Op-Ed: Answering the Call to Create History – Sobering Thoughts on Caribbean American Heritage Month


Sobering Thoughts on Caribbean American Heritage Month

by State Senator Kevin Parker

To answer the call to create history is at times challenging. But if there is one lesson history teaches us is that we cannot be silent if we are to live up to the legacy of those who have gone before us. This year, in celebration of Caribbean American Heritage Month, I take time in sober study on the contributions to American life made by Caribbean-born and heritage people. In particular — and to inform my call to create “new” history — I reflected on the life of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). But before even examining the life of this son of Caribbean soil, let me say this: Caribbean immigrants have been contributing to the well-being of American society since its founding and from the first wave of West Indian migration to the United States.

Alexander Hamilton, the First Secretary of the Treasury was from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Counted  among famous sons and daughters of the region are: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cicely Tyson, James Weldon Johnson, Harry Belafonte, Patrick Ewing and Sidney Poitier.

For the early Caribbean American pioneers, developing an identity was a difficult task. But they reinforced their contributions with a strong cultural distinctiveness and regional pride that Caribbean people have maintained since migrating to the United States. Today there are countless Caribbean Americans in every field of endeavor who put their island nations on the national – and even the world stage. I bring to mind people like Congresswomen Yvette Clarke — who having followed in the footsteps of another dynamic Caribbean American contributor,  Shirley Chisholm –is making her mark in Washington DC. In entertainment people like Kerry Washington, Nicki Minaj, Grace Jones and Nia Long light up the stage and screen. Not to mention that Caribbean Americans are represented in every major professional sport in the United States.

So by celebrating Caribbean Americans for an entire month we are able to speak truth to power for those who have and are making a difference to our society. Great! So what is my point? My point is that the time is now that we ignite the spirit and uphold the legacy of people like Kwame Ture so that the contributions of Caribbean Americans are no longer microcosmic to the region but transcends island pride into world leadership.

It is said that leadership is not yesterday’s accomplishment but today’s task preparing for tomorrow. Hence I invoke the memory and stellar contributions of Kwame Ture–one of the most expansive thinkers and preeminent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did Ture provide the benchmark, he set the bar way high.

Born, Stokely Carmichael in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, on June 29 he rose to prominence as a member and later the chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), working with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Southern leaders. He once revealed that though he was aware of Civil Rights Movement for years, it was a television clip of a sit-in that influenced his participation. He told an interviewer: “When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds. But one night when I saw those young kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, ketchup in their hair—well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”

Ture’s work as leader of SNCC, his black power efforts and later those as an advocate for Pan-Africanism as the only true path to liberation for black people worldwide, are all well documented. It was in the month of June 1966, that Ture coined the expression “Black Power” when he said: “We been saying ‘freedom’ for six years. When we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power.'”

He explained the meaning of the phrase this way: “It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.”

In 2002, the American-born scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Ture as one of the 100 Greatest African Africans of all time alongside the likes of Mary McCleod Bethune, Frederick Douglas, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X. Rosa Parks, Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth. So my thoughts this Caribbean American Heritage Month is that our Caribbean organizations will be empowered on their journey of self-determination to produce, in this decade,  the likes of another Kwame Ture. Who is willing to answer the call to re-create history?

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