Black Voices In Conversation - Marcia Reid Fotheringham: New Yorker to Cumbria's High Sheriff

Black Voices In Conversation is a new series of interviews by ITV News to mark Black History Month 2020.

We've spoken to groundbreaking individuals from the black community to learn about their life experiences and to hear their vision for the future

ITV Border's programme producer, Lydia Hamilton-Morl, sat down with Marcia Reid Fotheringham - one of Cumbria's most influential black women and the county's first black High Sheriff.

"I grew up with the notion that I needed to be proud of who I am": Watch the interview with Marcia Reid Fotheringham above.

Marcia was born in London to Jamaican parents, who were part of the Windrush Generation. She told ITV Border: "It was a time of unrest and things were not nice for people who were black. My father made the decision that if he wanted his family, specifically his kids, to do well - he'd have to leave."

Marcia spent most of her life in New York, living through a very significant time for black history. She said: "Most people my age ask me if I had experiences of being a hippy. My answer is always the same - I was too busy being black.

"I grew up with the notion that I needed to be proud of who I am, and, even though there was an awful lot of turmoil, I needed to learn how to stand firm. And I did."

Marcia was the county's first black High Sheriff. Credit: ITV Border

Her Cumbrian journey started at the age of 43, when she made the bold step of moving from the USA to the village of Brampton to live with mountaineer Jim Fotheringham, who she later married.

Marcia speaks of her shock when she arrived in the county. "I should've known. I had never seen cows and sheep, I had never seen mountains. I came from the city, so this was completely different. But truly, I had never seen so many white people. It was a shock for me.

"I remember asking my husband before we got married whether or not I was going to have difficulty because I was black. His response to me was you're going to have more difficulty being American.

"On some level that's true, but it's been hard being black. But I'm not sure how I would've done it if i was younger."

I had never seen cows and sheep. I had never seen mountains!

Marcia Reid Fotheringham

Moving from one of the most diverse cities in the world, to one of the least diverse regions in the UK, Marcia speaks of challenging moments that she has experienced over the years.

She said: "Twenty years ago there were lots of questions about whether or not you were 'black' or 'coloured.' I hadn't heard the term 'coloured' since I was a kid. In history, we learned a long time ago that we were black. It's not always out of badness, it's just out of ignorance."

Credit: ITV News

It's something that Marcia says took a lot of strength to overcome: "I'm somebody who likes the end result. My end result is that I want you to hear me and I want you to understand me. If I want that I have always needed to use strength.

"Handling it with anger, which off the top of my head I might want to do, it doesn't help me, it doesn't help them.

"Taking the time, sometimes with humour, and explaining the differences between us, and knowing that differences are ok, is something that I would take the time to do."

If you had asked me ten years ago if would I ever be High Sheriff who happened to be black, I would've told you you're on drugs!

Marcia Reid Fotheringham

Marcia was sworn in as High Sheriff of Cumbria in 2019 - she was the county's first black high sheriff and only the third in the UK. The role dates back a thousand years and is the oldest royal appointment.

She said: "To be called and told that a group of people have nominated me for High Sheriff, that was just amazing. I remember saying to Jim, 'do you think somebody who is fooling around with me?'"

Marcia was Cumbria's High Sheriff in 2019. Credit: ITV Border

Marcia is now one of 37 Deputy Lieutenants for Cumbria and a magistrate, as well as running a dental practice with her husband.

She said: "If you had asked me ten years ago if would I ever be High Sheriff who happened to be black, I would've told you you're on drugs! Because that's just not possible. It's so nice to be wrong about that.

"It's so nice to be given something like that. I come to a place where I'm not given anything. Everything that I have, I have fought for. I've known that if I want to succeed, I better be better than everyone else because that is the only way I'm going to do well in this world."

Reflecting on her hopes for the future, Marcia said she would like to see more 'people of difference' in Cumbria. She said: "I've written articles for employers and businesses and how to attract more minorities to Cumbria. I think the university has changed things up here. I think if there's more of that, that in itself creates the change."

The world can be mean, but I don't have to be mean.

Marcia Reid Fotheringham
  • Catch up with all of the latest Black Voices in Conversation interviews here.