Mister Speaker, I now will make a statement on Black History Month because though it is most recognised in the United States, I am very well aware that we are a people of the African Diaspora.
February is coined Black History Month.
This is an observance that originated in the United States nearly 100 years ago out of the recognised need for remembering, celebrating and educating persons about important people and events in Black History.
You see, at that time - and some will argue that to some extent the situation today is still very similar – the African Diaspora existed in broader societies that did not want to see their physical and intellectual survival.
Africans and their descendants in those societies were the victims of brain washing and mind control tactics of slave masters and the political systems that supported their heinous actions.
Historical records show that the achievements of Black persons were deliberately suppressed. The efforts of Black leadership figures were undermined. They were viciously attacked so that their own people would lose faith, confidence and hope. By doing this, the oppressors would continue exploit the divided Black people. They aimed to keep the eyes of the Black man and the Black woman closed to the potential that exists inside of them. It was about reminding Black to know and stay in their place so that the oppressors could rule.
As such, no meaningful effort was being made in those societies, in their education systems or anywhere else, to present a balanced or inspiring view of the Black members of those communities.
American schools constantly represented Black historical figures as nothing more than slaves and colonial subjects.
Thus, it would seem the psychological tactics for oppression and exploitation used to break and control Africans during the period of slavery remained entrenched in the society even after slavery was officially ended.
These tactics were geared to instil feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness in people of colour.
In the words of historian Carter Woodson, one of the founders of Negro History Week and Black History Month, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
With a similar historical background and a socio-political system that is still closely remnant of our Colonial past, one can see how relevant and important the discussion of the identity and autonomy of the African Diaspora is in the Virgin Islands today and the Caribbean.
Mister Speaker, we must ask ourselves, how are our ancestors portrayed in history – in our BVI history?
Are their stories even told at all?
Is the telling accurate?
Is the context correct?
Are the stories of the true BVI heroes properly recorded and shared so that our present and future generations can be inspired and instilled with pride and determination, as they ought to be?
As Virgin Islanders, and even as a Caribbean people, we must continue to write and tell our stories.
I continue to see others retelling the stories in their own frames. Hoping that we forget!
We must not allow them to reshape our history, less our future generation falter.
Mister Speaker, as a BVI people, we must never forget the memories and experiences of our ancestors. We must never forget the suffering that they were forced to endure as plantation slaves; stolen from their homes and their families and brought to the West Indies, traded like livestock in the market squares and exploited in plantations.
As a BVI people, we must not forget the torture and brainwashing that they were subjected to in attempts to break their will and to destroy all connection with their real identity and heritage.
As a BVI people, we must never forget because it is our past is what makes us strong. It is our past is what will shape our commitment and fortitude in being strong and resilient people. It is our past that will help us to withstand those who wish to keep us with chains and shackles on and in our minds.
Virgin Islanders must not forget that in 1965 the Constitutional Commissioner of the United Kingdom, Mary Proudfoot, said that the Virgin Islands have no potential beyond that of a bird sanctuary—that is a place where only birds are fit to live.
But, this land of the Turtle Dove proved that our forefathers following the guiding hands of God envisioned the BVI as a land of prosperity. Our BVI people have been moving mountains a long time now.
Our forefathers used what little was in their hands to propel the BVI into a vision beyond the narrow scope of those who lived in big lands.
The problem with us now, is that we always think that those in the wider world are more visionary than us. But, I must say here that our dark history tells us that as a people we have had to become creative, innovative and resilient because we were either never given anything, or were forced to make do with scraps.
Despite the uncertainty placed by others, our forefathers stayed in this Territory. They stayed committed to developing it.
They welcomed Caribbean neighbours and together without any aid and support from those who could have helped, they propelled a new definition for BVI, holding fast to a Proverb that I still hear our golden citizens say today—little by little a bird builds its nest.
Now, what was once a bird sanctuary is now seen by the proud as a great prize to walk in and take away.
You see Mister Speaker, our forefather were always visionary people and with a steady process of building bit by bit, they have proven to us that little is much when God is in it.
Our ancestors, using what was in their hands and Faith in God, saw potential and they punched forward to give us the success that we have today.
Mister Speaker, we must therefore be very vigilant, be watchful as our flag dictates. For what was envisioned by some as a bird sanctuary, has now become a global eagle soaring with the best in the world.
Mister Speaker, we achieved this through the sound principles as laid out by our forefathers because they understood, as we do today also that principles are not something of convenience, but a value in our veins.
Mister Speaker, you may know this already, but just in case:
Each bird builds a nest using materials that is available to them from what is available to them. Each bird construct the nest in a way that is conducive for them and the future generation they are about to give life too. Like what we are doing to build different sectors of this economy.
