By Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies
We have created in the Caribbean, the CRC; not the Caribbean Research Center, but The Caribbean Reparations Commission. We have created the other CRC. All of the governments of CARICOM have established this commission to study, to research, and to make presentations on reparatory justice for our people. The Commission has done its work and we have persuaded the heads of governments that the slave owning powers have a case to answer. We have submitted our findings, and those findings are now before the governments of the Caribbean, that there is a case to answer.
The strategy we have recommended to our governments is that reparatory justice ought to be linked to the process of development and the building of sustainable nations. And bear in mind that reparatory justice has received a pretty bad press in the world over the years and this is how we ought to be; you are opposed to a process, well you demonize that process, and therefore to speak about reparatory justice, in some places, is to speak of backwardness. Which is why the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, arrived in Jamaica a few days ago, goes into our Parliament in Jamaica and a Parliament full of descendants of enslaved people, and he says to them, “Forget your past, let’s move on.” The Prime Minister of Great Britain, a nation that brought 1.3 million enslaved Africans into Jamaica, and at the end of emancipation, there were just 300,000 left behind. How do you bring 1.3 million people into an island and 200 years later, you have only 300,000? That is genocide; that is genocide. You do not decimate seventy five percent of a people, and then to the survivors of that genocide, you say, “Forget this history, put it behind you and move on.” The same Prime Minister just a few weeks before, in England, gave a magnificent speech condemning the Holocaust against the Jewish people, dedicating British public resources to the building of a memorial to the Holocaust of the Jewish people, calling upon the leaders of education to reform the national curriculum to bring Holocaust Studies into the schools and to make sure that Britain does all it can, that such a horror will never be repeated.
Having laid out his contribution to that conversation, he comes to the Caribbean into the Black world and he says to us, forgets it and move on, but here is 25 million pounds to build a prison. We all have to understand the logic of this history. The logic of the history is very clear; African peoples were brought to this hemisphere to work. We were brought here with a given market value. On arrival, each of our fore parents had a market value; 15 pounds, 20 pounds, 200 dollars, 150 dollars; for 300 years, that is how we were seen, dollars and cents, property.
The legacy of that perception has remained, and so when the British Prime Minister comes to the Caribbean, and he makes a statement such as that, the legacy is there. He is speaking to persons who represent traditions of labor, traditions of property value. The question that has to be asked is this: Did he see in Jamaica, 3 million human beings? Did he see 3 million persons who are citizens in pursuit of justice, in pursuit of equality and pursuit of the good things of life; coming from a horrible history in pursuit of freedom? Did he see that? The question has to be asked.
And so we have laid out a ten point plan for reparatory justice:
The first point is unconditional explicit apology for the crime of enslavement of our peoples. If you do not insist upon this, you then become complacent in the argument which says, our fore parents had no value, our fore parents’ lives had no value; but if their lives had no value, ours have no value, because our lives represent the accumulation of that historical value. It is insufficient to say, “Well you know slavery was a horrible thing; it was a horrible thing, we regret it happened;” not enough. An apology is made up of three components: I acknowledge I have committed a crime, I take responsibility for the consequences of my action and I will do all I can to repair the damage done.”
Then we speak of the return to Africa. In the Caribbean, we’ve had communities of peoples who have said, we wish to return home. It’s a legacy as old as the trade and slavery itself. I cannot tell you from the archives, how many thousands of African folks would jump into the sea believing they could swim back to Africa. The slave ship records are filled with documents of Africans jumping into the sea, trying to get back to Africa; run into the coast in Virginia, in Barbados, in Guyana, go into the ocean hoping to swim back looking for a way to get home. That remains a part of our legacy. Our Rastafarian communities have said time and time again especially, “We are stolen people and as stolen people we should be taken back from whence we came.” They have a right to say that; there has to be a program that facilitates their return if they so wish to go home. I have had the honor of going to Ethiopia into Shashamane, meeting ten thousand Caribbean folks from Belize, from Panama, Jamaica, all over the Caribbean, peoples who have returned to live in Shashamane.
