Berbicians call for more educational programmes on black history By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
April 8, 2002

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A number of Berbicians have called for more educational programmes to be launched and sustained during the year on black history. The calls were made on two live call-in television programmes aired on Little Rock Television Station (LRTVS) and two public fora held in New Amsterdam and Corriverton during Black History Month which was observed in February.

The fora were organised by two lecturers attached to the University of Guyana Berbice Campus, Dr Rishi Thakur and Paulette Henry, and they were assisted by a group of students.

Speaking at a forum held at the New Amsterdam Town Hall on February 27, Dr Thakur said it was the responsibility of the university to ensure that the community understands more about each other. "We do not know very much of each other's history and most of our attitudes toward each other today is informed by precisely this ignorance," he told the gathering which included senior students of secondary schools. "It is not about promoting one group over another or giving more time to one group over another but simply saying we owe this to our community."

Also speaking at the forum was sociology lecturer, Henry, while several students read selected pieces from books written by prominent black authors. Following the presentations a lively discussion ensued between the panellists and participants with many praising the university for leading the way in convening the public forum and calling for a sustained programme of activities aimed at heightening awareness of black history and the achievements of Guyanese of African descent.

Concerns were also raised by participants over the absence of any other activities in the region to mark the significant contributions of Africans throughout the world.

A live call-in programme on LRTVS on February 18 sparked widespread interest throughout Regions Five and Six as scores of callers contributed to the discussion. The programme was centred around the achievements and contributions of Guyanese of African descent, their history and present status. The panellists were Henry and Canada-based Guyanese journalist, playwright and cultural activist Ras Leon Saul.

According to Henry "a lot of negatives are tied to our history but it is a very rich history, a history built on hard work and on good moral values." Expressing concern over the social status of the black person in Guyana today, she posited that "if Guyana is to develop, blacks have an important role to play in that development."

Saul in his opening remarks referred to the February 1763 Berbice Slave Uprising, describing it as an "important milestone in the whole continuum of black history. The producer of "For Better, For Worse", a stage play which was also adapted for radio, took issue with the term Black History Month saying a more appropriate label would have been African History Month. "Guyanese of African origins," he said, "must move from the rearguard to the vanguard and must become leaders again instead of mere followers. We tend to be in an inferior mental state of who we are but we must become proud again of our culture and history."

Noting that there is need for Guyanese of African ancestry to be re-educated, Saul argued that "we seem afraid of leadership and said this is the reason why there is a dearth of good black leaders in Guyana today. Black leaders tend to forget their roots and culture. Yet we cannot talk about black history if we do not talk about black economic pursuits .. we are disengaging and disconnecting if we do this."

Henry said research conducted by her found major concern about black political leadership. "Men seem not to be rising to the challenge and seem to be back-pedalling from the challenge of leadership." According to the sociologist "there are more black boys out of school than girls, there are more young black men in prison than any other ethnic group and a similar situation exists at the National Psychiatric Institution."

According to Saul, there are still attempts in Guyana to separate blacks from the other ethnic groups. "We have to involve the rest of Guyana in Black History Month since we cannot separate the fact that all ethnic groups are inter-twined into a concept called the Guyanese race." Black History Month, he argued, has to address the issue of why blacks feel inferior and weaker than the other ethnic groups today.

Henry, responding to a caller, said "we have lost sight as a people of many of the value systems that brought up many of us today .. we have shifted values." Calling on blacks to re-build the family structure, she noted that the traditional black family placed a high value on education. "Are we taking advantage of all the available opportunities to fully educate ourselves so we can live and not only survive?" she asked.

Saul called for a Guyanese vision. "If a nation does not have a vision it will perish but it seems we have run out of visions in Guyana and this is why there are so many problems affecting blacks today." Churches, he said, can be used as focal points for economic activity. "They can even function as banks to mobilise capital in the communities but this is not being done. They can also function as community centres and learning centres to develop industries. Religion must go beyond the theatre of righteousness and become utilitarian."

"Black History Month is a time for introspection," said Henry. "It is a time to try and hold the family together since the family is the foundation of black people. It is a time when the black family has to re-educate their children in terms of their value system. It is a time when black people should think seriously about banding themselves together for economic uplift and development."

The majority of the callers emphasised the importance of educational and awareness programmes on black history not only during Black History Month but throughout the year.