Sunday 2nd March, 2008

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Who shall lead them?

Driving out last night with my daughter Anais, she asked me to put the radio on her favourite station, Radio Jagriti 102.7 FM.

I was just looking at her and smiling as she sang along to the music and was telling me excitedly about the Indian classical dance classes she is starting and the musical instruments she is learning to play.

An advertisement then came on for a fund-raising dinner to be held for the Indian-Caribbean History Museum.

I was quite interested to hear about it, because the tag line for the ad was to help preserve our heritage, and I thought to myself that this is really good.

Of course, I then wondered why there seemed to be no similar thrust by Afro-Trinbagonians and Afro-Caribbean people to identify with and claim their identity and heritage in meaningful ways.

Parading peacock

When I say meaningful ways, I do not just mean dressing up in African gowns on Emancipation Day and parading like a peacock all over town, only to fold it up and hide it away for the rest of the year until next year’s Emancipation Day.

In fact, I am one of those who strongly feel that you do not have to parade in an African gown to declare your identity.

Ours is a rich and fecund history of builders, sculptors, artisans, traders, businessmen trading up and down the Nile.

The creators of the alphabet, the pyramids at Giza, the magnificent tombs of King Tut, inventors of the papyrus writing sheets as the earliest forms of paper.

We have so much to celebrate, so much to be proud of, and yet you look around and you wonder if we even begin to understand this.

Do we really understand the importance of the impact on civilisation of people like Jesse Owens, who not only defied Hitler, but also shattered his flawed theory of Aryan superiority.

Maya Angelou, the world-famous poet and social commentator, has been a mirror to America and the world, forcing us into introspection.

Defied odds

Josephine Baker, entertainer extraordinaire, defied all odds to hone and fashion her craft and talent and entertained the world.

Sammy Davis Jr was a maestro in every sense of the word and member of the famous rat pack, along with the Chairman of the Board.

Do we even know about Grace Bumbry, a famous opera singer who charmed the world with her singing.

In politics, we have people like Nelson Mandela, freedom fighters like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Thubman, who started the underground railroad.

Regionally, people like Marcus Garvey have stood out. So, too, our own Dr Eric Williams, our local sport heroes, Dwight Yorke and Brian Lara, among others.

Our children have no short supply of positive role models in every facet and aspect of life.

In the field of law and the judiciary, you have Clarence Thomas, who sits in the US Supreme Court. Johnny Cochrane is still remembered as the most famous lawyer in the world.

Even after his death, there is Willie Gray, who is carving out a similar legacy for himself now, and our own Sir Hugh Wooding was head and shoulders above his peers.

Our Nobel Prize winners—Derek Walcott and Arthur Lewis—have legacies which will last for generations to come.

Dr Martin Luther King has left an indelible mark on the USA and also on the world, so much so that his birth anniversary is celebrated as a holiday in the US.

General Colin Powell was the first person of the Afro diaspora to hold the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then the post of Secretary of State, a tradition followed now by Condoleeza Rice.

Tiger Woods has revolutionalised the sport of golf, turning the golfing world upside down. He has been like the most amazing thing for the sport, having an even greater impact than the great Muhammad Ali had in the world of boxing.

Even though Ali was named the greatest athlete of the last century, it appears that Tiger may very well end up as the greatest athlete of all time.

World class

In business, we have local examples, such as business titan Lawrence Duprey, who has built on the Clico legacy and created a world class financial and business behemoth.

In addition to all her charitable works, Oprah has also displayed tremendous business savvy, making her a fixture on the Forbes list of billionaires for years.

Robert Johnson, the former owner of BET, has also been on the list.

It, therefore, is painful to sometimes look on and see people in Trinidad and Tobago of the African diaspora who seem to so utterly lack a sense of ambition, a sense of purpose, a sense of direction other than to display gold teeth and wear expensive sneakers.

Who will lift them out of this trap; who will give them light and guidance?

Who is taking the initiative to try to start a museum of history or of education of the African diaspora, to show these youths that there are a whole lot more positive sides to life and a completely different vision, that so many pioneers of the African Diaspora have had and excelled in, that they, too, can aspire to and make a difference?

Who is to blame for so many of our children being lost like the Israelites wandering around for years in the desert, not knowing where they are coming from and not knowing where they are going?

Who shall lead them?

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