First British winner of Barbara Blake-Hannah Award excited over coming visit to Jamaica
British-Jamaican Kuba Shand-Baptiste, the firstwinner of the Barbara Blake-Hannah Award, which is part of the British Journalism Awards

British-Jamaican journalist Kuba Shand-Baptiste can't wait to start her one-week visit to Jamaica, part of the prize for being the first winner of the Barbara Blake-Hannah Award (BBH), named for another Jamaican journalist, in the coveted British Journalism Awards.

It's almost a year now since Shand-Baptiste, 28, got the good news that she had won the historic award, but the trip was delayed by the restrictions on travelling due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Her last trip to Jamaica was 18 years ago.

“I loved my previous visit to Jamaica where my mother was born and I am looking forward to meeting Barbara Blake-Hannah in person,” an excited Shand-Baptiste told the Jamaica Observer by phone. No date has as yet been set for the visit.

Entries closed Sunday for the second BBH Award, and yeterday judges began sifting entries for this year's award, scheduled to be announced in December. Last year, 200 entries were submitted.

The BBH Award came about after a young black British journalist, Bree Johnson-Obeng, happened upon an intriguing story originating 53 years ago, revealing that Blake-Hannah, the first black on-screen journalist in Britain, was fired from her job on Thames Television, because of complaints from racist white viewers.

At the same time, the Press Gazette was looking to improve diversity in media entries for the British Journalism Awards. They immediately accepted a suggestion from Johnson-Obeng — who had interviewed Blake-Hannah on — about her dismissal nine months after making British history in 1968 — to create an award to recognise her.

The Gazette, UK's leading online media trade magazine dedicated to journalism, named one of its British Journalism Awards after Blake-Hannah to recognise “the best up and coming writer from a minority background”. Entries from non-white journalists and females who do not have a publication to support their entry was made free of cost, thanks to Google.

Press Gazette Editor-in-Chief Dominic Ponsford acknowledged that the journalism industry in the UK did not have a good record in reflecting the diversity of the country and that the British Journalism Award finalists and winners had generally illustrated that situation.

Overjoyed at the new award, Johnson-Obeng said: “I am so happy that the British Journalism Awards have agreed to make a new category for black, Asian and minority ethnic talent. I feel like it is long overdue but better late than never… I hope this is the start of something great for black people in journalism.”

Blake-Hannah, now 80, embraced the award, noting: “After 50 years in which I had been remembered only as a paragraph in British Black History Month stories, I suddenly became the centre of a massive British media spotlight with Zoom interviews becoming a feature of my daily life.”

Blake-Hannah, who was asked to be one of the judges, said she is looking for journalists who don't depend on assignments. Instead, “I would love to see stories from journalists who came up with their own… Journalists who are committed to making that difference and to being teachers in the nicest, kindest way. That would influence my choice of a winner…”

Her choice last year was Shand-Baptiste whose mother, Evrine Shand, hails from Manchester, Jamaica, and migrated to Birmingham, England, at age 12. Her father Dave Baptiste was born in London of Antigua-Barbudan parents.

Shand-Baptiste was nominated for her work on racism in education published in the Voices comment section of The Independent. She had since joined The Conversation as society and arts editor and works currently as I-News assistant opinion editor, a job she landed shortly after winning the award.

“I was completely blind-sided and shocked when I was informed that I had won the award,” she told the Observer. “I really did not expect to win. It was affirming, lovely and amazing all at once and I got to write for many top publications about the state of the journalism industry,” she added.

The Independent, commenting on her nomination, said: “Kuba has been a tireless campaigner for not having writers, including herself, placed in easily definable boxes. Kuba possesses a lightness of touch that allows her to turn her hand to almost any subject – and yet offer the reader something thoughtful, insightful or just plain funny – and often all at once.”

Responding to the Press Gazette on her award, Shand-Baptiste said she “got into journalism because there was nothing else I could do but write and it has always been my passion”.

She said she had seen that the industry was notoriously difficult to get into “if you didn't know anyone and if you didn't have any contacts”. She expressed gratitude to the many other black journalists, in particular black women, who had taken her under their wing and given her indispensable advice.

“I just felt like I wanted to do that for as many people as possible and working at Voices I feel like I've had that opportunity to sort of pass the baton on and let people take up the mantle and take up space in the industry in ways that I hadn't really seen.

“I never, ever thought I would be awarded in any way. So thank you so much. This is amazing.”

TheBarbaraBlake-Hannahplaque won byKuba Shand-Baptiste
Jamaica's Barbara Blake-Hannah, first black onscreennews reporter in Britain
Kuba Shand-Baptiste soaking up thescenery at Frenchman's Cove, Portland,on her visit to Jamaica 10 years ago.
By Desmond Allen Executive editor — special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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