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Black Empowerment Day

March 25, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

NEXT Saturday (March 31), the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP) celebrates Black Empowerment Day at La Joya, St Joseph. It signifies three years of existence and a renewed commitment to cultivate spaces where we can lift up our heads and take pride in ourselves; a moment to reflect on contemporary challenges and be re-energised through spiritual bonding.

The early life of NAEAP was difficult and hazardous. John La Guerre, author of a book on Basdeo Panday, labelled us "a cult" while his colleagues at the university and in government called us a racist organisation. Seeking "to take care of our people's business", as our motto suggested, was anathema to those who felt they understood Africans better than Africans understood themselves. We had no right to assume a responsibility to our people and ourselves. Our only obligation is to be subservient and to accommodate ourselves to a new massa.

Then, out of the blue, the very Government that branded us racist created a ministry of community empowerment. How they defined empowerment is still a mystery. Yet, it seems hypocritical that while the Government in one breath calls us racist and/or cultist, in another breath it seeks to institutionalise the concept of community empowerment though bureaucratic dictum.

As my mother says, "The more you live, the more you see." Sometimes, the stone the builder refuses becomes the chief cornerstone.

As we face the fourth year of our existence we are buoyed by our past achievements: our vacation school, our basketball camp, our distribution of books to various institutions, our advocacy for Linda Lucy Perez and our participation with concerned citizens who protested the threat to our democracy.

Sensitising Africans and non-Africans about the need for Africans to take up their beds and walk was among the most important spiritual achievements of our short life. At least, Africans acknowledge there is an organisation that protects their rights.

This year, Black Empowerment Day emphasises the importance of education and offers the following theme: "Empowerment Through Education". In its broadest sense, education still holds the key to our liberation. Not only should we advocate "getting an education", we must also ask, "Education for what?" Part of the predicament of our society revolves around the inability of our education system to define what the principal objective of our education should be.

If education makes citizens more responsible morally and spiritually and creates citizens who function purposefully in their social environment, then our educational enterprise has failed our citizens terribly. Although it created a cadre of bright boys and girls, many of whom became wealthy and skilled, it privileged a materially decrepit existence over a moral, ethical and socially-responsible life. What resulted is a society in which rights are advanced over responsibilities; individualism over our collective well-being.

Education involves a civic compact among citizens. The Bible puts it this way: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" Secularists put it another way: What does it matter that we achieve high standards of living but are afraid to walk in our neighbourhoods or feel safe in our homes? Where some faiths project material gain as the sine qua non of existence, it colours the texture of collective strivings.

A plural society faces challenges a homogeneous society does not encounter when it defines its educational objectives. Social cohesion is threatened if there is not a fundamental understanding of shared goals, what makes each group tick and the compromises that each must make to accommodate the other. Moreover, the signals our leaders send out can be dispiriting to the Član of the national community as they seek to deceive us in front our eyes. Orville London's feature lecture "Education, Empowerment and Civic Responsibility" will throw some light on this subject.

The gathering explores "Academic, Technical and Business Education" and the impact of the Information Technologies as they transform the world and our understanding of the world. One of the more challenging topics is the "Dynamics of the Classroom Experience". Three central issues arise vis a vis the education of our children: a) are African teachers sufficiently committed to the teaching of African children; b) do Indian teachers teach African children with the same fervour and commitment they devote to teaching Indian children; and c) do African parents participate in the education of their children as carefully as they should?

Gradually, the society is realising it has nothing to fear in African unity. The Chinese and Portuguese unite in their organisations; the Muslims and the Hindus find solace in their religious practices; while feminists and environmentalists promulgate causes in which they believe. Yet, most of us are too timid to assert our Africanness and to insist that there are some things that only we can do for ourselves. As well-intentioned as others might be, they cannot understand the complexities of our desires, the nuances of our behaviour, and the ethos of our-being-in-this-place.

Frantz Fanon said it best when he averred: "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it." We should not wallow in abysmal sloth or grovel in the meaninglessness of a wasted existence. Only in loving and respecting our brothers and our sisters, discarding destructive individualism, and sharing in the creative currents of collective self-discipline that we will discover the mission of our age.

Black Empowerment Day gives us a chance to be our brother's and sister's keepers.

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