Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by George Griffith
On November 26, 1966, I was a 17-year-old country boy with no more than a seventh standard education and did not fully comprehend the significance of Independence.
Today, some 54 years later, as a 71-year-old senior ctizen, not only do I have a full understanding of the achievement of Independence for an island that is 21miles long and 14 miles wide, with a population of 250, 000 souls, at that time, but I do know that we, as an island nation, have done exceptionally well over the past 54 years.
We as a people must never forget that we are descendants of slaves and that our fore-parents have known great tribulation over many years.
I certainly cannot forget that children (like my mother of blessed memory, who departed this life eleven weeks ago at age 93), were forced to leave school at a very tender age to work on the plantation in the third class gang, as it was called, when their parents would have preferred that they remained in school as rudimentary as it then was.
Life for children in those colonial days before Independence was exceptionally brutish, and dreams of a brighter future remained unfilled for thousands of boys, girls and their parents.
The vast majority of men, women and children were subjected to a system where acceptable quality health care was neither available, accessible nor affordable. Those were the days when infant and maternal mortality rates were unconscionably high and consistently cried out for attention.
We have certainly come a long way from the days when education and indeed, school places were limited to a privileged few.
In those days, genuine democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms were seen as foreign concepts which seemingly were always beyond the reach of a wide cross-section of the disenfranchised masses.
At long last, a flickering light at the end of the proverbial tunnel came when our people’s “slough of despond” found relief in the courageous leadership of the late Clement Payne and Grantley Adams (now Rt Excellent Clement Payne and Rt Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, both National Heroes) and others.
These brave forefathers took a stand in defence of the rights, welfare and liberation of our dispossessed and disadvantaged fore-parents in 1937. This action paved the way for the breaking down of those remaining barriers to enfranchisement and the ultimate introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951, when for the first time, all persons were free to cast their vote for the person or political party of their choosing without the blatant discriminatory, restrictive qualifications enforced by the then colonial system, designed to keep our ancestors and people like you and me in perpetual subjugation.
As an independent nation, we must acknowledge that we are not perfect. However, we can be justly proud that over the years we have maintained a consistent focus on improving the quality of life of our people.
Education and educational opportunities are now available without let or hindrance. We, as a free country, now exercise control over our affairs, both internally and externally. With this freedom comes a commensurate level of responsibility which must never be taken lightly.
I urge you, boys and girls, not to take your youth and the many educational opportunities you have for granted and to make the fullest use of them. I further urge you to see these as the country’s investment in your future growth and development.
We can safely conclude that Independence has resulted in a vastly improved quality of life for each and every Barbadian. The enjoyment of these significantly improved socioeconomic conditions eluded our forebears, who must be remembered with much affection, as the stepping stones to the modern and progressive Barbadian society we enjoy today.
I conclude by commending each and every one of you for the contribution you have made and continue to make to your families, your communities, this your school and by extension, our beloved country Barbados.
There is no doubt in my mind that our nation will continue to grow from strength to strength and that each and every one of us will seek to write our names on history’s page with expectations great and further; that we shall aspire to be strict guardians of our heritage and firm craftsmen of our fate.
A fate which will soon lead us to that bold and courageous step beyond Independence and ultimately to the well-deserved status of Democratic Republic of Barbados within the Commonwealth of Nations.
A happy and hopefully, final Independence Day to us all.
George Griffith, the Chairman of the Board of the Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary School, delivered this address to mark Barbados’ 54th anniversary of Independence.