Black History Month: 'I have never met anyone with a skin colour that is black and I don’t think I ever will.'
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St Albans friendship club chair Andrene McDonald is a strong advocate of Black History Month.
Andrene, who lives in Marshalswick, runs Active Lifestyles, a multi-cultural club for senior people in St Albans organised by African-Caribbean people.
Its aim is to combat loneliness and isolation while focusing on health, education and social welfare.
Many of its members are retired employees of St Albans' former long-stay hospitals in Cell Barnes and Hill End, who were predominantly of African-Caribbean origin.
The club provides a Caribbean lunch and enables friendships to be established and grow whilst giving the opportunity to learn new skills through arts and crafts, computers, and keeping fit.
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Andrene explained: "In the past we have organised Black History events and cultural days, trips and social gatherings. It is a celebration of our rich and cultured history, a reminder of a history purposely hidden.
"If it is recognised - that we were here from the beginning, creating, inventing, developing, building, supporting, cultivating, teaching, and dying - we would not need a month as a reminder as then our history will be an everyday occurrence."
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She added: "I am very proud of my heritage; I am a Jamaican with Maroon heritage who fought against slavery in Jamaican and settled in its blue mountains.
"There is still institutional racism and unconscious bias in every hall and corridor of this country.
"The Black Lives Matter movement is a modern day turning point for many, a wake-up call for those who had no inkling that it exists or had any reason to think about it. I do not see myself as being of colour but others do or else I would not be asked to do this interview.
"I see myself as a woman, mother, sister, daughter, friend, colleague, aunty, godmother, cousin and niece, a Jamaican, a maroon of African heritage and last but not least a member of the community. The term ‘Black’ to me is political i.e. Black lives, Black history. I have never met anyone with a skin colour that is black and I don’t think I ever will. I will however go under the banner Black as it can be used collectively for a purpose until it's no longer necessary."
Active Lifestyles is also working with St Albans Museum to research black history in the district, with this information archived to enable information to be available to a wider audience such as schools, universities, community groups or other researchers.
Andrene is also chair of consultative group Faith and Cultural Enterprise (FACE), which brings together a variety of faiths and cultures from across the district to promote mutual respect, understanding trust and friendship.
"It acts as a common voice, providing support, information and advice and an opportunity to network and engage with each other and other parties such as St Albans district council.
"FACE is now working with the police and other community groups to look at breaking down barriers, particularly with young people, with the aim of reducing crime by promoting mutual respect, understanding and trust."