By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 04, 2013
Two of my dear friends are reputed to have suggested that the Hindus and the Christians may be responsible for the plight of young Africans who find themselves in trouble with the law. They also seem to suggest that a Hindu-based government is to be blamed for out plight. I should hope that this is not what they intended to convey to the public. Such statements tend to inflame national feelings and deepen the national divide. I am a member of the PNM and count myself to be as conscious of my blackness as anyone else. However, I think we ought to be careful about what we say.
In the first place, if there is any government to be blamed for the plight of the young Africans, it is not the People’s Partnership (PP), no matter how much I disagree with their programs (have they really taken any serous initiatives about anything?). The PNM who have ruled our society for 44 of the last 57 years bears a heavy responsibility in his regard. While the PNM has contributed much to our development-much more than the PP ever will-it would be a lie of enormous proportions if we blamed others for our condition even though our precipitous decline in this regard began in the post Eric Williams years.
Many economic factors led to the present condition. For example, the drying up of the economic opportunities for our people in the Lavantille/Morvant area after the mechanization of the port and the destruction of plants such as the Grapefruit Factory that provided jobs for these people. Given the economic decline in these areas, the social decline was sure to follow. Particularly in this age of consumerism, a viable economic community can assist tremendously in creating morally and socially responsible human beings.
In the post Eric Williams era, the PNM took a hands-off attitude towards problems of the black youth and the development of black people. Three examples will suffice.
When the CEPEP program began (or in its early incarnation), I sent a memo to Prime Minister Patrick Manning asking that an educational component be included in the CEPEP program. Someone even suggested that I might be able to handle such a program, given my educational background. Mr. Manning liked the idea but was adamantly against implementing it. The reason: “What will Sat say?”
During the first decade of the 21st century, the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, at great cost, started an after-school program for students on the East-West corridor who needed help with their homework and had a difficult time passing some of the standard examinations. We had thought that parents, particularly in the San Juan, Morvant, and Barataria areas would want to send their children to school at a time that is the most dangerous for youths who have nothing to do. We never got a cent from the government or their encouragement. They never paid for one student to attend this school which closed down after the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Then there was the Government Self Help program. At one of our meetings, Sat Maharaj told me that the program had given his organization over one million dollars to assist with its mandirs and after-school programs. “Make sure you get yours,” he told me. Oscar Gooding, our Public Relations Officer went down to the Self-Help Office over twenty times. We never got a cent.
This raises the question, how could progressive groups in the community, including the Emancipation Support Committee who have run these community-based programs, actively assist members of their community when sitting governments, whether they be PNM or PP, refuse to understand the importance of public-private initiatives that seek to come to grips with dysfunctional urban youths.
Governments cannot do it alone, especially when, in the case of the PNM, they bear a constitutional mistrust of any black group that can partner with them to address these nagging problems. Imagine the difference it would have made (and still can make) if there were hundreds of these programs throughout the troubled (and non-troubled) spots of the island. Students still need role models, they still need closer one-on-one learning situations, and innovative programs (sporting, theatrical, literary, social, etc.) that speak to their abilities, cherish their potential, demand the best of them, and cultivate in them a sense of self-esteem and the feeling that they are worthwhile.
Let us not dump on the Hindus or the Christians. They have their own problems. We will get nowhere by creating false scapegoats. Nothing but fierce honesty will save us.