This week on Talk Learn Connect, Writer Yvonne Reddin asks Anti-Racism Campaigner - Reiki Master, Marguerite Penrose to share some TLC (Talk Learn Connect)
Your story is about Adoption, you were born in St Patrick’s Mother & Baby Home. Have you ever pursued more information about your early years and why your life began in St Patricks?
For me, life began in St. Patrick’s, I presume because my biological parents were not together when I was born. My biological mother knew she couldn't provide for me and my medical needs, amongst other factors.
My biological father although aware of me, must not have been in a position to raise me either; he had returned to his homeland prior to my birth.
Over the last few years, I’ve explored a bit more into life in St. Patrick’s and why my life began there. I’ve just recently connected with a wonderful woman, Cathy, who worked in St. Patrick’s. She cared for myself and two other children who were in my section of the home during her time working there.
Cathy heard my interview with Ryan Tubridy and contacted the show when I was still on air. Since then myself, Mum, Dad, and my sister went to visit Cathy and reconnected. Cathy was able to tell me about my life in St. Patrick’s for the approximate eighteen months she worked there. She cared for me and was the first person to bring me outdoors. Yes, can you believe I was only eighteen months old and never been outside, despite the home being on huge grounds.
She sought permission to bring me on day trips at first and was later also permitted to take me home for weekends. For some time, I was loved and cared for by her family too. Cathy was only eighteen years old at the time herself, therefore she was too young to adopt herself. She said she would have liked to have had the option had she been older.
I feel so privileged to have had someone so special who at the age of eighteen, had the kindness to love me and my other friends who were with me in St. Patrick’s. It’s been over forty-three years since we first met and now an even bigger privilege to know her again and meet her in person.
I was also adopted when I was a baby, which is where we found a mutual connection. I have found trying to trace my birth parents emotionally draining because of the lack of information that can be released to the adopted child, what has your experience been?
To be honest I can’t even begin to explain how I feel about tracing biological parents in Ireland. It’s a minefield. I’ve dipped my toe in the water in relation to tracing and going through Tusla. It’s such a long emotional process and you can be waiting up to five years to even get a caseworker to be assigned to you.
Don’t get me wrong, I know we can be handed pieces of paper with our biological parent’s name, address, and phone number, however, why can’t the system of tracing be professionally overhauled? Our details are literally in someone’s ‘filing cabinet’ or archived somewhere.
As you know Yvonne, we are not even entitled to our medical history and it’s only of late, we can finally get our own birth certificates.
I think this was only permitted in the last few years, prior, it was an ‘adopted birth certificate’. I could go on about this topic, it’s obviously one close to our hearts and causes great pain when I actually think properly about it. However, I’m glad to say being adopted is a bonus ninety-nine per cent of the time.
"I’m blessed with two sets of parents and ancestors, even if I’ll never know my biological side. I know a lot of adopted people feel very angry, frustrated and annoyed at the system and they have every right to be - the system is a shambles"
The more you delve into adoption, the more hidden truths you uncover. I’ve recently sent off my DNA kit, and I’m anxious about the results. I’ve only a piece of paper to tell me very limited information about my heritage and who’s to say the information is correct?
From hearing other adoptee stories, I know many have learned their heritage is not always as they were told. Naturally, I’m eager to know as much as I can but I am also anxious about the results.
Your Twitter name ‘Unapologetically Black’ reflects your undeniable passion for change, how have you found social media as a platform for your values and issues?
Over the last few months, I’ve been actively speaking/ posting about racism and encouraging everyone to be and declare themselves ‘Anti-Racist’. I use the words declare yourself Anti-Racist, as sadly, that’s what is needed now. It’s not good enough to just presume people know you’re Anti-Racist.
It’s not about Irish, African, American racism- it’s about all forms of racism. People don’t seem to understand that racism is a huge issue here in Ireland as well as worldwide; an issue like many that shouldn’t even exist. Obviously being born in Ireland but having a Zambian (as I’ve been told) biological Father, colour has always been a part of my life.
I would call myself black, others might not give me that title, as my skin is lighter. But as I say “It’s my skin, therefore my choice”.
