Two significant things recently occurred to cause me to transcendentally journey home to Barbados. As I prepared a sermon for the St. Christopher patronal festival, I thought of their patron saint, the protector of journeymen like me. And then there is the news of the impending collapse of the Caribbean airline LIAT (leave island any time). The Caribbean already suffers from disconnection after BWIA became Caribbean Airlines and kept a regional focus in name only. To lose LIAT would be to inflict a near-fatal blow on the already beleaguered Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the movement of its people.
I have lived away from Barbados for nearly half my life and perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder for I miss her so. In my nostalgia, I reminisce about journeys and exiles.
My most profound journey has been one of faith. I remember as a child interacting with a group of Franciscan missionaries and knowing this was my journey. But anyone who knows me would know that that could never be a straightforward process. In my late teens, both the bishop and I concluded the Holy Spirit was not present in me. Instead, I would study political science and sociology and get to know the temporal rather than the spiritual world.
For a long time, Trinidad was my second home. My godfather lived there, and he was one of my few fans. His daughters are like sisters to me. From my godfather, I would see brilliance and encounter the shortcomings of being a man.
Jamaica helped to forge me intellectually and emotionally. The public policy programme at UWI Mona Campus under the late, great Norman Girvan would focus my mind on the development of the Caribbean; while the island, the birthplace of H.E. The Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. ONH, Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley, OM, and Usain St Leo Bolt, OJ, CD, would teach me passion. Mikey Witter, my professor to be later connected by relatives, gave me a greater appreciation of what being a citizen entails. There is a passion to Jamaica that so captivated me that I would eventually win one of her daughters as my own.
England, the ‘Mother Country’. With Caribbean, English and Indian ancestral derivation, the complexities of race are a lived experience. I exist at the harrowing and oft bloody point of intersection between coloniser, colonised and enslaved. England, the land of my birth, wrote the rules of fair play only to violate them all.
The Windrush Scandal would partially fracture my sense of self, as the land of my birth would seek to tell elderly travellers from the land of my identity, that they, UK citizens by birth, were no longer wanted; that they should go home. It was during the agitation against Britain’s systemic and institutional racism that the Holy Spirit would guide me. He and I became acquainted on April 4, 2018 at Westminster Abbey for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He remained in touch. Because of Him, I ended my public sector career and travelled to the US.
God, Barbados and two men really made me, but I am thankful for the many other women and men who helped shape me. The two men were – Dr King and the Rt Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, PC, QC, ONH. Notwithstanding their seeming cowardice today, Bajans were ‘badass.’ 125 years before the ‘US founding fathers,’ Barbados would become the first, albeit unconsolidated, independent country in the Americas. Sorry USA. The Preamble to the Constitution of Barbados references the 1651 Declaration of Independence.
As the first prime minister of Barbados, Father of Independence, and National Hero, Errol Walton Barrow punched above his weight. He taught us that we should be “a friend of all and satellite of none,” and that we, as a people, would not “be found loitering on colonial premises after closing time.”
Notwithstanding this resoluteness, a statue of Lord Nelson, the protector of English colonialism and oppression, particularly slavery in the Caribbean, looms over the National Heroes Square in Bridgetown, the capital. Heroes Square is a tribute to leaders of the antislavery, anticolonial and nationalist struggles. This juxtaposition is irreconcilable. Furthermore, and more regrettably, a tiny white minority still controls the vast majority of wealth in Barbados.
The Holy Spirit has now led me to the US. There is a legacy of black West Indian support for the struggles in the US including the aforementioned Marcus Garvey and Kwame Ture aka Stokely Carmichael.
Notwithstanding COVID-19, I am excited to be in the US. I believe that America is at an inflection point in her journey towards equality for all, endowing African Americans with those “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Through the Black Lives Matter movement, the now famous last lines from the Statue of Liberty poem, New Colossus, a significant part of the American narrative, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” are finally becoming truly inclusive, representing everyone.
America may yet prove Malcolm X wrong and make space on Plymouth Rock for all persons, regardless of class, gender, race, sexuality and ability, for all to enjoy the constitutional gifts that we celebrate and speak so beautifully of today.
I end with the reassuring quote from Dr King on the power of love, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” His faith resonates with me, as does Florida’s motto “In God We Trust.” Let freedom ring.
The Reverend Ambassador Guy Hewitt was Barbados’ first London-born ambassador to the UK. Following his work against racism and the Windrush Scandal, he ended his public sector career in 2018 for full-time service of God. He is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida.
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