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SEEN UP NORTH: Tribute to our heroes

Tony Best

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It’s one of the most asked questions at this time of the year in Barbados: why the ten National Heroes?
The heroes, formerly recognized through the 1998 Order Of The National Heroes Act, were hailed in and outside the island last month for their outstanding contributions to the development and prosperity of Barbados.
“There is a sense of pride and admiration when the National Heroes are recognized because in their different ways they helped to shape modern Barbados and in the process have paved the way for the future,” said a Barbadian New Yorker at a service in Brooklyn last Sunday.
Before the mother of two children spoke, Christine Yard walked to the podium at St Mark’s Episcopal Church and focused the attention of hundreds of Bajan worshippers on the reasons why Bussa was designated a Barbados National Hero.
“He is a remarkable role model for all Barbadians because he chose to fight for what he believed in,” asserted Yarde.
“To imagine that a man could have the courage to not only stand up to his enslaver but to mentally reject all of the lies he had been told about what it means to an ‘inferior’ black man is empowering.
“It should encourage us all to live with fearless courage and commitment to our country and ourselves.”
Bussa, who was born in Africa in the 18th century, was killed during an 1816 slave uprising, fighting for the freedom of thousands of slaves in Barbados.
But he wasn’t alone, centre stage. Sarah Ann Gill, Samuel Jackman Prescod, Dr Charles Duncan O’Neal, Clement Payne, Sir Grantley Adams, Errol Walton Barrow, Sir Hugh Springer, Sir Frank Walcott and Sir Garfield Sobers were on people’s minds at the service and other Heroes Day events in New York sponsored by the Consulate General of Barbados.
Reverend Oswald Jones, senior pastor of the Community Church of the Nazarene in Freeport, Long Island, in delivering the sermon, said Barbadians looked to the heroes for different things – inspiration, if you will – because of their game-changing exploits stretching over a period of at least 200 years. Sir Grantley, he added, was remembered for his contribution to public life while Sir Garfield brought images of the youth into sharp focus.
“To be a hero is to have no power of your own but power that comes from within,” he said.
Jones praised Barbados for its remarkable strides but was quick to warn against its becoming a “nation of haves and have-nots”.
He also cautioned people against becoming reluctant to speak out against ills in the society because they feared retribution.
At the same time, said the Nazarene pastor, people should resist the temptation to avoid getting involved in national activities.
Consul General Lennox Price, speaking at a Barbados Open Day held a week ago at Albany Manor, a Brooklyn centre for social functions, welcomed Irving Burgie, the folklorist who wrote the words of the National Anthem.
He said the National Heroes had “greatly influenced our lives by their selfless contributions”, praising Barrow, Sir Grantley, Gill, Sir Frank, Prescod and the others as “these great sons and daughters who left a legacy of commitment” that has “enriched our lives” and propelled Barbados to its level of development.
“We often take for granted people’s contributions. We should be appreciative of their contributions,” he said.
As part of the heroes’ celebration, Government offices in Manhattan arranged an Evening With Irving Burgie, the lyricist who composed some of the world’s best known folk songs sung by Harry Belafonte.
Among the 34 songs were Day-O, Island In The Sun and Jamaica Farewell.
Burgie told several dozen people in the audience that his life and music reflected a mix of Bajan and African American heritage. He traced the Barbadian link to his mother, who was from St George, while the African American influence was from his father, who came from Virginia.
“I like all kinds of music and I am a firm believer in classical music. In composing the songs, I didn’t worry about the melody. I always worked towards the lyrics and once I got the lyrics rights, I knew the melody would follow,” he said during a question-and-answer session following the showing of part of a documentary about his life.
“In today’s confusing world, people are challenging things more and more – and that’s good,” he said.
“I believe in education and in the ability to write.”
That explains why he has given tens of thousands of dollars to Barbadian teenagers who enter and win annual essay competitions he sponsors in Barbados.
Price described Burgie as a “musical icon” whose compositions have brought joy to hundreds of millions of people around the world.