Sun | Sep 19, 2021
Women of Distinction

Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, groundbreaker of unequal measure

Published:Monday | February 22, 2021 | 1:09 AMLennox Aldred/ Gleaner Writer
Barbara Blake Hannah

Back in the 1960s, being black in Britain came with many adversities, as racial tensions reached the highest it has ever been across the Western world.

Being black and being on television was almost unthinkable in the UK in those days, but that is exactly what Jamaican cultural historian, author, filmmaker, music journalist, public speaker, columnist and broadcaster, Barbara Blake Hannah did.

She was the first black person to be an on-camera reporter and interviewer on British television when, in 1968, she was employed by Thames Television's evening news programme ‘Today’.

That achievement came about after a 20-year-old Blake Hannah went to England in 1964 as part of the cast for the film A High Wind in Jamaica.  Her love for media, and in particular writing, led her to an early career in journalism, where she followed in the footsteps of her legendary father, Evon Blake.

The elder Blake, who would go on to form the Press Association of Jamaica, saw as his daughter began to take a liking to the craft from as early as age 17.

She would begin writing articles for her father’s monthly news magazine but decided to make a switch and enrolled in the London Institute of Public Relations where in addition to Public Relations, she gained knowledge of Advertising and Applied Communication.

From then on, Blake Hannah was fully entrenched in media, where her exploits took her across several media outlets, including the BBC where she worked as a researcher on the popular series ‘Man Alive’.

After spending some years in the UK, Blake Hannah returned home in 1972 and at the invitation of Chris Blackwell and Perry Henzell, she spearheaded the public relations campaign for their iconic film The Harder They Come. Since then, she has worked in various areas of public relations and communications in both the public and private sectors, especially related to culture and has been a consultant in the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sport and has coordinated the Jamaica Film Festival/Festival Academy.

Blake-Hannah became the first Rastafarian representative in the parliament between 1984 and 1987 and again from 1994 to 1997.

With a strong background in media and communications, it was never a surprise that the woman of strong Rastafarian faith would go on to write several books on the plight of the black race and in particular, the Rastafarian movement.

Blake Hannah is the author of five books: Rastafari – The New Creation, the first book on Rasta written by a member of the faith; Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable, a novel inspired by the life of Bob Marley; Home - The First School (on her homeschooling experience with her son Makonnen David Yohannes (John) Hannah); Growing Out – Black Hair and Black Pride, autobiographical story of her youth in Jamaica and her years in England and The Moon Has Its Secrets, inspired by the life of the Maroon chieftainess and warrior Nanny.

In 2011, Blake Hannah was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her pioneering work in journalism and media by the British Entertainment Film, Television & Theatre Awards. She is also the recipient of a United Nations Peace Medal (1974) and an Ethiopian Crown Council Adowa Centenary Medal (1997). She was inducted into the Caribbean Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contribution in the field of film in 2014.

The British media periodical Press Gazette launched the "Barbara Blake-Hannah prize" in 2020 to recognise emerging talented journalists from minority backgrounds. Her son, Makonnen David Blake Hannah, was appointed in 1998 aged 13, as a youth technology consultant by Phillip Paulwell, then Minister of Commerce and Technology, and was the youngest consultant ever appointed by the Jamaican government.