We have spoken about health and education. The school children are here, so let me tell you this. When I was in high school in England, the schools used to take the children on culture tours across Europe because they were part of the grand European culture and civilization. Our school teachers would take us to Rome to see the coliseum; they would take us to Athens, to Greece to see the Acropolis and all the achievements of Western culture, and every child had an opportunity to see the historic achievements of their culture and civilization. By the time you finish school, you recognize that you are a part of a great civilization. Our children in the Caribbean, in this country, in Brazil, have a right to visit the African homeland and to see the source of the culture. They have their right to it.
And so in our reparatory justice program, we have called for the establishment of a fund to facilitate the transfer of students, exchange of students. Students here in Brooklyn, in high school, should partner with students in Igboland, in Nigeria, in Ghana. In the summer you go for three weeks, those kids come over here, our kids go over there, you experience all of that, see who you are, where you’ve come from. These are things we have a right to attend; and so our reparatory justice program, calls for the building of institutions to facilitate these processes.
Finally, I am very concerned about this epidemic of coronary diseases that’s just destroying the black folks of this hemisphere. In the Caribbean world, 60% of all black folks over the age of sixty have hypertension or diabetes. If you take the marker, the criterion of chronic disease, the Caribbean black folks are the sickest people on this planet. It is important to recognize that we are the sickest people in the hemisphere because of this legacy of slavery and colonization that has persisted, that has damaged the people irreparably in the Caribbean. Who is going to pay for this research? If you take 500 people and you put them on a sugar plantation for 500 years and every day you give them salt fish and salt pork, and you brutalize them in 24 hours of manual work a day, you sell their children, you rape their daughters, you rape their wives; you buy and sell them like cattle and you take them through a journey like that for 500 years, what do you expect? The consequences of that metabolic and psychological damage no other people in the history of this planet have gone through.
If you take the medicine being used to treat hypertension, most of those clinical trials are done on white folks. Those drugs do not work as well on black folks as they do on white folks. We have the responsibility to do all of that biochemical research to tweak those drugs to suit our metabolism and our cellular structure. It is our duty, but, while we take responsibility for that, and I can say to you at my University, my colleagues and the medical faculties on all of our campuses have done an extraordinary amount of research. We have gone to Africa, taken samples of Africa peoples, compared them with samples of Caribbean peoples, compared the DNA; we've looked at the impact of those drugs on Caribbean Black folks and African Black folks, we are trying to find a way to tweak those drugs to make them work for us over this part of the world; and guess what, the drugs are working beautifully for the African people in Africa. They work as well on the African people as they are working on the European peoples; but with the Black folks in the Caribbean and Mississippi, they are not working as well. Why is that? Because we have been genetically modified by the history; we have been altered by the history. So you have hypertension in Nigeria, you take this drug, it will work on you, give it to an Englishman, it works on him, 95% response, it works. Take the same drug to Jamaica, to Mississippi, Alabama, you get a 75% response. Why? Because we have been altered by our stress profiles in this history.
We’re doing this research, but this is horrendously expensive laboratory research. We say to the British government, who's responsible for this, we need to be engaged in processes of research and technology exchange to solve this problem at this moment, because if we do not solve this problem, what do you have? Slavery was killing our people; now slavery is over, the legacy of slavery is killing our people. So now you think slavery is over, but you are now in the jet stream of it; we are now cleaning up the mess that was left behind. So the reparatory justice in the Caribbean is dealing with all of these issues because these are the concrete challenges facing our people every day, every night. Our governments are doing their best, we are doing our best, our Universities are doing their best, but those responsible must be held to account, and must be brought back to participate in the finding of solutions, this is what reparatory justice means and, importantly from the point of view of this presentation, this is how we are going to build sustainability, because the reparatory justice is the key to sustainability. It is the key.
My final point is why is it that many of our Caribbean governments are being classified as failed states? I’ll tell you why they are failed states, because they have inherited a legacy of social degradation. Most of our governments have spent more than they had to build the health care of our people, to bring our people through an education process. I'm from Barbados and for 50 years the government of Barbados has said, we are going to pay the full tuition for every student to go to university. No fees for students for 50 years because it was recognized that people on the island had to be brought up to a level where they could defend themselves and sustain the nation; and in most countries of the Caribbean, the government pays 80% of all the tuition fees for students. Health care is paid for by the governments because the governments have been trying their utmost to educate the people, to improve the public health to create a society where humanity can prosper; but that has come at a cost, and so, many of these governments now have a horrendous fiscal difficulty and that fiscal gap is because of the public expenditure and education and health in the Caribbean.
