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The Web We Weave

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 21, 2017

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As I indicated in Part 1 of my article, Sherma Batson, my second cousin, died of a massive aneurism at Blackpool, England on January 8, 2017. She was buried in Stevenage, England on February 3, 2017. On the same day, the London Guardian ran an obituary by Howard Rooke, her husband. Two days later, the Trinidad Express ran my eulogy on Sherma's life. On the same day the Dallas Morning News (US) ran a front-page story, "A Black Dallas family 'did everything America said we should' but still endures racism" on its front pages on my elder daughter's family.

But fate is a fickle thing; sometimes it is even more ubiquitous than fiction. On January 9, a day after Sherma was struck down, Deputy First Class Norman Lewis, another cousin, was killed in the line of duty in Orlando, Florida, as he pursued suspect Markeith Lloy who was wanted by the police for the death of Orlando Police Sergeant, Debra Clayton.

Norman was the grandson of my great aunt, Laura Lewis, one of the daughters of James Bell and Mary Gomes, who married Henry Attaway Lewis, a Grenadian. Aunt Laura gave birth to seven children: Henry Attaway (Jr.), John, Andrew, Joan, Maxwell, Patricia and Mary. My mother Carmen, nee Batson, was Joan's godmother.

Aunt Laura lived in Curepe where most of her children were born. In 1949, she left Trinidad by boat to reside in Brooklyn, New York. John married Mary with whom he had nine children. Later, they were divorced. John then married Norma and moved to Miami. Norman, who came out of that union, was tragically killed in Miami.

Norman graduated from the University of Central Florida and joined the Orange County Sheriff's Office (OCSO) in 2005. At his funeral, OCSO Sherriff Jerry Demings awarded Norman a posthumous Purple Heart to honor his heroism. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs declared January 15th "Deputy First Class Norman Lewis Day." His funeral service was held at the First Baptist Church in Orlando on January 15, 2017. "Outside the church there was a motorcade memorial for Lewis, a member of OSCO's Motor and DUI unit, and a helicopter flyover in 'missing man' formation."

On Thursday, January 12, 2017, Stevenage Comet ran the following headline on its front page: "Town's tribute for 'our Angel.'" Nothing could capture in a better way, how much Sherma meant to her town and how much she had given to its inhabitants. The newspaper continued: "The Comet has been inundated by heartfelt tributes to former Stevenage mayor and inspired community activist Sherma Batson who died suddenly at the age of 59 on Sunday evening."

But Sherma did not belong only to Stevenage and Europe. In 2001, she returned to Trinidad to be one of the major speakers at the symposium, "African People and Money" that was sponsored by the National Empowerment Association of Trinidad and Tobago. There is good reason why Sharon Tayor, Stevenage Borough Council leader and close colleague of Sherma's announced on January 12: "I have had messages from people all over our country, from Europe and across the boundaries of party politics. It is a tribute to her that she touched so many lives in so many different ways."

Norman and Sherma were sent off to the other world with great fanfare from the towns that adopted them: one in England, another in the United States. They were taken from us much too early: Sherma was 59; Norman was 35. As the dignitaries of these towns paid their tribute to these two giants, I wondered if they knew that they arose from humble homes in Trinidad, West Indies.

I knew my grandmother Rose, Tantie May, Tantie Lulu, Tantie Amy and Aunt Laura. They were long livers. Tantie May lived to over 100 years. She was the grandmother of Neville de Verteuil, Deputy Director of Trinidad Customs. Norman and Sherma did not know their ancestors. Nor could they have known that the Portuguese who came from Fayal and Madeira in July 1834 were the first indentured laborers to work on the sugar estates of Trinidad. William Hardin Burnley, the biggest slave owner in the country, noted that their work on the sugar estates, in every respect, "was found to be equal to that of the Negroes most accustomed to it."

We do not know the web we will weave when we set out on our life's journeys. Ours is neither to ask why nor wherefore but to live the best lives we can. At her funeral, the Munirah Theatre Company recited "In Remembrance of Sherma," a poem they composed in her honor. It read in part: "Take the Trini sun and sand,/ fashioned into a brilliant smile/to light the deepest grey of England/with beauty and with style... Take her passion and her desire/to be the voice of those unheard... / a shinning star, she did her part./ What a woman, what a life!/her mission to create a better world/We celebrate and miss you Sherma/A diamond, a gem, a pearl."

Sherma and Norma: Go home in peace.

Proffessor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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