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A service of pride

PICTURED: Retired Warrant Officer Donald Campbell, left, and Kenneth Straun (ex-RAF) explain the aims of the National Caribbean Monument charity

“ANY PEOPLE who can go through what we have been through and are still here – then there must be something special about us,” so said Rev Canon Eve Pitts as she held a thanksgiving service at her Birmingham church to highlight African and Caribbean heritage.

With songs like the Aretha Franklin classic Young Gifted and Black, some Bob Marley and a live performance from a national award-winning Gospel choir, the uplifting service had all the ingredients to celebrate what it means to be black in today’s world.

“I want this event to capture all the different phases of our lives,” said Rev Eve, who was one of the first black women to be ordained as a parish priest in the Church of England in 1994.

“We are a deeply spiritual people and we worship a God who is not just in our churches; he’s in the bars and the bookies. He is a God who knows our pain and our struggle; He is with those who have been broken, but we are a people who have not been destroyed.

“I am not glossing over the pain of our story, but I wanted to capture the different shades of our lives. Our men and women have to learn to trust each other more because otherwise this is something that really will destroy us.”

The Birmingham-based Town Hall Gospel Choir, winners of the first-ever Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year contest, gave two stunning live performances, including one song in Tswana, the language of Botswana.

IN ATTENDANCE: Rev Canon Eve Pitts

Colin Anderson, director of the 30-strong choir, told the packed church: “Faith is our shield and we carry it wherever we go.”

A pioneering project by the National Caribbean Monument Charity was unveiled at the end of the service by retired Royal Air Force Warrant Officer Donald Campbell. He explained how it was the charity’s aim to raise £500,000 for a monument to honour Caribbean soldiers’ contributions to Britain during both world wars and other conflicts.

During the Second World War alone, 16,000 volunteered for service alongside the British.
Campaigners are hoping to create a lasting legacy at the 150-acre National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire by 2021.

Campbell said: “The reason for this is because there are more than 300 memorials in the arboretum that represent not just the UK but the whole of the Commonwealth, yet there is nothing positive there for Caribbean people. There is a whole chapter missing ladies and gentlemen.

“There is only one presentation there and that is a negative one – a young lad called Private Herbert Morris, who left Jamaica aged 16, obviously lying about his age, and joined the 6th battalion of the British West Indies Regiment. He was shot at dawn, and that is the only representation we have there of Caribbean people.

“When he was shot he was telling everyone that he had noises in his head – that’s all he could hear because he was on the battlefield with guns and bombs going off all around him. Can you imagine yourself aged 17 on the front line? Nowadays we call this post-traumatic stress disorder, so he was illegally shot. We must put this representation right.”

Mr Campbell explained that the charity has a standard representing the King’s African Rifles representing 18 British Caribbean islands with the motto: “Separated by water bonded by culture.”

He said: “It doesn’t matter where we are in the world as West Indians we have that certain cultural bonding – this monument will help to unite us all and give us a focal point of learning for generations.

“We need £500,000 to achieve this. It may sound a lot, but there are a lot of us and every pound donated will make a difference. We ask you to support us in any way you can.”

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