INDEPENDENCE MESSAGE: Many successes since 1966
ONE YEAR SHY of celebrating 50 years as an independent nation, I asked myself what this means to the average Barbadian today. For while I consider myself a “child of Independence”, having been born in 1965, I did not experience the pride and excitement of those who witnessed our coming of age as a nation that night at the Garrison Savannah.
As the years pass and we look back, November 30, 1966 is an important marker in the timeline of our history as a nation. But why do we celebrate Independence? Why do we mark its passing? What is its importance to those of us who are alive today?
For those of us who are old enough to recall our colonial past, it provides the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made as a people and as a nation. For the young it should be a lesson about our heritage that instills pride and patriotism. For others it may be an opportunity to trumpet a political achievement. For some, unfortunately, it has no real significance.
I think most of us would agree that we have made huge strides as an independent nation, the greatest of which is the education of our people. While we may argue about its relevance in today’s world, it is education that lifted families out of poverty and provided the skills to grow a young nation. The circumstances of most people’s lives have simply changed dramatically since 1966 as evidenced by the growth of our middle class.
Of course, with every upside there is a downside, and as education provided social mobility and people moved to the heights and the terraces, many of our communities, both rural and urban, were denied the leadership and the inspiration of those who had done well and moved out.
We all know that nature abhors a vacuum and leadership has in some pockets fallen to those who seek to profit from the most vulnerable among us, especially our young men. While it may sound simple, this fundamental change in community life has occasioned an unaccustomed level of violence, which we see played out on the nightly news and in our courts every day.
In many ways, these social changes are impeding the growth and the maturing of our nation and have resulted in the loss of that traditional Barbadian spirit of sharing; being our neighbour’s keeper; bringing each other along; being kind and polite; loving and valuing life.
Thousands of Barbadians who still live in established rural and urban settlements continue to do well and progress, but there will be no easy solution to the undesirable social changes we see all around us unless we recognise this primary difference in the equation, and each of us plays our part to build an inclusive society that brings a growing number of our alienated fellow citizens back into the mainstream life of Barbados.
We all have a stake in ensuring the success of those with whom we share what is a small land area. Whether you are an employer, an employee, a neighbour, a family member or friend, everyone, each of us has a role to play.
While our recent economic fortunes by all measurements continue to take a turn for the worst, this is not an excuse for a free for all. The effort of every man and woman, young and old, rich and poor is needed now more than ever to restore the Barbadian ethos of pride and industry. Innovation and enterprise have to be a priority of every citizen. Sound management must also be the guiding principle of each Government, this one and any future one. There is simply no room for the mediocrity that has gotten us to this point. Wealth must be the reward of hard work, not favouritism, exploitation or corruption.
We have a proud history of national and individual success. We must draw on real life examples to remember that life, as we know it now, is not what we should aspire to. Not so long ago Barbados was the No. 1 developing country in the world. There is nothing stopping us from retaking that top spot if we have confidence in ourselves that we can do it, and when we retake that top spot, moving to the next level.
One of my real life inspirations is the late Shirley Anita Chisholm, born Shirley Anita St Hill, who spent her formative primary school years right here in her mother’s homeland. Indeed, she lived with her grandmother in Vauxhall.
Shirley Chisholm in my view embodies the epitome of a fearless, independent Barbadian woman who seized the opportunity provided by education to cement her place in American political history in 1968 as the first African-American woman ever to be elected to Congress. Not content with the status quo, she sought the Democratic nomination for the presidential race of 1972 with the slogan that I adopted on my entry into public life: “Unbought and Unbossed”. Of her historic campaign she said: “I ran because somebody had to do it first. I ran because most people thought the country was not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman candidate. Some day – it was time in 1972 to make that some day come.”
Her message was simple but powerful: “Exercise the full measure of your citizenship and vote.”
Therefore, I am not surprised that the United States government issued on Tuesday [last] week its highest award, the Presidential Medal of Honour, for a woman posthumously, and we in Barbados should take absolute pride in her example and seek to remind our citizens of what we are capable of, whether on this 166 square miles or wherever we may go.
I wish to reiterate today that on this the 49th anniversary of our Independence, not one of us, if we love our country and wish to improve our lives, can afford to opt out. We need everyone on board.
Early in the New Year, the Barbados Labour Party will present its Covenant of Hope to the country. It has been approved by our annual conference. I hope that within its principles each one of you will find a reason to renew your citizenship in our beloved country and act in pursuit of that. As a party, we are excited about the new vision that will be set out in our Covenant where we tell you simply who we are, what we stand for and what we will fight for. I look forward therefore to laying it out to you next year as we approach the 50-year milestone of our Independence.
On behalf of the Barbados Labour Party, on behalf of my colleagues, I would like to wish Barbadians everywhere a happy Independence with the simple pledge that we will continue to honour our motto to provide A Better Life For Our People, and to work with our country according to that which has been instilled in us in pride and industry.
God bless you all.