The entry into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain by leaders of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and the people was one of the most significant moments in the history of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago.
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 at a commemorative service in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Revolution on Ash Wednesday.
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,” Mutema said.
He acknowledged while the Church faced criticisms from NJAC and citizens during that period, what was “admirable” was the Church’s response in the face of 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 of 1970 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”. —KJ