And so we say to the British government, and the reparatory justice conversation, you must cancel all the international debts owed by the governments of the Caribbean. Because that debt has been accumulated trying to do the things that you should have done which is to take care of the health and education of people when you're responsible for them. All of these things are interlocked and so sustainable nations do require at this moment, a firm and unrelenting commitment to the process of reparatory justice. It is the philosophy of this time; it is going to be the largest movement of the 21st century. There will be no political movement on this planet, in this long century ahead of us like this reparatory justice movement, because people all over the world have suffered these crimes at the hands of Western Europe, and all of those who have empowered themselves are standing up and rising up to say, “We want justice;” and we’re hearing it all over the world, “We want justice.” So let us do the right thing by our fore parents, let us do the right thing for our children and their children. Let us build this movement; let us build this movement in the same way we built the antislavery movement, in the same way we built the democracy movement; let us build the reparatory justice movement.
It is no coincidence that the son of the Great Marcus Matthias Garvey is here, no coincidence. Marcus Garvey built the largest democracy movement the world has ever seen, he built it right here in this country; all over the world he built this global movement. We're now going to build that reparatory justice movement as the completion of this process and I can tell you, Medgar Evers, the late great Medgar Evers will smile upon us. I thank you.
Dr. Rudolf Crew: President of Medgar Evers College
Thank you very much. Good Morning Dr. Irish, platform guests, audience, family, friends and, most importantly, students. Thank you very very much for your attendance here today; it marks another one of Medgar’s highlights of not just this year but have many many years where by in no small way we celebrate the diaspora from which we come and the organization that has been so prominent in this college and being able to not just help us to exalt it, to understand it, to do research on it, but also to appreciate it for the mighty generosity of spirit and thought and intellectualism connected to it. This Caribbean Research Center as headed by Dr. Irish has brought us together. My deep appreciation to him and to members of his team and the Liberal Arts School for having done that. I would say by way of welcome to the dais and to our honored guest, Dr. Beckles, that we are a College in transition and, in many ways, we represent the growth of a new nation; a nation that is populated by people who have come from a land whereby reparations, and the title of today's work, has been so much a part of our journey; and now it is about building that nation of people; this community, these students, this area of Brooklyn, into a sustainable economic unit. We are desperate for the brilliance that is packed in the minds of you young people sitting in the audience. We are elated that you are here and that you come, not only to celebrate with us, but to give us the best there is inside of you. Medgar Evers College is hungry for your genius; more importantly, the world needs your genius. It can start here, it has tremendous support for its genesis here and it has the capability of changing the world, so I welcome you today, not only to the College, to this celebration, to the academic exercise and to the incredible knowledge and sharing that will take place over the course of the day, but I welcome you particularly as new members. Many of you, maybe, have not been familiar with the campus, or many of you are hopeful college students of the near term. I welcome you to this as a part of the journey of all of us and it's a journey that will be marked by your participation, your affection and your commitment to the work of the Caribbean Research Center. Thank you all very very much for your attendance and have a wonderful day.
Dr. Augustine Okereke
Dr. Augustine Okereke: Provost, Senior Vice President.
Thank you Dean Irish, President, Colleagues, students and I want to acknowledge the students from the high schools who are here today. I just want to welcome you particularly. Can you give yourselves a round of applause.(Applause) Your presence here shows your thirst for knowledge. I want to welcome the Vice Chancellor who is here today. Your presence will be a start of the things that Medgar wants to do with the Caribbean nations and African countries too; and I want to underline the importance of the Caribbean Research Center, the work that they do and the work that they would do and work that they should be doing. Research is so important to what we do. Literature is so important to what we do; writing is so important to what we do and we have examples for that. The African nations started agitating for independence as a result of the experience of the Harlem Renaissance. When scholars from Africa came back here and had this experience and those who were back in Africa started hearing about the success of the Harlem Renaissance, they all went into action and started the call for independence of the African nations.