For the bird, the nest is a signal of life, growth, family, togetherness, stability and responsibility. Like what we are doing by creating avenues that will allow our people to participate in the development of this economy so that they each can reap the benefits.
There are those who do not understand the cultural and intrinsic value of the nest to the bird. Instead, they see the space as something that should be their space because that same seems profitable and too good for the bird.
So then the nest—your bird sanctuary—becomes the target. Then there is an attempt to bully the birds from the space they have built little by little over the years. There is an attempt to disturb and tamper with the nest and seek to try and remove it to disrupt that safe haven of rest for other selfish use, while trying to convince the bird that you are moving in its best interest.
But, Mister Speaker, I also remember an important thing about the bird and its nest. When there are eggs, it means that those eggs will hatch, grow and lay their own eggs, and this cycle repeats over and over and that is how you get generations. So, the nest is indeed a huge investment that the bird is proud of and that is what the resilient bird must protect—the future.
As with us today, there are those who continue to say that BVI has money in terms of a green economy and a blue economy.
Like what we see today, there are those who believe that they should drive solar energy, instead of the people of this Territory doing so.
There are those who see here as a perfect place for the development of the blue and green economy, but not for the people of the BVI to continue to develop and lead.
The truth be told, that the people of the BVI welcomes a true partnership, but not masters.
There are those who see our marine sector and marine development profitable for them and not us, even if it means to try to negatively impact us in such a manner that some may mistake as helping us.
Mister Speaker, I am also mindful that sometimes as a people, we are our own Judases. We meet with others, we plan with them. We conspire with them against our own, focused only on our individual needs on to try to get the upper hand, forgetting that the one who they are teaming up will also take form them, what our forefathers worked so hard to give us.
What is the message here?
Mister Speaker, as a people, we must not forget that it was our forefathers who tapped into the natural resources and developed industries in farming, agriculture, sailing and fishing, and laid the foundation for our vibrant and lucrative tourism industry.
Mister Speaker, we must not forget that it was Virgin Islanders who established our financial services industry by applying their innovative talent. There are some who today want us to feel ‘less than’ as if we have never created anything good.
Mister Speaker, we must not forget that for over decades without asking for anything and without getting anything, we became the authors and pioneers of the great BVI you see today, even with flaws along the way.
We must know our history – our African History, our Caribbean History, our BVI History – and remind the world of the legacy that built our strong foundation.
Ours’ is a rich, proud, inspiring heritage. One of love, not hate. One of unity, not division. One of strength, not weakness. And one of boldness, not fear.
Our people have risen and conquered adversity time and time again, once we remain united, we will do it over and over again.
Around the world and across time, persons of African heritage have excelled in every sphere; whether it is in academics, research, medicine, innovation, business, humanities, science or vocation, sports, pageants, just to name a few.
In many instances, those individuals had to fight for their rights and their opportunities, so that those who would come after, could benefit.
In many instances, they were subjected to tricks and were blatantly disadvantaged, but they triumphed.
And therefore, on this occasion of Black History Month, let us make a concerted effort to learn about and to honour the memories of those great Black Virgin Islanders who pioneered the birth of a nation from the scraps that were left behind.
What a wonderful job they have done!
I want our people to know that their Government has committed to establishing an online channel for ensuring that the achievements of our true BVI heroes is properly documented and made available for the world to read, and most importantly so that Virgin Islanders – the young ones – will know the richness of our history and our heritage, and what we are truly capable of as a People.
Right now the Ministry of Education and Culture is working on a BVI History and Heroes Project to teach and inspire our people, especially the youth based on the story of our forefather—the real and true heroes of the BVI whose stories are buried and hidden from us.
We have already initiated the process in preparation for the long overdue constitutional review. This process should have started in 2017, but now is the time, and this is the place to start now as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Great March of 1949.
We are working on the reopening of some of our Library Services throughout the Territory so that we can continue to ensure an educated people.
The time is also now for the people of the BVI to be the stewards of our history, which includes the transfer to our hands, our BVI information, archives and records management.
These things we must do as we embark on one of the most challenging but most critical endeavours in our recent history - that of the Transformation of the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy by 2025, driven by entrepreneurship, innovation and local and foreign investment.
Achieving this vision requires unwavering belief in ourselves.
It requires being laser-focused, and ignoring the naysayers and distractors.
We must recognise that the fight this not among ourselves.
The strength of our future hinges on our resolve to remain oneness in purpose for a prosperous BVI.
Our BVI mission for Black History Month 2020 is to honour the struggles of our forefathers and to build a strong foundation for our generations to come in unity.
In order to do this we must understand what our forefather understood that the fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but knowledge.
Thank you, Mister Speaker.