R. Rose
March 4, 2014
Reparations, Black History and National Heroes’ Months

The months of February and March are observed in commemoration of Black History(internationally) and National Heroes (locally). Coming one after the other, they dovetail neatly into each other, cementing their correlation and provide a splendid opportunity for a series of connected events, given the relevance of one to the other.{{more}}

Black History Month has been observed in North America since the 1920s to highlight the achievements of black people and bring to the fore the history of people of African origin which slavery tried to erase. It began to catch on in the Caribbean since the heady days of the Black Power movement in the late sixties and seventies of the last century and activities have been organised to varying degrees in several Caribbean countries, including our own.

Those activities are still sporadic and spontaneous in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and depend on the degree of consciousness and enthusiasm on the part of the organisers, as well as their level of organisation and access to resources. Much more needs to be done to institutionalize the observance firmly on our calendar of events and to reach out to young people, starting with young children.

If Black History Month is to be etched indelibly on our consciousness, it is the youth who need to be imbued with the knowledge of its significance and importance. The lack of knowledge of our own history and that of black people in general leaves us with a psychological deficiency, and a lack of confidence in ourselves and black people globally. It is an issue which needs to be addressed both at the formal level of the educational system, as well as on a wider, more informal level. This is all the more important when we consider that the international media tends to equate Africa and black people with very negative images.

Should we, as a nation, succeed in placing Black History Month on a more established footing, we would provide a sound basis to flow into activities for National Heroes’ Month. In spite of the achievement of having National Heroes Day (March 14) formally recognized as a public holiday, the level of organisation of activities during March still falls far short of what it ought to be and does not leave enough of a lasting impression on our youth.

In recent years we have spent more time arguing over who should or should not be National Heroes rather than promoting the significance of the occasion and highlighting the heroic defence of our country by Paramount Chief Chatoyer and his generation. Can we dare to hope that we will, even if temporarily at least, be able to put the horse before the cart and concentrate on what March 14 and the month of March as a whole means to us all and where they fit in our historical development.

If February and March are placed in their correct perspectives, they would constitute a solid platform for the advancement of a major goal of ours and our Caribbean brothers and sisters – our claim for reparations for genocide and slavery. The Caribbean community, via CARICOM, has pinned this claim firmly on our masthead, but sometimes one cannot help but wonder if we are sufficiently serious about pursuing our reparations claim.

We launched this endeavour on a grand scale, with a high-powered rally in St Vincent and the Grenadines, addressed by some of the leading intellectuals of the region, including our own Prime Minister. Then, it was formally announced that a Caribbean Reparations Committee was being established, with feed into the highest echelons of governance in the region, CARICOM’s Heads of Government Bureau.

But what has happened after the big blaze of glory? What progress is being made throughout the region in advancing this solemn claim and in winning our people over to collectively advance the claim? Do we know what is happening throughout the rest of the region? In fact, how many of us are aware of what is happening here?

I say this not to knock the National Reparations Committee, but to help to spur it on to be more proactive. As indicated above, both Black History and National Heroes have direct bearing on the reparations claim, as indeed would other relevant occasions like African Liberation Day, Emancipation Month, which incidentally incorporates historical events relevant to the Garifuna people, as well as the date of birth of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

We need to make the connections, and to utilize every opportunity to convince a still sceptical population of the correctness and justness of our claim for reparation. Let’s put some real energy into it.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com-mentator.