Stephen Maynard is a specialist in our Be Yourself and Community team. He is also a leading light of our VALUED network. In this deeply moving and personal account, he recalls a life changing trip to Ghana in 2013

May those who died “Rest in Peace”

May those who return find their roots.

May Humanity NEVER AGAIN perpetrate such injustice against humanity.

We, the living. VOW to uphold this.

Words on a plaque on the slave castle “Alamy” on the west coast of Ghana, my ancestral home. YES I am home,. The first of my family since slavery was abolished in 1834 to return to Ghana.

I toured the castle with tears streaming down my face after seeing the male and female dungeons, built under a church. I couldn’t believe that while they were praying upstairs, so many were suffering in the dungeons below. I remember my colleague Lisa coming over and giving me a hug, I’m sure she knew what I was going through and the hug was just what was needed.

Everything I learned from the history of the slave trade was brought to life, right in front of me. The male and female dungeons, the door of no return, the shackle poles. I was able to see the last steps my fore parents took before being stripped of their identity, shackled, and whisked away into slavery

Becoming a slave was a harsh and a cruel experience. A third of Africans captured as slaves died on the trip aboard the slave ships. Another third died on the plantations within a few months of arriving, because of new tropical diseases. Slaves were regarded as the property of their white owners and had no rights.

I am in Ghana, not to reclaim any lost land or dive into my roots, but to help with the building of schools for the village of Asemkow with the Virgin Atlantic family, represented from all areas of the business. We arrived in the village and were greeted by the community. Without any prompts one of the elders came over, held my hand, and invited me to sit with them, He stated he could see I was a descendant from tribal royalty, what an experience for me, what a greeting, what a difference from the looks I received after disembarking the plane and kneeling to kissing the Ghanaian soil.

I felt so at home in this small village, more than I have ever felt in the UK or even Barbados. I am Home. The aroma of the smoked fish, the food and of course the palm wine. Through these local foods I was experiencing my heritage. Staying in the village I forged lasting relationships with many from the community.

We as a group of Virgin Atlantic employees were there to assist with building and painting of schools, I kept wondering how this experience would affect my white colleagues and the reasons why they signed up for the trip? However, from the interactions and conversations I had with Sarah Fowler, Carey Fraitis, Lisa Jackman and others on the trip, all my questions were answered. Virgin Atlantic do have amazing staff with big hearts.

The work we did in the community of Asemkow was life changing. I am happy I got to share this experience with work colleagues, with the hope they speak and share their experience within their areas of the business.

Every day we worked on the schools assisting with the building and painting, and what fun we had. With a thirst for knowledge and before the paint had even dried the children were in the classrooms. I loved watching them in the morning walking along the beach going to their daily classes.

I sat facing the Atlantic Ocean pondering how different my life could have been if my fore parents were not taken as slaves, just like I’m reflecting now. We should never forget the ATROCITY of slavery. Black History Month not only celebrates the achievements of Black people in society, but reminds us that we are all created equal, with the same rights and liberty.

I am ending on a song as this was one of the ways my ancestors communicated during slavery and their struggle. Nina Simone, I wish I could know how it could feel to be free. Originally recorded by Billy Taylor, the song is one of the most symbolic anthems of the civil rights movment and the plight of black people. 


I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holdin' me


I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say 'em loud, say 'em clear
For the whole round world to hear


I wish I could share
All the love that's in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart


I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free


I wish I could give
All I'm longin' to give
I wish I could live
Like I'm longing to live


I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I'm way overdue
I'd be startin' anew


Well, I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly


Oh, I'd soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
Then I'd sing 'cause I'd know, yeah
And I'd sing 'cause I'd know, yeah


And I'd sing 'cause I'd know
I'd know how it feels
I'd know how it feels to be free, yeah, yeah
I'd know how it feels
Yes, I'd know
I'd know how it feels, how it feels
To be free, no, no, no