own work including emotional poems about SS Empire Windrush and the Zong, the slave ship of 1781.

Outspoken activist Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor of sociology at Birmingham City University, spoke about the need for the black community to organise itself.

He said: “Celebrating the ancestors is something really powerful. In African tradition the dead are still with us – our ancestors are still here and act in our lives and have messages for us.

PICTURED: Kehinde Andrews

“As Malcolm X said: ‘The truth is in the hands of the oppressed.’ There are one or two home truths you might not like to hear. For example – what has happened to us as a people? Why are we not in a better situation? Yes, it’s because of racism definitely but it’s also because of us and what we have come to be.

“When the Windrush Generation came over they should have been given the right to stay here because they were part of the nation. The main reason they made Jamaica independent was to stop you from coming because once they’ve made a country independent and put up a border they can tell you that you can no longer come.

“The Caribbean built this country, this church, this city. We’re constantly told that when our parents and grandparents came over here they were citizens of Britain. No they were not. They were subjects of the British Empire. As black people we can never be British in that same way. My mum was born here, I was born here, my children were born here, but we are all still subjects of the British Empire, not fully British citizens. That is the reality were are in – that’s what racism means.

“And the biggest problem we have for ourselves is that we’ve been deluded into thinking we’re British, we can make it; we can have equality. My children and their children will never have equality in this stinking country – apologies for the language.”

He said what people should be asking is why do so many people from the Caribbean and Africa want to come here in the first place – and the answer, he said, was poverty caused by racism. This is the problem that needs to be fixed in these countries.

Andrews added that the black community tended to focus too much on the ‘symptoms of the disease’ such as knife crime, 40 per cent black male youth unemployment in Birmingham alone, and police brutality. He said there was a need for revolution.

Recalling the ancestors, Andrews said the current generation could learn something from how Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association 100 years ago.

He said: “That organisation grew to five million people in 50 countries across the world with no phones, definitely no internet, no Facebook. How did they do it? They did it because when the Garvey people explained that the current system wasn’t working, people listened and understood. We need to learn from that today.”

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