I honor my heritage and I’m proud to be Black and Irish. So many people unfortunately state that we cannot be classed as Irish, why - because we are not white. For me, it’s hurtful and so much more that sometimes words fail me. I was born in Dublin in 1974, I would call myself patriotic but yet others see me as an intruder; someone who doesn’t belong.
I am, along with others campaigning (each in our own way) to educate people that Irish is no longer just a white person status. Was it ever? I ask myself when we look back through the years. Many people who travelled, married, and had children here are from every part of the world. So, why is it still not excepted that Black/Brown/Asian born in Ireland are not classed as Irish? (for some people)
"I experienced racism throughout the years and when it happened, I had to deal with it and move on as so many others have had too as well. All racism is unacceptable"
I must and want to lend my voice to the campaigns, no matter how small it is in doing something to bring about change. I should not have to explain who I am, where I’m from and what my passport states to anyone.
Accept me for me, as I accept you for you. But on numerous occasions, I do have to explain and because of this, I’m now speaking out openly. I would always have defended myself and others in the past, it’s just now myself and others are using all these platforms to talk about it more.
“I had some negative experiences, the usual name-calling- ‘Choc ice’, half-caste (this terminology really hits me hard). The ‘where are you really from’ and the ‘but you are not black really” – Marguerite Penrose tells TLC.
What needs to be modified to educate people/children, more on this issue?
In my opinion, there is a huge amount of change needed from within the home, workplace, education system, and society in general. I feel part of what I am doing is to ask people to be a voice too; to post educational information and to have uncomfortable conversations about racism with people. We can all say the wrong thing unintentionally, I am guilty of that too, why? Because I am human. If people are willing to educate themselves and change, well then, we must be willing to accept their changes.
The past is gone, we cannot change it, but we can commit to being better for the future. I'm not saying forget about the past, I am saying we must use it as another mechanism to make the changes needed for now and future generations. These are changes needed by each and every one of us. We need more education within schools from day one of going to school. Parents need to have conversations with their children about inclusivity and diversity. Every workplace needs to have anti-racism policies, along with its other established policies.
I feel that a lot of people are telling their stories at the moment, therefore people think we only have a problem with racism now. I have heard statements such as ‘we are jumping on the bandwagon’ because of what has been happening in America. This isn’t the case, racism isn't a bandwagon, this is something that shouldn't even exist.
I can only speak about my own personal experience and why I've always hated that sometimes I had to laugh off racism, due to embarrassment, or fear of causing a scene. I've learned over the past few months that there are also so many people who are in solidarity with us and this is what makes our movement even greater.
We are not alone.
What is next for you as an activist and campaigner for anti-racism?
My next and current project is with our charity black tie ball which I announced when speaking on The Ryan Tubridy Show. This ball is scheduled for next year and is about eliminating racism by bringing everyone together in celebration. Bringing people together no matter what race they are, sex or creed, whilst also shining a spotlight on our chosen charity.
The ball is currently in the preparation stage and I have a small team of wonderful women currently onboard with me for this event. It will be launched via our website, which I hope to have ready by October/November.
All details will be revealed including the date, time, place, and of course, the chosen charity will be announced. We will welcome all sponsorship offered (so feel free to contact us once launched)
We look forward to a night with a difference, whilst also making a difference. Everything on the night will reflect our mission; it will be a night filled with a diverse selection of talented artists and not forgetting our guest speakers. By being there on the night, sends a clear message that you support that change is needed in Ireland for all generations.
The team and I are putting a huge amount of work into this project as it's the first of its kind in Ireland, born from the Black Lives Matter movement in Ireland. The Black and Irish page on Instagram (where it began) highlighted our stories and gave me my anti-racism platform. It also gave me the ambition and drive to do something constructive for our movement and for others.
Connection is important, and by bringing people together in solidarity for a night of celebration is a big message to one and all.
If I can conclude by thanking everyone including yourself Yvonne, the guys who run the Black and Irish platform, who have given me and others a platform to be heard, and also to family, friends, and many strangers who have supported myself and others on this journey.
"For me the true meaning of life is connection,
When we connect to ourselves, each other and the universal forces, We become aligned"
If you would like to contact Marguerite please visit: