Archbishop at Black Power Movement Service.
Unless citizens understand the “deep underbelly” of the Black Power Revolution and the way it still affects us today, 50 years later, then we would not move the revolution on to its next stage.
“1970 was a watershed but it leads us today to reflect on what the country has gained and in what ways the Black Power Revolution is still unfinished…Unfinished because we have reached far from where we were but we have not yet come to the promised land….” Archbishop Jason Gordon said in his homily for the commemorative service in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Revolution, Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain.
The Archbishop said that the country during that era was not the society envisioned by those who took to the streets in 1970 and decided they wanted a different type of T&T.
While, that was a “different day”, who we are today, he said, is because “some people had the courage then to name a reality that was unnamed”.
The Archbishop described the celebration as a “wonderful providence” when The National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and the Catholic Community could come together on Ash Wednesday, a day when faithful join the Church in repentance and recognising that persons and the Church has sinned and fallen short. The day’s readings, he observed all speak to a sense that we have failed to be what God asks of us.
Archbishop Gordon shared that for two years, the Archbishop of that time, Archbishop Anthony Pantin was struggling to understand how to move the Church forward from the events of 1970, which “catapulted” the Church in new directions.
It broke a mould of the past and it opened a new mould for the future, he said.
“And we the Church had to deal with the challenges we had because most of our priests were foreign missionary priests who occupied the Cathedral. And they left the Cathedral after 1970 allowing the first local priests to become administrators of the Cathedral,” he said.
In asking for forgiveness, Archbishop Gordon said that the Church too has not always been a clarion voice for justice.
He said that in 1999 Archbishop Pantin held a Service in the Cathedral where he asked forgiveness for the ways in which the Church had been complicit in racism, sexism, classism and prejudice to society.
Twenty-one years later as archbishop, Archbishop Gordon too asked for forgiveness for the ways the Church has not been diligent about the development of its people.
1970 is very important in the psyche of the nation. Commenting on the sore wound of the nation, the Archbishop explained that the wound of a person is the same for a nation. When a nation is wounded and there has been no real apology, no reparation, until that wound is healed, “we cannot find the Trinidad and Tobago that we want to become,” he said to applause.
The soul wound in Trinidad and Tobago manifests itself in the young boys who pick up guns as opposed to having a productive lifestyle; in the children who have no fathers in the household.
But one of the things citizens have not had the courage to say, he observed, is that a lot of persons are dealing with soul wounds that are driven from another source—that source is that the nation has disregarded or ignored the economic under-development of its black people.
The Archbishop asserted that we have to have a blueprint for African development in Trinidad and Tobago, to applause from the congregation.
Archbishop Gordon believed if February 26 was to mean anything at all, was that citizens and country move beyond the remembrance of the day to a dream of a Trinidad and Tobago where every creed and race has an equal place.
NJAC leader: Church dealt with 1970 criticisms admirably
The entry into the Cathedral by leaders of NJAC and the people was one of the most significant moments in the history of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in T&T.
That single moment sparked a series of events which led to a significant transformation, not just for the Catholic Church but the spiritual order and the religious landscape of the Caribbean.
“It brought wide changes throughout the Church because it was felt that the Church was on the wrong side of justice. It [was] felt that the Church was elitist, and it [was] felt as the Church was not practising what they preached,” NJAC Political Leader Brother Kwasi Mutema said in his address.
Quoting Matthew 25:40 scripture which says: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me, Mutema asserted that to serve, one ought to pay particular attention to the needs of the poor, the dispossessed and the vulnerable.
“And it felt [that] that was absent,” he said.
He acknowledged while the Church faced criticisms from NJAC and citizens during that period, what was “admirable” was the Church’s response to those criticisms. They listened, and they went further, by making “drastic changes” to its institution, he said.
“And this is a lesson for all of us. That too many times most of us do not deal well with criticism. We tend to respond to criticism not recognising that criticism heals the spirit and egotism destroys the soul…. That’s why I congratulate the Church for their response,” he said.
According to Mutema, the Black Power Revolution was very much about the power of love. The revolution, he believed, taught citizens to love themselves—particularly Afro-Trinidadians who saw themselves as inferior or ashamed of their skin colour—love one’s fellow man and love country.
“In that our people were made to see ourselves not just as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago but patriots of our land. We were prepared to die for our country…How many of us understand their sacrifice? Do we condemn them? Or do we empathise?” he questioned.
Ultimately, the revolution was an effort to create a new spirit, a new society so all can live in true happiness with love, unity and in doing so, build a great nation. Mutema said the time is ripe for frank, truthful and open discussion on the issue of Trinidad and Tobago Black Power Revolution so that we would not “miss the mark going forward”.
During the Service, ‘Glory Be’ was sung by veteran calypsonian Anthony Emrold Phillip (Brother Valentino). The distribution of ashes followed with the closing song ‘Sacrifice’ by 3canal.
By Kaelanne Jordan