“I was raised by my mother who was a single parent, and often spoke of her mother coming over to the UK in the 1960s and the struggles she faced as a Black woman.
“I would hear stories of my grandmother’s plight to work her way up the ranks in nursing and later managing a nursery and as a woman of colour, she was met with opposition and racial injustice which was indicative of the experience of the Windrush Generation at the time.”
Those are the words of Anneka Belmar, a Black British social activist of Caribbean origin who is working to get the Windrush Generation the credit and respect they deserve here in the UK.
The east Londoner, who was born to Afro Caribbean parents, has launched a petition calling for the Government to create an official Windrush Bank Holiday, to mark the contributions and sacrifices of the Windrush Generation who came to Britain between 1948-1971 to assist in the post-war struggles the country was facing.
“My inspiration certainly comes from a personal place, given my great-grandparents and grandparents contributions to the UK, spanning from the 1940s,” says Anneka.
The activist was told stories about her grandparents’ experiences coming to England from Jamaica and visited the island as a child where she further embraced her roots.
“I consider myself blessed to have travelled to Jamaica as a child with my mum. I immersed in the country life; playing with the local children on the bumpy country roads, eating freshly picked fruits, watching the animals roam freely and running small errands for my mum, as she did as a child for her grandparents.”
Anneka says visiting Jamaica gave her a sense of freedom, safety and significance that she never experienced as a child in the UK.
“I had the opportunity to visit my mum’s school, church and family who lived in various parts of the island. These are memories which I miss and shall forever cherish, as it cemented the importance of understanding my culture and identifying with it.”
Identifying with her Caribbean heritage was a blessing in disguise, as through these teachings, Anneka understood where she came from and the plight Black people have historically faced in a country which barely acknowledged it within there educational system.
“Windrush was never discussed in primary and secondary schools in the UK. It was a term rarely heard of,” she states. “That’s why I wholly support the current movement to ensure the curriculum is reflective of British history in its entirety, which means it must be inclusive of all diverse groups who have contributed to our country.”
Campaigners have fought for better inclusivity of Black history in the national curriculum, with a recent report by Dr Jason Arday of Durham University finding that the curriculum in England “systematically omits the contribution of Black British history in favour of a dominant white, Eurocentric curriculum.”
This interest in her history and the lack of representation within British education played a role in Anneka’s passion for activism.
“At 17, I volunteered for work experience at a local school for severely disabled children,” she says.
“It was a pleasure to gain an insight into the children’s lives and I enjoyed their beautiful personalities. However, this experience opened my eyes to the shortages of essential services and how this negatively impacts the outcomes of children in the community.
“This ignited my spirit to advocate and support others and affirmed my decision to study a degree in social work.”
Since then, Anneka has gone onto continue fighting against injustices and in particular with this petition which follows the 2018 Windrush Scandal that saw the deportation of many Caribbeans despite living and working in the UK for years.
“When I scroll through social media, watch the news and speak to family and friends, the narrative of the Windrush Generation is never far from matters of discrimination, marginalisation and a ‘fight’ for equality,” she says.
“I am fortunate that none of my immediate family were victims of the Windrush Scandal, however, my heart is with those who until this day, have not received justice. Lives have been lost and still no justice. Families have been torn apart, forever fractured, and still no justice. It is mistreatment of the highest order.”
Anneka hopes that by having a Bank Holiday dedicated to the Windrush Generation, it will assist in the healing of the many who came to this country and now feel like they can’t truly call this home.
“The Windrush Scandal has fractured relations between the Government and the Windrush Generation. The emotional pain, loss and sheer stress forced upon our community in such a public and premeditated way will forever hurt. However, we are a people of strength, love and compassion.
“Given our plight, a national Bank Holiday to reflect upon our journey and honour our loved ones who paved the way forward is in my opinion, a necessary act of appreciation that our Government should honour without hesitance.”
The petition has so far received over 35,000 signatures, and Anneka says she’s received touching responses from those who’ve signed and donated to the cause.
“Starting my petition has enabled me to speak with a diverse range of people across the UK, many of whom not only ‘feel’ passionate about anti-racism and anti-discrimination, but are actively contributing to making the UK a better place for all.”
“I have been moved by people’s stories as to why they are signing, sharing and financially contributing to the petition and now building upon the current momentum is critical. The petition has to remain at the forefront of people’s minds to reap growth and ultimately, achieve its aim.”
To sign the petition, click here