“I was the right person to deliver the 探花社区’s slavery apology to Jamaicans”

on 12 June, the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of the 探花社区 General Assembly, responds to a suggestion that it was absurd for her as a Black British woman to deliver the 探花社区鈥檚 apology to Black Jamaicans.

Tessa鈥檚 letter comes after Dr Robert Beckford, a theologian and broadcaster, wrote in an article published on 4 June, titled 鈥, that 鈥淛amaicans were perturbed by the existential absurdity of seeing [Revd] Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, a Black British woman and the current leader of the denomination 鈥 herself a descendant of the Caribbean鈥檚 enslaved 鈥 delivering its apology to Black Jamaicans鈥.

Explaining why she was the right person to deliver the 探花社区鈥檚 slavery apology, Tessa responded by letter saying:

鈥淏eckford critiques my role as a Black woman delivering the apology, overlooking my extensive background and connection as a Trinbagonian woman of Caribbean descent. Delivering the apology in听听was a profound act of healing, and not just symbolic. My engagement in Jamaica with stakeholders including local leaders, church leaders, Prof Hilary Beckles and the Churches鈥 Reparations Action Forum underscores the depth of this commitment.

鈥淚t is necessary to clarify my identity and role. The suggestion that a white person might have been more suitable to apologise perpetuates a harmful 鈥渨hite saviour鈥 narrative. As the elected moderator, it was my duty and right to deliver this apology, representing not only the church but also my personal, historical connection to the issue.

鈥淭his work is not just institutional but personal. I am a descendant of the enslaved, from a region marked by a legacy of resistance and struggle for justice. This history informs my work and teachings in the UK, making me uniquely positioned to deliver the apology. I invite Beckford and the Guardian to engage more deeply with the 探花社区 and other communities for a fuller understanding of the complexities involved in this journey towards reconciliation and justice.鈥

The 探花社区 formally made a confession and apology for the role of its antecedents in transatlantic slavery and its continuing complicity in the legacies of the trade today at its 2022 General Assembly.

In addition to the apology, the Church made a commitment to undertake practical actions to address 鈥渢he continuing negative impacts of the legacies of transatlantic slavery on black communities in the UK, the Caribbean and Africa鈥.

In April, members of the 探花社区, including Dr Henry-Robinson, travelled to Jamaica as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage to learn about the legacies of slavery.

Themed around repairing relationships, the trip focused on spiritual reconciliation, as well as meetings with partner churches, the country鈥檚 Prime Minister and other prominent politicians.

The apology was delivered by Dr Henry-Robinson during an ecumenical service themed 鈥楻eparation, A Journey Towards Repentance, Repair and Reconciliation鈥 at Webster Memorial Church in the parish of St Andrew, an area of around the country鈥檚 capital, Kingston.

The apology was accepted by the Hon. Olivia Grange, Jamaica鈥檚 Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, who encouraged other UK churches, along with the UK government, to also apologise.