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TONY BEST: Reflect on Dr King’s legacy


TONY BEST: Reflect on Dr King’s legacy

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TWO BAJAN IMMIGRANTS may not have exchanged ideas face to face, but they agree on some key issues when it comes to Dr Martin Luther King and outgoing president, Barack Obama.

The first is that King, whose birthday will be officially recognised tomorrow with a public holiday across the United States, made an indelible mark on their personal lives and careers. For without the work, demonstrations, writings, lobbying, sacrifices and eloquent speeches of King pressing the case for equality and diversity at home and self-determination around the world, both Adrian Mapp, mayor of Plainfield in New Jersey, and Professor Cecil Foster, chairman of the Department of Transnational Studies at the State University of New York in Buffalo, insisted it was unlikely they would be in their current positions of influence.

“I believe that I wouldn’t be in the mayor’s office today if we didn’t have a Martin Luther King to break down the barriers and pave the way for all of the transformative changes that have occurred during the last 50-plus years,” said Mapp, formerly of St George.

Foster, one of Canada’s leading novelists and major media commentators, put it differently while keeping his eyes focused on King’s legacy and on the achievements of Obama as he prepares to hand over the power to President-elect Donald Trump on Friday.

“I think Dr King helped to transform this country,” Foster said. “Were he alive today, [he] would be very disappointed, even appalled that Trump would be succeeding Obama and trying to undermine his legacy. I think Dr King would be worried about what the Trump era can mean to the future” of race relations in the United States and diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba which were improved in recent months with the opening of embassies in Washington  and Havana.

Trump has hinted there could be a rollback in ties between the two countries, a move that could negate many of the forceful actions of Caribbean states, Barbados included, which called for an end to the diplomatic and economic isolation. 

“Any such move by the Trump Administration would have a negative impact on the Caribbean, especially on the nations of Caricom,” said Foster.

When contacted in the Cuban capital, Donna Forde, head of Barbados’ diplomatic mission in Havana since 2010, declined to comment on the state of American politics and on the events of the past few weeks since Trump’s election in November. But she acknowledged that the diplomatic community was getting anxious about possible changes in Washington’s approach to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation.

“Members of the community are waiting to see what will happen,” was all she would say.

Foster and Mapp agreed that King’s leadership and actions helped to pave the way for the historic election of Obama as America’s first black president in 2008.

 Incidentally, Shirley Chisholm, the daughter of a Bajan mother, also helped to roll “the proverbial wicket” on which Obama batted and scored his “ton” to gain entry into the White House. Chisholm was the first black person who sought the presidential nomination of a major political party, in the early 1970s.

Although they appreciate and support the constitutional requirement of term limits,  Mapp who emigrated to the US in search of a better life, and Foster, who went to Canada to boost his education and expand his professional horizons as a journalist, aren’t overjoyed about the prospect of the departure of Obama. 

“President Obama was truly a leader and a major force for change,” said Mapp.

“Obama has made a substantial difference,” added Foster.

That explains why the mayor and the SUNY academician will spend today and tomorrow reflecting on the transformation of the US which was propelled by King’s words and deeds. They will also look back with pride on the eight scandal-free and highly productive years of the Obama White House.  

As for the Barbados diplomat, she restricted her comments to the work of King.

“A lot of economic and social challenges in the black and in poor communities show that the objectives of Dr King have not been fully realised but are still relevant today,” said Forde, who spent a decade in the US at the United Nations in New York and the Organization of American States in Washington before being posted as a career diplomat in Havana. “It’s important that people spend the Martin Luther King holiday [tomorrow] reflecting on his contribution an his ideals.” 

Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]