By Leela Ramdeen,
Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is our only ruler; sovereign.” ― Marcus Garvey
On Thursday, August 1, T&T will once again observe Emancipation Day. Let’s reflect on what we need to do to free our minds from mental slavery.
I am a ‘dougla’ whose maternal grandfather, Robert Henry Fitzgerald Manning, of African origin, came to Trinidad from Barbados when he was 12 years old. He was a tailor and Lay Reader in the Anglican Church. He won a sweepstake and invested the money in cocoa plantations near Bravo Hill, Sangre Grande, and in property in Richmond Street, POS.
While owning property is not all that is necessary to enable us to emancipate ourselves, it is time for us to develop a culture of pride in our heritage; pride that goes beyond an annual procession or display of African artefacts in an Emancipation Village.
When I was an Inspector of Schools in London, together with a team of advisory teachers for whom I had responsibility, we produced a resource book for teachers entitled: Positive Books on Black People’s History.
It contained reviews of books by or about famous black people, and about the rich history and culture that existed in Africa before slavery, as well as a list of bookshops where the books could be purchased.
I dare say that some of the problems we currently face in T&T may be linked to the fact that many of our youths and adults, don’t know their history. If they did, they would work together to build a culture that would reflect our rich history.
There were about 20,000 slaves who lived in T&T in 1838 when slavery was finally abolished here. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people of African origin living here.
Theme one of the Government’s 2030 vision is about putting people first; nurturing our greatest asset. But Government can›t do this alone. We all need to feel that we BELONG to this blessed country; that we are interconnected.
We can only move forward if we work to achieve our goals TOGETHER. It is a sense of belonging that will inspire us to be better stewards of God’s creation; to build communities in which each person can flourish—children, the elderly, the differently abled, and so on.
I want to ‘big-up’ a young woman of African origin, Lisa Edwards, who is in the process of establishing an NGO. Lisa has lived in Le Platte, Maraval for the past 11 years.
She says: “As I looked around I saw that there is so much to be done in my community; so many people need assistance. We can help each other; by coming together as one people, we can make things happen.” She has formed a group called: Phillip Trace Positive Movement (PTPM), to help develop her community.
She organised a walkabout with the local councillor, and has identified a number of issues to be addressed. She and her group are planning a curry duck cookout on Morne Coco Hill on August 24.
This fundraiser will facilitate the work of the group. They have reasonable goals. They want a homework centre where computer literacy can be taught; recreational facilities; a place where young and old can come together and learn from each other, listen to music, share their God-given talents to build the common good.
This Emancipation Day let’s stop kicksing and start developing/implementing strategies to build, grow and sustain our communities; let’s embrace our diversity. Each of us can be a change agent in our community.
The principle of subsidiarity is important. It “grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’). This way, people can participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of society.
Emancipation is about ensuring good governance. As Nelson Mandela once said: “There is nothing that makes people more appreciative of a Government than that it should be able to deliver services.”
In T&T too many lack basic amenities; too many of our nation’s institutions are failing. And in the absence of distributive justice, the battle for a slice of the nation’s “cake” continues apace. “The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now”—Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.