On this our 43rd anniversary of Independence of St Vincent and the Grenadines, our inspiration to climb the tallest mountains must rest upon our willingness and capacity to hold up to the mirror, the lives of Vincentians who embody the greatest values we prize in our local outpost of our Caribbean Civilization.
From the very inception of our historical experience, we have produced men and women who have stood strong against the forces seeking to diminish the genius and integrity of the Vincentian experiment in governing ourselves.
No one of course better symbolizes that fundamental capacity of Vincentians to fight the toughest battles than Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, our first, and thus far our only, national hero.
But Chatoyer does not stand alone. Others have shared the burden, both now and in the past, of standing guard on the hill of national integrity.
Their stories remind us that Vincentian fortitude, Vincentian resilience, are not merely words. They are not simply abstractions.
They are lives lived. They are lit candles whose flames burn eternally, constantly reminding us of who we are and who we can be as a Vincentian nation.
One such story is that of Thaddeus Michael Findlay. He is easily one of the greatest cricketers to have emerged from Vincentian soil.
He climbed the highest mountain at the time, winning selection to the West Indies test team as a wicket keeper in an era when the West Indies were producing some of the greatest players in the history of the game.
Findlay played alongside the great Viv Richards and the great Gary Sobers, two men ranked among the five greatest cricketers of all time.
But Findlay’s ascension to the West Indies team was strewn with enormous obstacles, not least of which is the fact that he was a Vincentian. At the time, West Indies cricket was deeply reluctant to accept that players from smaller islands like St Vincent and the Grenadines had the genius to represent the West Indies cricket team.
Findlay therefore had to navigate the stormy seas of regional prejudices and suffered from some of the tides of spite that from time to time flowed over into the competitive cricket environment.
But at no time did he ever abandon the hope that he would succeed. At no time did he ever abandon the grace that soothes the spirit in times of stress. And at no time did he ever abandon his commitment to climb to the summit of the game, regardless of the challenges in his way. He stayed on the field of play in the best of times and the worst of times.
Vincentians understood the enormity of Michael Findlay’s achievement.
We were, of course, justly proud that a son of our soil could play alongside the legends of the game. He became our own legend. His success raised the Vincentian confidence level that we did indeed possess the capacity to succeed on the world’s biggest stage.
His story emphasized the fact that the Vincentian sense of our collective value and dignity has always been fuelled by those men and women within our midst who have overcome enormous challenges in our efforts to achieve individual and collective excellence. And in the case of Michael Findlay, we have named a pavilion at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex to honour his contributions to Vincentian selfhood.
In February 1976 at the Geest Shed, a hostile audience rained stones and other projectiles at Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus, when he began the defence of his calypso crown with his song, “Vidette Must Duck.”
On that night the experience shattered Becket. He did not return to the stage to sing his second song and thereby surrendered his crown without a fight. And he would never participate in a calypso monarch contest again.
But today, Dr Alston Becket Cyrus stands as the most celebrated Vincentian calypsonian of all time with a list of accolades and achievements simply too long to be included on this page.
In transforming his ‘Night of Despair’ into an astonishing career of musical supremacy, The story of Dr Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus captures the essence of the Vincentian story: to persevere against all odds; to never lose hope in the face of adversity; and to let grace be our guiding star in both good times and bad times.
To fully embrace the Independence of St Vincent and the Grenadines as a story of hope, resilience, and grace, we need to tell and re-tell the stories of Chatoyer, Becket, Findlay, and many more heroes who have given definition to the idea of the Vincentian character.
We cannot forget these stories because that is how we diminish our history and blur the path forward.
As we celebrate our 43rd Anniversary of Independence, let us do so by remembering the men and women whose lives have lit up our own.