Investigate the slavery history of Alkmaar? For Henk, understanding and empathy are even more important

Henk Heilbron (69) is following the Alkmaar council meeting with great interest tonight. It is about the emotionally charged history of his Surinamese ancestors. Will ‘his’ municipality have its role in the colonial and slavery past investigated? “It’s not just my past, it’s our collective past.”

In a motion, PvdA, GroenLinks and PvdD ask for research into that Alkmaar past, in particular the role of the city council. That investigation should then be completed before the end of the Commemoration Year of Slavery Past (before 1 July 2024). And Hank? He applauds that.

Behind his radio microphone in his home studio, he talks lovingly about his native Suriname. He is almost seventy and has been living in North Holland since he was twenty. First in Amsterdam, then in Alkmaar.

Great grandmother

“My mother’s grandmother was a slave five generations ago. It was not talked about at home, because it is a heavy subject. My great-grandmother must have been through a difficult time. I cannot feel her pain. I do not think about it every day either, but now that ‘slavery’ is a hot item, I’m working on it more often.”

For years he worked in healthcare in the Beemster, and nowadays he spends a lot of time on his radio program with ‘South American sounds’. He feels the same atmosphere every Tuesday in the Mare Nostrum community center, where he lives nearby.

“As a volunteer, I chat with Surinamese Alkmaarders during coffee mornings and we discuss a theme every week. And the recent apologies for slavery have certainly also been discussed.” And the father and grandfather feel increasingly stronger: “I want to do something for my city. Contribute to more understanding and awareness.”

Slavery history

Because: Alkmaar also has a history of slavery. “That is as clear as day. In Suriname you will find ‘Alkmaar’ as a city, district and there was a plantation“A decision like that tonight doesn’t have to be difficult as far as I’m concerned, but I can’t look into the councilors’ heads.”

“If only to gain more understanding and empathy for our shared past. That is sometimes lacking.” An apology may also follow from the mayor. “But research must first be done. Empty excuses are of no use to us.”

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Whatever is decided. Henk hopes that this year the end of slavery can also be commemorated and celebrated in Alkmaar on 1 July. “So far we celebrate Keti Koti in Amsterdam, but the traveling and such a whole day on the road; I prefer to stay in Alkmaar.”

Keti Koti Alkmaar

“It is 150 years ago this year that it was abolished. It is high time that we could also celebrate this in Alkmaar. We have set up the ‘Keti Koti Alkmaar working group’ for this purpose and we are asking the municipality for help and support.”

Henk thinks of a commemoration followed by a party in a park. “For example, in De Hout or Rekerhout. It would be nice to gather there with Alkmaarders and the people from the region, with music and food. Anyone who wants to commemorate and celebrate is welcome.”

A letter to the Alkmaar alderman is now ready. “But it still needs a lot of signatures from people who support our initiative. Via a petition which came online this week, we hope to collect it.”