You called...and we came

In October 2017 I wrote this poem and performed it for the first time at the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s annual BME conference. It was written to reflect, recognise and celebrate the contributions made by Black Nurses to the health system of England. But more than that, it shone a light on the hardships, prejudice and challenges faced by the brave men and women like my parents who responded to the call from England to leave their island nations that formed part of the British Commonwealth….and rebuild “The motherland” after WW2 – a sense of duty, of pride and responsibility which changed the shape of Britain, themselves and their families forever.

Months later, as we enter 2018 and the 70 year anniversary of landing of Empire Windrush on British soil, I happened to share it with My son: Musician Rob Green – who in turn shared with the very talented music Director Christella Latras….And last week I sat in awe as my words were transformed into a haunting piece of spoken word, set to music by Christella and danced with perfection by performers from the Phoenix Dance Theatre managed by Sharon Watson.

For those who wanted to hear the whole poem…here it is.

Thank you to the ancestors and those like my parents who braved the seas, and answered the call.

Remember, Britain……you called.


You called…and we came.

In ships bigger than anything we had seen,

dwarfing our islands and covering them

in the shadows of smoke and noise.

Crowded, excited voices filled the air,

traveling to the ‘motherland’

– over weeks, over oceans that threatened to engulf us.

Driven by a wish, a call to save, to rebuild

and support efforts to establish ‘health for all’

in the aftermath of war.

You called….and we came.

Women and men of position in our homelands;

nurses with a pride in the excellence of our care.

With experience of management, organisation

and a sense of duty.

We appeared.

Smiling and eager to work on the wards, communities and clinics

of this England.

You called….and we came.

Our big hearts, skilful hands and quick minds

encased in our skins – of a darker hue.

Which had shimmered and glowed

in our sunnier climes..

But now signified our difference

– our un-belonging.

Matrons became assistants

Nurses became like chambermaids.

All the while striving to fulfil our promise

– to succour, to serve, to care.

You called….and we came.

The blue of the sister’s uniform

– seemed as far away from us as the moon.

Unreachable by our dark hands in this cold land.

But we were made of sterner stuff.

The hot sun, which once beat down on our ancestors,

when they too left their lands,

Shone within us.

Forging our hearts and minds

with the resistance of Ebony.

You called….and we came.

Rising like the Phoenix,

from the heat of rejection.

We cared, we worked and we organised.

Until the quickness of our brains

and the excellence of our care

made it hard for you to contain us.

And slowly, so slowly,

the blue uniforms had dark and lighter bodies beneath them.

The professional care in our touch

was valued despite the strangeness of our speech

and the kinks in our hair.

You called….and we came.

A new millennium – new hopes spread across this land.

New populations, engaging and reflecting

the varied, diverse and vibrant nature of these shores.

Challenging and reflecting on leadership for health.

Moves to melt the ‘snow’ at the peaks of our profession.

Recognising the richness of our kaleidoscope nation.

Where compassion, courage and diversity are reflected

In our presence and our contribution:

Not only the hopes and dreams of our ancestors.

– Human values needed to truly lead change…and add value.

Remember… you called.

Remember… you called

YOU. Called.

Remember, it was us, who came.



©Professor Laura Serrant 2017