History, Heritage & Identity

Cherie-Ann Small
Manager – Caribbean Institute for Health Research


An initiative emerged out of conversations held between myself and leaders of the largest African-Caribbean Churches in the United Kingdom, who were desirous of forging an alliance with The University of the West Indies to stage a signature Diaspora Education and Empowerment initiative premised on The University’s formidable body of research and scholarship on West Indian History.

Ostensibly, these Bishops and pastors on behalf of their congregants and mass of people of West Indian heritage living in the United Kingdom, were seeking to engage the Church of England and the wider British society on the “uncomfortable facts and details” of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as part of a larger and more long-term goal to establish the UK Diaspora in a correct knowledge of their history and cultural identity.

Tradition of Advocacy

The University of the West Indies has had a long and storied tradition of advocacy for human rights and social justice through excellence in scholarship, research and activism; and enjoys a distinct relevance among the top-tier universities of the world in the cause of Reparatory Justice. In more recent years, The UWI has been mandated to lead the implementation of CARICOM’s Reparatory Justice Programme on behalf of the nearly sixteen million people who live in the region, with an even larger population footprint in the far-flung Diaspora.

One of the powerful manifestations of The University’s commitment to Reparatory Justice has been the establishment of its Centre for Reparation Research, which “broadly seeks to foster public awareness around the lasting and adverse consequences of European invasion of indigenous peoples’ lands, African enslavement and colonialism in the Caribbean.”[1]

[1] http://www.reparationresearch.org/about/

The CAIHR Connection

Through decades of primary research, UWI scholars have unearthed and documented the evidence of the visceral horrors of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Plantation Society, and the associated root of Non-Communicable Chronic Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and hypertension, which have been an endemic blight on the mental/physical health and wellbeing of Caribbean people at home in the region, and in the Diaspora.

This endemic prevalence of NCD’s and the causal relationships with Slavery and Colonisation, intersect with the work of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research(CAIHR), a specialised centre of The UWI mandated to conduct innovative research that provides evidence for improvements in the health and well-being of persons in the Caribbean and globally.

CAIHR has long realized that collaboration through productive regional and international strategic partnerships, is essential for cross-fertilization of ideas and research findings for positive societal impact; and this intended collaboration with the UK Diaspora Churches offers a unique access point for the proliferation of UWI CAIHR research interventions that could redound to the benefit of the UK Diaspora.

In point of fact, CAIHR often engages places of worship, which have great influence over the sociocultural context of their congregants and by extension their families and communities. One recent study[1], led by Professor Emeritus Rainford Wilks, has engaged places of worship to promote healthy lifestyles and NCD prevention and management activities.

[1] Grant Ref: MR/N015959/1. “Integrating places of worship (PoWs) into the primary care pathway to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean”.  S. Harding (Principal, Kings College London), Rainford Wilks (CAIHR) et al

The UK Diaspora Churches

In the context of the global outrage and gathering protest movement at the death of George Floyd, the Afro-Caribbean Churches in the UK have turned to The UWI for partnership and support to stage an Online Symposium, which they have described as an attempt “to construct the intellectual infrastructure for a high-quality conversation with the Church of England and other officials in the power structure of British society”.

In essence, this Online Symposium was to provide a platform for The University of the West Indies to present an accurate, unvarnished account of European-enforced slavery and colonialism in the West Indies, and the persistent deleterious effects on the West Indian Diaspora in the United Kingdom; and to press the case for reparatory justice to an influential audience of UK Church and Political Leaders during Black History Month observances in the UK.

The Symposium

On Thursday November 12, 2020 the History, Heritage and Identity Symposium was staged online on UWI-TV Global. The Keynote Speaker was noted historian and Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Professor Hilary Beckles. He was accompanied by three panellists, Dr David Muir, Reverend Dr Carol Tomlin and Professor Donna Hope, each of whom spoke on history, heritage and identity respectively. The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, was himself unable to participate but sent his greetings, which was read by Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, the National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer at the Church of England.