School Day Memories

Sherrie Eugene-Hart, well-known broadcaster in the South West region if not beyond, has kindly let me reproduce her poem here, with a view to including it in the new resource pack for promoting equality in schools.

School Day Memories

It was 1964 when I appeared in the world.
Southmead Hospital, all crinkled and curled.
Mum and dad had already had six.
Four in Dominica and now three in St Werbix.

They brought us up strict, with lots of love.
The moment we spoke, a book they would shove,
in front of our faces, knowing the need,
to recognise letters in order to read.

Early school fascinating, fun games and play.
Lunch was the best.  Shepherd’s pie,
carrots and egg curry.
Soon realised lunch was the least of my worry.

Just wanted to go to school to learn like mum and dad said.
But I was made to feel different, it stuck in my head.
My hair wasn’t like theirs, it didn’t flow in the wind.
My skin was black like brown porcelain.

My nose was flat, hide it with a tissue,
my clothes home-made like money was an issue.
Church once weekly made all things well.
Sunday dinner tummy swell.
Highly seasoned chicken wings, curry smells and all dem tings.
Family laughter, baptisms, and weddings.

All these memories make me smile
but ridicule from the ignorant wipes it away.  Vile.
Back to school on Monday and I wanted to be there.
But how could I learn when I felt you didn’t really care.

You thought that I was clueless, that my parents were not bright.
You felt that I was stupid, taking education light.
But I was hungry.  Eager to take it in.
Wanted to find out about algebra and Chopin.

Literature excited me, science made me enthuse,
do the best that I could do, what did I have to lose?
It doesn’t matter if you come from St Paul’s, St Werbs or Easton,
Clifton, Kinsgwood or Bishopston.

Matters not if you wear a Salwar Kameez. In some schools that’s a no no.
My A* friend wears a Kimono.
With pride.
No time to hide.

Wear your Sari, Wrap, Turban or Topee
and hold your head high for you and for me.
It doesn’t matter if Yam and Dashin is your meal or Bammy or Madras.
Feel good about your Irish stew, and love your peas and mash.

What matters is your attitude, your willingness to learn.
Your helpfulness and consciousness a valuable concern.
What matters are your parents and their quest to get things right.

Their passion and selflessness.  The things they wouldn’t do.
Work all hours curse you off and give their food to you.
What matters is their interest to ask you about school,
what your homework is and whether history was cool.

What matters are your teachers that they see you with value. It’s clear.
And that after year 6 our Black boys aren’t seen as ones to fear.
If you’re going to achieve, you have to work hard.
Forget your mates and stay in your own yard.

If they want to gallivant that’s up to them.  Stay at home and pray on your knees,
that you pass all 10 GCSE’s.
No time to play, no time to make hay, no time for sport TV or radio,
just time for books, wash hair and go!

Oh hair.  Remember when we’d press our fringe and feel good to compare it with Jane or Suzie? The comb would slide straight through it but it wouldn’t last a minute.  The rain would come like a shower of hate to shrivel up the straight.

In truth I was lucky I had it all actually.
Good family, good friends, good school and spirituality.
Some barriers were there to throw me,
to put me off to show me

that I was not good enough, not clever enough and not got enough of what it takes to achieve.

Those barriers served to remind me that all I had to do was believe.

Sherrie Eugene-Hart
August 2013 

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