Reflections on the Sam Sharpe Lecture

JONATHON Dexter, a member of Cemetery Road Baptist Church, Sheffield, has written a reflection on the  5th Annual Sam Sharpe Lecture, held at the church recently.

Sam Sharpe Lecture 2016 – 18th October.

I AM often reminded of being 5 years old coming home from school, and saying “I didn’t know so-and-so was black”. At such a young age, I had not taken anyone’s skin colour to be of any relevance – I was under the influence that you looked at who the person was inside, rather than what they who they were on the outside. I wonder if this is true for all of us? When do we start noticing what is on the outside?

When you enter the education system, start studying and age, you become more aware of your surroundings while slowly finding your own voice – you are made aware of differences within people; height, skin colour, dialect, smell and abilities. When you become aware of these, you start being taught prejudice and how people have shown disdain towards people simply because of their race or ethnicities.

Admittedly before hearing about the lecture, I did not know who Sam Sharpe was. Upon learning who he was however, I was keen to attend the lecture – partly expecting it to be solely on him, rather than what it was; addressing modern day racism.

I feel that before the Brexit vote those not directly affected by racism, had become complacent in thinking racism was no longer an issue. I know it is something I was guilty off – Personally, I had come to a state of mind where I thought people’s skin colour wasn’t relevant for questioning their ability or their suitability for a location or workplace. Maybe I had come to that way of thinking due to being fully submerged in a multicultural community.

We gathered on the evening of 18th October 2016 for a lecture delivered by the Sam Sharpe project.

Books etc Sam Sharpe lectureIn the hall where the lecture was held, there was an exhibition displaying various pictures, books and letters from the time of Jamaican slavery.

Mary TaylorYBA Regional Minister, the Revd Mary Taylor, opened the event by welcoming people to the lecture and praising the guest speaker, the Revd Bev Thomas. Mary then started her evening’s role as facilitator.
Eric Aidoo also gave a welcome guests and invited the Revd Bev Thomas to speak.

Bev ThomasFor those who do not know who she is, the Revd Bev Thomas was born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents. She studied theology and religious studies in the 1970-80s. She spent almost a decade in London before returning to the West Midlands, she has spent over 25 years working in the UK and internationally as a speaker / trainer on social injustices and race issues.

Bev started her lecture by giving some background into who Sam Sharpe was and what he achieved. She explained how he was born into slavery but became highly-educated before preaching amongst the Baptist churches in Jamaica. She shared her awe and admiration for Sam, when he started a peaceful rebellion against the slavery in Jamaica.

Sam Sharpe lectureBev gave examples of cases of racism since Sam Sharpe; the Holocaust, Ku Klux Klan, Apartheid. She also shared a testimony of her own experiences with racism. She shared how when growing up people would tell her to “go back home”, although she already was home. She declined an opportunity to visit Jamaica for the first time while she was late teens / early 20s. She knew if she went they would describe her as being “very British”.
When she went to Jamaica for the first time in her 30s, she experienced what she was expecting but she was more mentally prepared for it.

Sam Sharpe lecture foodBev told the story of a time she was in Cambridge, and she was astounded by the volume of taxis waiting at the station. When she questioned the driver on why this was, he proceeded to go on a racist rant claiming Pakistanis were coming over and taking their jobs. She shared with us how she waited ten minutes before tackling his way of thinking – she is positive he won’t be so vocal with his views in the future.

Bev bravely referenced the recent Brexit vote. Since the Brexit vote there has been quite a spike in the number of reported racial incidents. Interestingly, however, some of the migrants interviewed through the media had expressed their desire to vote ‘leave.’

Sam Sharpe lecture guestsOne story shared was about the time Bev was invited to speak before 30 ministers. During the coffee break one reverend approached her. He stated he had not been made aware beforehand that she was black, he explained that he found himself asking: “Is she trained? Is she competent? Can I learn anything from her?” Bev informed us her response to this man confused him. She challenged him to learn a whole other narrative, before going on to teach people. He noted how none of his colleagues stopped him, or apologised on his behalf.

Bev reminded us of the difference between race and ethnicity. She concluded her lecture by addressing anyone in attendance who may have migrated to the UK. She questioned who was crying for the people currently migrating here. She reminded us it was our Christian duty to stand up and to tackle any injustices that we come across.

This was followed by a time of questions and answers.

Bev portrayed herself in a very thoughtful and eloquent way. The lecture was delivered in such an academic way that the questions that followed, were of an intellectual level. It would have been interesting to see what questions would have been posed, had the lecture not been delivered in such an academic way. The lecture was very thought-provoking and you left with plenty to think about, even now as I write this almost a week after the lecture – I am still thinking things through and recognising the relevance for what was spoken.

Picture for Cemetery Road BCCemetery Road Baptist Church, as a thank you for the generosity and exemplary and estimation-exceeding hospitality, were presented with a beautiful painting from the organisers of the Sam Sharpe Lecture.

We were then invited to join in fellowship over food, which were beautifully prepared and was of very high quality Jamaican food.

Carol Moore and friendThe evening was a very well organised event – and thanks needs extending to all concerned including Carol Moore, the Sam Sharpe Project, Mary Taylor - and all who played a role on the night itself. Thanks are extended to the caterers who provided such delicious food – and enough was provided, that we could donate the leftover food.

A recording of the lecture can be found on the Sam Sharpe Project Facebook page. It is well worth a browse.

God’s blessing,
​Jon Dexter

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