Therefore, the centrality of what we do here at Medgar Evers College is so crucial in influencing what happens in the Caribbean nations and what happens in black nations across the world; so we have a role to play. The Caribbean Research Center has a bigger role to play to ensure that we start to educate people right here as we invest in what happens in other countries. Research is crucial, what we do is so crucial, the partnerships we form are so crucial in doing that.
I had a very brief discussion with the Vice Chancellor and he mentioned that he sensed something from my voice. I told him where I’m from and he told me that he just came back from Calabar in Nigeria and had a wonderful experience. He went on to say that when he goes back to Jamaica, (I hope I am quoting you correctly, “I will tell every Jamaican that they are Igbo.” (Laughter) You see that connectivity and then you see the research that could come out of his experience, you see the information that could be generated in helping nations beyond the United States in developing. So the Caribbean Research Center should play, and I know that they are playing a crucial role in ensuring that this will happen. I told the Vice Chancellor too that I will be vigilant through consultation with the President, to create a global partnership with the Caribbean countries and universities. This partnership, I hope will help us to foster knowledge to help the young ones who are the audience, to understand how they can play a role in developing their own nations too. With this, I want thank Dean Irish and applaud you for coming and I hope we have a very successful three day conference. Thank you. (Applause)
Dr. George Irish: Thank you Provost and at this time I am going to take a few minutes to acknowledge the presence of several dignitaries among us today.
I think it starts with the visiting dignitaries from Central America and I'm going to ask the delegation from Central America to stand for us please.(Applause)
I will not attempt to introduce them individually, but I will say that among them we have representatives of government, politicians, academics who represent their universities; we have community leaders who are in the process of moving their communities to sustainability on the basis of a new paradigm that was initiated right here at Medgar Evers College. Thank you very much, it's great to have all of you.(Applause)
We also have with us, students from the high schools, and I'm going to ask you to please just wave your hands. Wonderful, and I would like to invite the Medgar students to just wave their hands. I would like to acknowledge all the professors of Medgar Evers College who are with us, I would like you to just wave your hands. Thank you. Thank you. (applause)
I was just reminded that these proceedings are being streamed live to the world. So right now there are people in Russia, China, Europe and the Caribbean witnessing what is going on here. That is part of what this Encounter is about. The person responsible for coordinating this aspect of our transmission is none other than the Chair of the Department of Mass Communications, Performing Arts and Speech, Dr. Clinton Crawford. Please stand Dr. Crawford (Applause) And you will discover that in the process of today and tomorrow, Dr. Crawford will be working with a part of the Central American delegation to establish a media network that will link up on an ongoing basis with Central America; and the hub of that network is going to be based right here at Medgar Evers College.
I also wish to acknowledge the presence of some very strong community leaders from New York City. My eyes are dim and I can't see, (laughter) but I am looking for Dr. Ron Daniels and Dr. Claire Nelson. They are over on this side, there they are; they are going to be our respondents to the keynote address today. We also have from the Caribbean, representatives of Haiti, Jamaica, Dominica, Guyana and, of course, we have some Panamanians who are a mixture of the Caribbean and the Central American.
One of the reasons why I am doing this is that I particularly want to recognize a gentleman who is not very well known in terms of his capabilities or his historic contributions. I am going to invite Dr. Waldaba Stewart to stand. (Applause)
Not many people know that this gentleman is one of the founders of Medgar Evers College. In fact, he was elected to the New York State Senate at a very early age and he was the youngest senator in Albany.
started fighting to have a branch of CUNY here in Crown Heights. There was a literal conflict in Albany, because people from other parts of Brooklyn wanted the new campus in their neighborhood. However, Stewart and the Brooklyn activists insisted that African American and Caribbean residents of Brooklyn deserved a CUNY campus; hence the Crown Heights location of Medgar Evers College (Applause)
Furthermore, this gentleman is the founder of the Caribbean Research Center. (Applause) In 1984, around the time when people of African descent particularly in the Caribbean, were celebrating 150 years after emancipation, Dr. Waldaba Stewart and the Trinidad-native, Congressman Mervin Dymally from California, convened a conference, right here on Bedford Avenue at the corner of Eastern Parkway, the building where (SPCD) is located. In that building, they convened a conference of Caribbean leaders. Out of that conference, came a proposal for the establishment of four engines to drive the advancement of Caribbean people in New York City.
