The first ever wound that I can remember receiving was as a 7 year old girl in a school in London. I remember it like it was yesterday. A similar-aged girl who I thought was my friend wouldn’t play Ring-a ring-‘o-roses with me. Simply because her mother had told her that brown skin was dirty and smelled of s**t. Her comment stung and when I protested to the teacher who was stood close by, I was scolded and told not to be so sensitive. That night I cried myself to sleep, never ever sharing this hurt with anyone in my home. That was the first time that I can remember the axe of racism coming down, very hard.
Now, let nobody believe that I was being raised in a naïve environment. In fact I came from a home that didn’t mince its words. My late birth mother was a free-spirit, who herself suffered adverse childhood experiences. Arriving as a young immigrant in the 50s, she became a teenage mum at the age of 15, and by her own admission did not have a maternal bone in her body. She had to grow up fast and was a tough cookie who spoke as she found, without (as she always said) glossing anything over. And although clearly a victim, she said that the axe wielded by those who judged her teen pregnancy was just awful at the time. Conversely, my ‘nurturing mummy’ (Grandmother) was attentive with us as children. She was softly spoken and kind but remained realistic about what lay ahead of us, simply because of our colour. That aside, I had already started to notice how differently we were being treated at times in school, often because we were a large quantity of siblings known to be in receipt of free school meals and uniform. Anyway, both mums had explained that despite the content of our characters and actions, we would still be judged by some based on where we lived, how we lived and the colour of our skin. And they were both 100% right!
After that first incident at school life went on as usual, meanwhile my wounds of trauma remained open, unspoken about and unattended to. I guess with every blow of the inequality axe by either individuals, those in positions of power and/or society, I just got on with it. I toughened up – I had too. For example, later as my mother’s dependencies increased and her mental health deteriorated we went to live full time with my grandparents. I remember this time being a game-changer for me. it was at night and my grandparents moved us stealth-like to their home ‘so that the social didn’t come snooping around again’. So here we were, all crammed into a council flat on an estate with the smallest of balconies. If I am to be honest, all of this felt like bliss to me – stability, peace and bloody quiet for once, hurrah! I have to say though, that even at a young age I worried about my lovely mother. As an adult I often think about all the intersectional wounds that she would have been carrying. I knew she needed help but being so young I wasn’t sure what help was out there. After all I didn’t want them to lock her up for not being able to look after us.
Anyway, despite my negative experience with a teacher, I secretly admired teachers. This was because of subsequent and positive interactions with wonderful teachers who I met throughout my education. So it was with great sadness that a notable and connected tragedy struck – causing a further wound. Just as I was settling back into a life of moderate stability. I was 9 years of age. On 24th April in 1979, almost 42 years to this very day a teacher named Blair Peach was murdered. The murder took place not far from where I lived, on my regular bus route. Blair Peach a New Zealander lost his life at an anti-racism demonstration in Southall, London. He was there to demonstrate against a far right group called the National Front (NF). Even though I was young I knew about the NF. Their presence in my area really scared me and my family. I know of many who had been terrorised by them, including my grandfather who still bore the scars when he died. Tragically Blair was hit on the head and died in hospital. That night his death and who caused it posed many questions. My only question being very young at the time was why would anyone want to kill a teacher?
Although an ‘axe’ of sorts had specifically befallen Blair Peach, let me tell you its blow certainly had a wider impact. From this incident onwards I decided to conceal my wounds because it felt like many people didn’t really care about racism or inequalities, unless it affected them directly. During my time, I had lost many friends to suicide, gun and knife crime and the prison system. Truth is, sadly I witnessed and actually lived the root causes of their demise alongside them. As the years have gone by (like many others) I have become increasingly aware that some of my wounds are now scars. Painful scars that continue to be hacked at by the words and actions of others, in both my personal and daily work life.
The reality is that axe wielders are everywhere, wantonly endorsing societal inequalities and creating irreparable havoc. I am thankful that as a young adult I discovered that there was help out there for people like me; people who have experienced trauma. Fantastic professionals who understand the true and wider impact of these adverse experiences. I vowed many moons ago to find a vocation that would make a difference to those like me. And I did! I currently work and volunteer with others who like me are striving to improve the life outcomes of others. My proudest moments are when I get the opportunity to boldly challenge the many ‘Axes’ out there in support of those (like me) who are trees that remember.
Author: Kimberley C. Lamb
Epione wants to personally thank Kimberley: Head of Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU)
Kimberley has an extensive knowledge of inter-agency working, community issues, policing and strategic partnerships. Specialising in working with some of our most vulnerable and marginalised communities. An experienced youth justice professional she is a former Vice Chair of Bedfordshire Police’s Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel, a Board Trustee for the Criminal Justice Alliance. Reverse Mentor to a Force Exec senior officer, Ambassador for the Violent Crime Prevention Board (VCPB) and Chair of Governors for a mainstream Luton school, as well as Management Committee Board Member for an alternative provision. Kimberley has been recognised over the years for her volunteering activities. She has a personal passion for community safety, empowering young people and adults in all aspects of community cohesion, education, work and community life. Kimberley now resides in Bedfordshire and has recently been described by a Bedfordshire senior leader as a ‘true role model’ and ‘change maker’.
If you would like to collaborate with us and share how you have overcome trauma and how you have been recovering, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing from and seeing you in 2021!