Following is an edited version of the speech delivered on Emancipation Day by President of the Barbados Youth Development Council, Cherisse Francis.
… I will endeavour to speak to and on the behalf of the young people.
To know where you are going in any journey you must first know where you have come from and the journey towards emancipation is no different. Every August 1, ever since 1834 when around 668,000 slaves were made free or partially free, this date has been met with much rejoicing and celebration.
Today, as we continue in this commemorative tradition, we must not only sing and dance and speak but we must quietly reflect on our past accomplishments, our present state and the future to which we aspire.
Our ancestors such as “Bussa”, beneath who we congregate, fought so that they and we in later years could experience a “setting free” that is, the true meaning of emancipation.
In doing so, they struggled to preserve and create a culture that is uniquely ours; an Afro-Caribbean melting pot which we can cherish and live out as our way of life.
So when in the name of development we refuse to sing the negro spirituals or preserve our oral tradition as the griots of yesteryear did are we still emancipated or are we instead becoming slaves to a new culture that is not ours?
When we refuse to inform our children about golden square or the screw dock and instead tell them of places that were transplanted to our island by another what are we saying to the youth about “we culture”?
Sadly it seems as though we have forgotten that home drums beat first and instead of being emancipated we have just become slaves to a new master. So today, I on behalf of the youth acknowledge the contributions of those who set us on our path and gave us a beginning… I charge you, when you reflect, share with others and give the youth a look into the past so that they may understand the present.
Even without understanding the true meaning of the word emancipation, our young people will tell you that they are emancipated and free beings and I don’t blame them. In a society which is riddled with a constitution and fundamental rights, statutes, conventions and a myriad of documents which proclaim our independence we appear as free individuals.
But for me I wonder if we simply traded our physical enslavement for another form of mental entrapment. How free can we as a people really be if we choose to remain uninformed and firmly bound to an ‘animal farm ‘mentality? Our ideology that one person is more equal than the other does not shackle us physically or force us to perpetuate the ideas of a master based on the colour of our skin but it does limit us.
Furthermore, discrimination against a person due to a disability, their sexual orientation or their religious orientation is another crippling hindrance which has left our society captive in mental prisons. When we liberate our thought processes and open ourselves to embracing people and new ideas then we learn, as we learn we understand.
Understanding often times brings unity which acts as a thrusting force to fight. Once again looking back to the past we learn that when we fight, we emancipate ourselves.
So … as we look back to the past and look inward to the present we can chart an emancipated future. Becoming emancipated implies that your future is limitless and unwritten; this means that your development is your responsibility…
As the Barbados Youth Development Council … prepares for International Youth Day on August 12 we turn to the United Nation’s 2013 theme for International Youth Day which is “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward”.
Though seemingly unrelated we link this theme to the events that surrounded emancipation in that our ancestors were forced to migrate from their homeland. They then took this migration and made a horrendous crime against humanity into a new culture; they developed. In much the same way, we as a people must embrace others and embrace our circumstances.
Always remember our past obstacles and triumphs and preserve our identity. Using this collective goal of development, we have ammunition to go forward and the manpower to do so… Emancipated people know themselves and are willing to understand others, they love, they learn and they fight. Emancipated people are set free to enjoy all that life offers.