The first of them was the Caribbean Research Center because Stewart insisted that you need a body that will do the research and provide the data to the other engines for them to function. The second one was the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI); the third one was the Caribbean Women's Health Association, and the fourth one was supposed to be the Caribbean Community Cultural Center. The first three materialized; up to today, the fourth one has not yet materialized. By that time, I came to Medgar Evers and I was able to witness a situation where Governor Mario Cuomo invited Caribbean people to identify a space that could be used as a Cultural Center.
The Armory on Bedford was offered to us, and the Governor sent the dormitory authority to work with our community leaders to develop a 9 million dollar plan for us to build and implement the Cultural Center. I am here to say today that regrettably, that did not happen; from the time we heard 9 million dollars, all the crabs came scrambling around the barrell. And it got to the point where I had to withdraw from the confusion and indecision because I don't know that I can handle so many powerful community leaders who could not agree on one thing; to accept the offer of the Governor, take the armory and convert it into an effective and dynamic Cultural Center. So the fourth dream of Waldaba, has not yet been fulfilled; but I hope that the generation after us will take up the mantle and make it a reality.
You may wonder why I chose “Amazing Grace” as the opening item for today's proceedings; we have a President of whom I keep on saying, “He is as much an educator as he is a preacher.” Just last week in the State of the College address he spoke to us about faith. And I have been meditating on his words ever since. And when I reflect on the 30 years of the Caribbean Research Center, all I can say is, we've come this far by faith. Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have truly come this far, but it’s grace and that faith that have brought us this far and will lead us home. Blessings on you all. (Applause)
At this time, we are inviting the Chief of Staff of Assemblyman Nick Perry to come forward if she's here; and if she's not, we'll postpone that aspect of the proceedings. It was our intention to publicly recognize the sterling contributions of Assemblyman Perry to the Caribbean Research Center and to Medgar Evers College and to the Brooklyn community, but he has to be in Jamaica today and that's why he's not here and his Chief of Staff was supposed to represent him.
May I just ask if Dr Veronica Udeogalanya is in the house. I also wanted to acknowledge Veronica’s contribution to the work of the Center. She was our first social scientist who did a lot of our demographic work in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember this particularly because I spoke about Nick Perry and Una Clarke, since it is out of the Caribbean Research Center that the demographic work was done to create new electoral districts in New York City, to ensure that Caribbean people got an opportunity to be elected. Honorable Una Clarke was one of the first at City Council level, with Nick Perry at the Assembly level, and after them we had Loyd Henry in Flatbush, followed by Kendall Stewart, John Sampson, Roxane Persaud, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Mathieu Eugene, Rodneyse Bichotte and Diana Richardson. All of those people got a foot in the legislature because of the basic work done right here at Medgar, through the Caribbean Research Center.(Applause)
Now we are going to come to the main part of today’s proceedings. Around 1995, I had the privilege to meet a young Caribbean intellectual who is making giant waves in the Caribbean. In the tradition of people like Norman Manley in Jamaica, Eric Williams in Trinidad, Forbes Burnham in Guyana, Grantley Adams in Barbados who went to England, completed their studies and made a commitment not to stay in Europe, but to come back home and make a difference in our communities; just as the Africans Kwame Nkruma, Julius Nyrere, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba and others did in Africa.
In the early 90's, we recognized that there was a new fire brand in the region; someone who not only brought a high level of academic competence, but demonstrated a quality of leadership that made many of us believe that, well, perhaps he would follow in the wake of those distinguished politicians and become the Prime Minister of Barbados, but he chose rather to dedicate his life to academic pursuits. So we knew it was a matter of time before he would head the regional institution; the University of The West Indies; that time has come and today we are blessed with a young Economic Historian, a young educator with a tremendous vision for the entire region. I can't think of a better person to occupy the position of the Vice Chancellery of the University of The West Indies, than somebody who has published over 20 books, over 65 scholarly articles and has even written five plays, a man of diverse talents and tremendous influence. I invite you all to stand with me to receive the keynote Speaker of the day, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles (applause) and as you’ll see from your program, the theme is, “From Reparations to Sustainability.”