MONDAY MAN: No place like home for Bajan Yankee
ERROL “MICKEY” LASHLEY and the land of his birth, Barbados, have something in common.
They have found a way to maintain their dignity and resilience in spite of all the obstacles thrown their way.
Lashley, who has been living in the United States for almost 40 years, knows how to overcome prejudice and racism and now can say with a measure of confidence that he is an independent man who can stand on his own two feet.
He and his wife migrated to the US in the late 1970s.
During an interview with the DAILY NATION while back home, Lashley laughed when he recalled the story of his early years trying to make it in show business in Barbados. He admitted that it did not amount to much.
He was one half of the singing group called Mickey and Mex who sang a variety of genres; from spouge, to soul, R&B, you name it.
After making a recording that was lost by the producers, then changing the group’s name to Buccaneers and later to Creative Sound and still no success, Lashley decided to uproot from Brighton, St George, and move to Brooklyn, New York.
By this time he had married his love, Angele nee Straughn.
It so happened that his first job in the US was working with one of the largest record companies, RCA studios.
No, it wasn’t his time to finally shine in the recording booth. Rather, Lashley went to work as a stock clerk in charge of purchasing. He had a lovely time there but was laid off 12 years after when the company was downsizing.
Lashley, who has two children – Karin and Lewis – and two grands in Kayla and Kaiden, recalled having a bit of anxiety when he was first without a job. He was a husband, a father, had a household to run; what would he do?
“After I got laid off my wife came to me one day and said, ‘Now you got to do something I asked you to do every since’. I didn’t really know what she was talking about and then she told me, ‘You got to go back to school now’.”
But somehow not taking her as seriously as he should, Lashley procrastinated for a little.
“She was telling me to do this from the time we got married. I wasn’t really pool sharking but I was saying I am a man, I got a kid, I am not going to school and she supporting me. That was not what men did, not knowing I could have gone to school and work too,” he said.
So with this realisation, Lashley decided to enrol in college and just as that happened, an airline company hired him.
“When I started school it was kind of hard after a long lay-off from school. I wasn’t in a classroom since I left Modern High School in 1965 so it was kind of hard, but I pushed myself through it. What returning to the classroom did was give me additional knowledge because at the time and my age, I knew it would have been difficult to be employed because people would invest in people who were younger – so I said I will still get the degree and use it to my benefit.”
Before Lashley knew it, all the hard work that he dreaded was completed and he graduated with a degree in industrial electronics.
The now 68-year-old couldn’t remember if he was treated immensely different by some co-workers before, but upon earning his academic achievement, certainly it was glaring the way they reacted.
Making it clear that not all his co-workers of other races were discriminatory, Lashley recalled that the first time he experienced what he believed to be racism at the job came as a shock.
“At [the airline] you couldn’t get away. It wasn’t the violent type of it but the kind that was institutionalised. Where you got the white guys who would sit in the corner and call me a coconut – because I’m from the Caribbean – and they always tell you, ‘You don’t know anything, you are stupid’,” he recalled.
Lashley said because of his degree, he could have moved away from that type of intimidation but that meant he would have to transplant to Phoenix, Arizona, which was a no-no, because he wanted to stay in New York; and even to move away would make those particular employees believe they won.
“What I had to do was learn to ignore things that these people wanted to throw at me. To be honest with you, the States has some of the most racists places in the world. I don’t know if it will stop but I found ignoring them helped me a lot. In my first incident I felt scared, I felt bad. There was an incident where some friends went into a neighbourhood just to buy pizza and they were chased by white guys. I mean literally chased with baseball bats. I could have been there but I chose not to go.
“Hearing that and seeing that happen, it got me scared so I would always be very precise in places that I go. If I go over there and I think that is a white neighbourhood and it will cause problems, I am not going there. I will stay away from them and link with my peers, my people,” he said.
Surviving 18 years in that environment before retirement, Lashley, a former first division cricketer, credited God, his family and his persistence.
During those years he often returned to Barbados and maintained that it was this grounding here that stopped him from stooping to the level of others on many occasions. And this year, the 50th anniversary of Independence, he is especially proud to be a Barbadian and for how growing up in Barbados helped him overcome prejudice.
“When I was working I told people I work in the States and vacation in Barbados. Now when I’m in the States I tell people I live in Barbados and vacation in the States. I really love the place and I can’t wait to come back for Independence and Christmas. Matter of fact, I had to try to get back here by a certain date or I won’t get to come because so many people are coming down.
“For the 50th and beyond I want all of us here to realise we are one people. I would like to see youngsters here who are doing all the foolish crime to stop. I want to look and say this is 50 years of Independence for us, let us live with one another, let we stop trying to kill each other and bring this country together. I would like to see everybody come together so we can be united and strong,” he added. (SDB Media)