Unlearning Slavery: Inspirations of hope

The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer.

By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)

Dr. Gonsalves has brought to popular consciousness the term “respair” through his latest publication, “A time for respair:…”, a work occasioned by the recent series of force majeure circumstances; -Covid-19, volcanic eruptions, drought and hurricane Lisa,- that afflicted SVG, burdening the national psych. Not having yet secured a copy, my knowledge of its contents is limited to insights Gonsalves and Professor Beckles shared at its New York launch. But I too see the necessity for an embrace of fresh hope to fend off despair at moments like these. And there are present happenings, from which I draw this hope.

There is general endorsement of the clean-up of Kingstown with approvals of, “Town feels so light and looks so pleasant,” or, “This was long overdue.” Such sentiments give me hope that deep down our people abhor indecency and disorder, appreciating that cleanliness is the hallmark of civilized people.I dare to hope that we’ll stop defacing this “land so beautiful” living to our pledge of “our loyalty and love” for this, the Home of the blessed. Only the deranged believes cleanliness is luxurythe Poor cannot afford.

In hosting Cuban President Díaz-Canel, we displayed classiness hitherto unseen. Official meetings, social events, cultural performances, catering, …..; everything was substance with panache. This ignited hope that we can be a society where striving for excellency in all, is the motto of daily life; where we see our work as a reflection of our values, where quality teamwork as a nation is esteemed. In passing, Godwin Friday must be commended. It was his singular moment when nationalism prevailed over nonsensical party tribalism.

Christmas is here and CP rightly celebrates that “We outside again.” Corona may have rattled us but couldn’t knock us out. These rocks and people surpass the Rock of Gibraltar in firmness when facing adversities, as the anthem reminds, this nation united is a wellspring of constantly refreshed hope, emphasizing, “What e’er the future brings, Our faith will see us through.” The word “again” in King CP’s Christmas 2022 offering, symbolizes renewal, a fresh beginning. 

The revival of Nine Mornings some decades ago changed our Christmas, placing national culture at the centre of our celebrations. Its staging is no more the exclusive preserve of Kingstown. The lighting competition exposes the creative talent we see from Point in the north to Union in the south; steel band, acting, singing and dancing take over Heritage Square, making a uniquely enjoyable theatrical spectacle, warming the chilly December mornings, and bringing happiness from and to the souls of all involved. It’s an extravaganza of joy symbolizing this time of good will.

The above are but some immediate instances from which I grasp hope from the cultural arts. From these arts hope springs, inspires, and expands in further manifestation. Don’t get me wrong, fantastic infrastructure, good education, sports and the like all express culture, how we do things. The cultural artshowever, are at one and the same time the single treads and the completed woven tapestry in which our hope is bound up and lives. Probably Gonsalves’ book highlights the seminal importance of these arts to our respairing, for we recall the Caribbean artistes’ “We got this” in response to a rampaging Covid. That song begins “I, I’m a voice of hope.” James “Jamesy P” Morgan salutes the “Capeless Heroes”, while Hance John’s, Rodney Small’s, Darron Andrews’ “Hold the faith” is a moving plea that we must always have hope. These works created, built, strengthened, shared and literally injected hope when utter despair threatened. Be reminded that with the pandemic not yet ended, Steel Expression was well patronised, church services and yes funerals, continued. A people’s culture is what defines them through common bond, hence thousands poured out onto the streets for the 2022 mini carnival.

Culture was the driving force of the renaissance bringing Europe out of the Middle Ages. The Harlem renaissance in the 1920’s gave blacks in America fresh hope after the Great Migration. Then Claude Mckay, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many more employed playwriting, poetry, music, dance, i.e., cultural arts in general in uplifting a people, engendering a spirit of fresh hope that was adopted by generations that followed. Yes, respair we must! Our culture is the expressed embodiment of the values of our creative and spiritual being; hope being central to the latter, and without which the creed, “Our faith will see us through,” is meaningless.

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