Jill Henry - inspiration for #LEGACY Collection.

Posted by Aleesha Henry on

Read more about the inspiration behind BlackToMyRoots #LEGACY Collection.

My mum's name is Jill Henry. She died in October 2003. I still celebrate her birthday,16th July, every year. She is still one of the strongest women I have ever met and I still miss her like it was yesterday!

She is the inspiration behind the #LEGACY Collection. She was passionate about Black Empowerment, Black Education, Black Excellence and Black Economic Power. She instilled the passion for equal rights and justice in me that still burn strong and will never fade.

She was a proud Jamaican, with some of the usual biases that were held by that generation, but I'm glad that before she died she visited Gambia and absolutely fell in love with the Motherland and was planning to return regularly. 

She was the youngest of 9 children, born to Sarah and George Henry, in downtown Jamaica, although they were originally from Manchester, Jamaica.

My grandmother Sarah come to Birmingham in the 60s as part of the Windrush generation, she bought three of her sons and my mum with her. They left Birmingham and settled in Nottingham, where some of my family still remain.

As the youngest of 9 children, my mum wouldn't typically have accompanied her mother to England, but because my mum was sick, she had Sickle Cell Anaemia and Jaundice as a child, my granny bought her to England to be with her.

My granny was a Business woman and had businesses in Kingston, Jamaica before she came to England. She didn't like England at all, the weather, the people, the food, the greyness. She left in 1972, never to return, however her children stayed behind. My mum, I guess not wanting to be under the strict eye of her big brothers, left Nottingham and moved down to London. 

I grew up in Brixton, born and bred. My memories are of Afros and Afro combs, blues dances on Railton Road, Harry Jacobs photography shop in Stockwell (this was before people had their own cameras, much less smartphones), the New Cross Fire,the Brixton Riots, Steven Douglas being murdered by Brixton Police, Cherry Groce, who was one of my mum's good friends and the violation that took place by the police, Cynthia Jarrett being murdered by the immigration officers, all dayers in Angell Park, going to the log cabin playcentre, playing knock down ginger in Cowley Estate, Somerleyton Estate and Stockwell Park Estate, going to see plays with my mum, the one that sticks in my mind was The Black Jacobins, watching Roots, taking the last bus out of Brixton as the riots in 1981 were starting.

The slogans that feature in our #LEGACY collection, remind me of that era. When, to me anyway, it felt like there was a lot more community spirit and togetherness among the Black people that were here. Racism wasn't covert like it is now and maybe that's a part of the reason, back then it was obvious that we were blatantly under attack, nowadays it's much more subtle! The slogans remind me of the songs I grew up listening to. Carol Thompson, Kofi, Barbara Glasgow, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs to name just a few, when Black Pride was a real thing in our community.

My mum worked in the community, in the 80s when the GLC (Greater London Council) were funding local organisations, she worked for a while on Stockwell Road, at WAVO (Women Against Violence Organisation), she applied for funding and used to run summer play centres for the children in the community, we went camping, on trips to the cinema, out in the country to pick fruit at Hewitts Farm, horse riding and many other activities that we would not normally have been exposed to.

She was an avid reader and it is from her that I get my love of books. She could read a novel in a day. She was a clean freak (which used to drive me mad) and could chat on her phone for hours!

She also had a mouth on her - as she used to say, she didn't have much physical strength but her mouth made up for it! - that's where I get it from!

She was very education focused and I always had to do extra school work at the weekends.

She was very financially astute and had a long standing over subscribed pardner scheme, which people wanted me to continue when she died, but I wasn't ready for that sort of responsibility. She was also the person people would come to for micro loans and there is more than one Black business that opened back then because they were able to access funds from my mum.

She was exploring two of her passions when she transitioned to the Ancestors.

One was counselling, she was passionate about supporting Domestic Violence victims, and encouraging them to speak up and attempt to heal from the trauma. She was also exploring avenues for a black owned hair chain, as her pet hate was the Asian hair shops in Brixton and the fact that they happily take our money, without giving anything back to our community.

My mum instilled many values in me, some of which I didn't really appreciate when I was a rebellious teen. She was definitely old school and really strict.

She taught me to love myself and be happy in my own company 'yuh born by yourself, yuh ago die by yourself', the value of money 'save money when you get paid, stop spend it pon foolishness', the importance of education 'yuh want shag pile carpet, yuh better do good at school, get a good job and put shag pile inna fi yuh yard!', the importance of not just relying on someone's word 'promise is a comfort to a fool' and 'actions not a bag a mout'.

She sacrificed a lot for me and my siblings, she was constantly in pain and had really bad Sickle Cell Crises regularly. At one point we were taken into care for almost a month while she was in hospital - that's another story for another day!

I clearly remember the day my mum packed up all our stuff, and took us to Lambeth housing office and told them she wasn't going back to the one bedroom maisonette that we were living in. I was about 8 at the time.

That was the start of approximately 3-4 years of moving from hostel to hostel and temporary accommodation. We ended up in a temporary hostel in Palace Road, Tulse Hill - one room, 3 kids and my mum for almost 3 years.

During that time the council offered my mum a flat in practically every estate in Lambeth but she refused each one, I remember going to visit one with her, aged about 9/10 and begging her to take it as I'd had enough and I just wanted somewhere to live! She looked at me and said 'Leesha, I'm not bringing you lot up on an estate', I didn't understand why at the time, now I do.

I remember a white housing officer telling her that a flat on Tulse Hill estate was lovely and that she was lucky to get it, my mum told the lady that if the flat was that great the housing officer could have it and my mum would go live in the woman's house - that didn't go down too well!

Her perseverance, determination and tenacity paid off and about 4 years after leaving the maisonette, she got the the keys to her 3 storey, 4 bedroom, newly built council house. The day we moved in I was so happy. I was 11 and it was the first time I had ever had my own room. That taught me a really valuable lesson about not deviating from want you want.

She taught me that if you really want something you should go for it. When I graduated, I could hear her as I walked across the stage to collect my degree - Brixton was definitely in the house that day!

I hope that I made her proud, while she was still alive and I hope that she's proud of me now. My biggest regret is that she didn't get to see my daughter, although I see a lot of my mum in her (which is a bit disconcerting!).

I know that she inspired a lot of people because even almost 20 years after she died, people still talk to me about her, and say how much she is missed and what she meant to them and did for them. That makes me feel a bit better. She was one of the pillars of the community.

I miss her.

Mum, I love you, thank you for the legacy you left for us and the sacrifices you made for us.

Leesha x


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  • What a legacy what a women to have a sip of her determination and character assets then we surly have a good life 🙏🏽

    Dawn on

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