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JESSYE: ROOTS

We talked family, warmth and delicious food with Nevs Gal Jessye in the third instalment of our BHM celebrations

What does BHM mean to you?

Black History Month means a lot to me. It shines a light on history that unfortunately isn’t yet part of the school curriculum (or as well known), alongside the history of my ancestors

Can you tell us a little about your family history?

My family recently discovered my great, great grandfather’s name in an old register of slaves from Antigua. My grandparents were a huge part of my growing up and they came to England in the 1950’s. Antigua was a British colony, like most of the West Indian islands, and they were invited to come over to the “Mother” country and help with the war/post-war effort. Huge ships, the most famous being the “Empire Windrush”, brought many people over from the islands during this time. My nan worked as a nurse, and my granddad as a plastic moulder. My oldest aunts and uncles who were born in Antigua were sent for once my grandparents had settled and had enough money, however my father was born here

What’s your earliest memory?

Some of my earliest memories were in my nan and granddads house where I spent a lot of time during my early childhood. We are a huge family, I have eight aunts and uncles, so lots of cousins and family friends, warmth, and delicious food!

Tell us a little about your childhood

At my nan’s we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we finished all the food on our plate. I remember one dinner I was eating with my cousin, a huge plate of fungee (an Antiguan dish made of ground cornmeal), green banana and saltfish. We had run out of gravy and the boiled green banana wasn’t going down too well. We were so full up! We sneakily put the food under a few layers in the rubbish bin and when my Uncle came in to check if we had finished we sat there smiling and said “Yes” thinking we were so smooth. Unfortunatley he knew our tricks, and went straight to the bin and found the rest of our dinner! He said “You’re lucky I don’t make you eat that for breakfast!”

Are there any aspects of your families cultures that you are are particularly fond of?

I travel back to Antigua very often and I was there for carnival this year. It’s so much fun and a lot less animosity and people than carnival in London. I absolutely love the vibes. I’m a very proud Antiguan!

What was it like growing up for you?

I grew up in Camden, which is a really great vibrant area and a real melting pot. My extended family is also reflective of that, and I’ve always been exposed to lots of different cultures and ways of life. This has been a really positive influence in my life

What inspired you to pursue a career as a model?

When I was a kid I wanted to be just like my mum who was a model, so it was all her influence really. She came with me to Nevs back in 2008 when I joined, and the rest is history

Who is your own personal inspiration?

I would have to say my biggest inspirations are my mum and my nan. They are strong, loving and very hard-working!

Who would you consider to be the most iconic, pivotal or inspirational figure in black history & why?

Personally I have a huge affinity with Marcus Garvey. He was a self-educated revolutionary from Jamaica and he gave incredible speeches and writings. I have read a lot of his biographies. He said “A people without a knowledge of their past is like a tree without it’s roots”

How important is your heritage to you?

Following on from that quote it’s paramount to preserve and honour my ancestor’s heritage. As much as I feel British and I was born and raised here, I have been going home to Antigua all my life. I have an Antiguan passport and driving license, and that will always be home for me and my future family. It’s a different feeling; it’s “home, home”

 

Images: Jessye's Personal Family Snaps & Chesterfield Hector