by Salimbi Gill
“I trust that you will so live today as to realise that you are masters of your destiny, masters of your own destiny, masters of your fate; if there is anything you want in this world, it is for you to strike out with confidence and faith in self and reach for it” Marcus Garvey.
In 2020, we witnessed a global uprising in support of Black lives. Upon deep personal reflection, I realised that one important outcome of the Black Lives Matter protests is the urgent need for a public campaign that demands accurate representation of Black history and culture in public spaces here in Grenada.
As a matter of fact, this means removing slavery and colonial relics from public places in Grenada and renaming institutions to honour our local heroes and heroines. Marcus Mosiah Garvey is right! The time to be masters of our own destiny; masters of our fate, is now. With confidence and faith in self and country, we must reach for what is historically, politically and culturally relevant to our experience as a Grenadian people.
There is no searching for Grenadian heroes — we have several prominent Grenadian nationals who have contributed to our island’s development and who are deserving of recognition. Unfortunately, we lack sufficient places in Grenada to recognise them all but we should know their names and their contributions to our nation’s history and culture.
Furthermore, Grenada can be considered one of the most militant nations in the English-speaking Caribbean, if not in the Western Hemisphere. One would expect such a country to be a leader — and not a follower — on the issue of accurate historical and cultural representation.
How could a country that produced heroes such as Julien Fedon, Henri Christophe, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, TA Marryshow, Eric Matthew Gairy, Maurice Bishop, Bernard Coard, Chester Humphrey, Dame Hilda Louisa Bynoe and activist Louise Langdon Little — the mother of Malcolm X — be so distant from this conversation?
16 November 2020, marked a significant day in the history of Barbados and the Caribbean. Erected in 1813, the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson stood in National Heroes Square in the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown, for more than 200 years. Barbadians made the right decision in taking down the statue of Lord Nelson from Heroes Square and placing it where it rightfully belongs — at Barbados’ Museum and Historical Society. Lord Nelson, a British Naval officer, is a symbol of slavery and colonialism.
These colonial statues remind us that the enslavers and colonisers honoured and amplified individuals who exploited our ancestors, extracted natural resources from our islands; and, at the same time, enriched European countries while our nations remained underdeveloped and dependent on Europe.
Why is it taking our leaders so long to address the issue of historical misrepresentation? Why are our leaders so hesitant to correct this lingering pro-colonial problem? What motivates many people in our society to continue to defend this wrong?
I do not have all the answers to the questions I raised above but I will offer the following: that a lack of knowledge of our origin, history and culture, and a lukewarm commitment to deep consciousness-raising among our people, are two reasons for this lackadaisical approach to putting our colonial past behind us.
While discussing the issue of historical misrepresentation with progressive-minded individuals here in Grenada — our conversation is usually focused on identifying and removing physical structures as one way to reclaim our historical and cultural identity.
However, unlike Barbados and elsewhere in the world — Grenada does not have prominent statues of enslavers and colonisers in our public squares.
This 7 February, as we celebrate another year of political independence — I admonish us to look all around us — and let us begin a national discussion on what accurate historical representation could look like here in Grenada.
A serious national discussion will help raise social and political consciousness among our people and hopefully begin a process of finally ridding this nation of its deeply-rooted colonial past.
For example, let us revisit the debate on the Privy Council in London as our final Appellate Court — a matter of much greater significance than the Lord Nelson statue.
Unfortunately, Grenadians voted twice to keep the Privy Council as the final Appellate Court. What are our reasons for wanting to keep this colonial relic in place? Is it our distrust in the integrity of our kinfolk — men and women of our colour and hue?
Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth remains our Head of State and maintains a Governor General as her “representative” on island. After almost 47 years of political independence — we must ask ourselves: Do we still need a queen or her “representative” looking over our shoulders?
Her Majesty’s Prison, oh really? Her Majesty does not contribute to the management or maintenance of this facility or the well-being of its occupants. What if we renamed Her Majesty’s Prison to The National Correctional Centre? A new name will reflect the evolving research and evidence on criminal justice involvement.
Let us not forget another royal family member who also has an institutional presence here in Grenada: Princess Alice Hospital. What did Princess Alice contribute to the Grenadian society?
There are several health professionals who have served Grenada with distinction and at great sacrifice. Is it too much to name a health facility after one of them?
We now have a new health facility in Gouyave. I can safely predict that it will be named Gouyave Health Centre. What if we considered naming the health centre after one of the following Grenadians: Dr Barry Mc Barnette, Dr Trevor Friday or Dr David Lambert — these individuals made major contributions to the medical field.
My fellow Grenadians, it is 2021 and the Royal Grenada Police Force — our national security provider — carries the Crown and is a “force”, rather than a “service”. Grenada Police Service sounds to me as an appropriate name for our security provider.
Now, let us look at the names of our local streets. In St George, we have street names such as: Grenville, Melville, Scott, Green, Halifax, Lucas and Young. In St John — we have Upper and Lower Depradine. And, in St Andrew, there is Sendall Street. We also have Sendall Tunnel in the Town of St George. Where did these names come from and what are their historical significance to Grenada?
Renaming these streets should be a national priority given the Barbadian example — removing Lord Nelson from Heroes Square.
A practice that has always made me question the intentions and actions of our leaders is the naming of our schools based on geography. Did we forget that it was the colonialists that gave names to our villages and parishes? Why perpetuate this colonial faux pas by naming our learning institutions — Westerhall, Happy Hill, Boca, St John’s, St Mark’s, St Andrew’s, St David’s, Hillsborough, Grenville, Grand Roy and Concord — based on their location?
Now is the time to honour our outstanding educators who built the foundation of our society and who helped shape the minds of generations of Grenadians!
My list of educators, who should have schools named after them, is exhaustive and will definitely reflect my generation; educators such as Victor Ashby, Hudson McPhail, Creswell Julien, Glenda Mason-Francis, Irva Alexander and James Alexander.
And, as a student of history, I believe that TA Marryshow Community College should be named after the late Honourable George Brizan.
There is no doubt in my mind that TA Marryshow is a national hero. The National College was renamed to honour his contributions to Caribbean integration and regionalism by a National Democratic Congress (NDC) government — a party co-founded by Brizan in 1987.
Brizan was also a member of the NDC at the time of the renaming of The National College; and, I would not be surprised to learn that the recommendation to name the college after Marryshow was made by Brizan himself.
Why George Brizan? The late Honourable George Brizan was a distinguished Grenadian. As an educator, he taught at every level in Grenada — at the primary school level at the St Dominic’s RC School; at the secondary level — at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School; and, at the tertiary level — he was a lecturer at the Institute for Further Education (IFE) that now is TA Marryshow Community College.
Brizan also was a Minister of Education and held other ministerial portfolios and later served as Prime Minister of Grenada.
Moreover, he remained one of our most outstanding scholars and academics, publishing several works including the celebrated text: “Grenada- Island of Conflict.’’
The late George Brizan gave his life in service of his country and, specifically, to the field of education.
As a student, I would chuckle — because even in his budget debate contributions — Brizan would sound more like a lecturer, as opposed to his political opponent, Dr Keith Mitchell, who was always more practical and politically appealing.
I am sure there are other outstanding educators who are worthy of mention here. I am certain that you have your own educators that you would like to see schools or streets named after here in Grenada. Now is the time to rename our schools and streets to honour our public servants — our local and national icons — heroes and heroines.
Sadly, there is still a lack of serious national discussion on why these colonial representations remain intact more than four decades after our national independence.
Nations — with a far less progressive history than Grenada’s — have chosen to rid their countries of colonial relics.
The time to advocate and agitate for permanent removal of these “statues” in Grenada is now! Let us come together as a nation and make these fundamental changes a reality for ourselves, as well as for future generations.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” Marcus Garvey.