Our Humble First Servant

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 27, 2018

“A true and worthy ideal frees and uplifts a people; a false ideal imprisons and lowers [them].” — W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folks”

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am beyond myself with pride that the present government selected Paula-Mae Weekes to be the first president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (TT). It speaks volumes about our confidence in ourselves and points the way forward. This appointment speaks volumes particularly when women are being targeted, demeaned, and killed with growing frequency.

Her first address to her fellow citizens was uplifting. She used the correct tone, uttered the right sentiments, and created amity among our citizens. Her address had the marking of a transactional leader. She performed the role of guide, motivator, and inspirer with aplomb. Her presentation reestablishes the esprit de corps of a nation that needs to feel a sense of common purpose.

President Weekes depicted herself as our “‘humble first servant’ with a mandate to render service with enthusiasm.” Her training taught her that she who wishes to lead must first learn to follow. Christ washed the feet of his disciples. Matthew admonished: “He who wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Her address was one of moral and spiritual uplift. She chastised those who only see doom and gloom in the society and insisted we “mobilize forces and resources to step out boldly and make TT a better place for us and our children all the while understanding that though faith is a necessity, without action it is useless.”

I would add that action without an informed understanding of the cause of the problem could be equally as blind. While I welcomed the imagery of light that cascaded through her address and her imploring us “to soldier on” one must always know toward what end one is acting. Such knowledge enables one to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Socrates admonished: “awareness of one’s ignorance is far better than the illusion of knowledge.”

Nonetheless, I appreciate her maxim: “A flickering candle can be as effective as a blazing bushfire in the right environment.” One is more likely to remember these homemade images rather than extravagant phrases.

It matters that President Weekes is a black woman, an Anglican, and a hard worker. As I thought of her achievement I remembered my mother, a staunch Anglican, and her insistence that we assist our brothers and sisters even as we praise our God. Her mantra was: “God only help those who help themselves.” Although this inspirational sentence is not in the Bible (Isaiah 25:4 suggests the opposite), it helped my mother to trod on when things were not as bright as they might have been.

But struggle on she did. She worked in a white woman’s kitchen, ran her sou-sou, planted her garden, sewed her dresses, and made the best of her life. She was a member of the St. Mary’s Anglican Church, the Mother’s Union, the Garden Club, and secretary of the Tacarigua Welfare and Improvement Council. I still have the book in which she kept the minutes of that organization. She praised her God even as she served her people.

President Weekes attended an Anglican School. Prior to becoming the president of this great nation, she was the chancellor of the Anglican Church of TT. She is an active church member. Like my mother, and my paternal grandmother, President Weekes was one of the thousands of mothers who kept the Church going over the years—be it the Anglican or the Spiritual Baptist churches.

President Weekes grew up in or was imbibed with a deep religious tradition (African and English Catholic) that taught her to understand, “‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,/ And grace will lead me home” (“Amazing Grace”). Some of my detractors will want to remind me that the author of those words was a slave trader (he later gave his life to Christ). He became an Anglican and wrote one of the most stirring hymns in the English-speaking world.

But it is to W. E. B. Du Bois we must turn to get a sense of the power of these black women who served their church and their state. He says: “No other women on earth could have emerged from the hell of force and temptation which once engulfed and still surrounds black women in America [and the West Indies] with half the modesty and womanliness that they retain. I have always felt like bowing before them in all abasement, searching to bring some tribute to these long-suffering victims, these burdened sisters of mine, whom the world, the wise, white world loves to affront and ridicule and wantonly to insult. I have known the women of many lands and nations,—I have known and seen and lived beside them, but none have I known more sweetly feminine, more unswervingly loyal, more desperately earnest, and more instinctively pure in body and in soul than the daughters of my black mothers” (“Damnation of Women”).

Wherever my mother was on Monday she would have rejoiced in seeing President Paula-Mae Weekes take her place as the first among equals in our land. She represents the best in all of us.

8 thoughts on “Our Humble First Servant”

  1. “The Educated Negro have the attitude of contempt toward their own people, because they are taught to admire the hebrews, Greeks, Latin and the Teuton and to dispise the African” Mis-education of the Negro, Carter G woodson. Why all this Religion? does Ms Weekes’ denomination have any place in the job she was selected to perform? We should demand that any sitting President of State be Secular. Isn’t Trinidad a multi-ethic, multi- belief State? are you basing your take of the Black woman of yesteryear? all the modern day western educated woman have going for them black or otherwise is their profession, they have played their part in destroying the Family/home. The notice is, there is no Husband or Children, but can anyone without a Family, comprehend what it takes to nurture? MLK told us that during the heights of England’ slavery of Africans, not once did the Anglican Church spoke out against that level of inhumanity, can one use that doctrine to heal a Nation/State? I’ve read Ms Weekes’ speech over and over trying to make sense of it, no great Feminine African or Indian was mentioned as inspiration, but a FAKE story of POLLYANNA. Are we living in two different worlds Dr Cujoe? or critical thinking been thrown out the window, Ms Weeke’ appointment is a political one, selected, not elected at the end of the day, the Prime Minister has the say. I will continue to say, that i’m all for the elevation of the African/Indian woman but RADICALISM must be part of that elevation, not fancy speeches, Obama had all the well worded speeches, but in reality, he was empty. Blacks in political power tend to talk the talk, not having the resources to back it up.

  2. Cudjoe’s emphasis on the President’s blackness, religion and femininity are probably the least important qualifying characteristics for the Presidency of T&T.
    T&T is a multicultural, multi-religious,multi-racial pluralistic society which is not primarily African.
    In my view President Weeks is superbly qualified to hold the position as someone who will represent and understand the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of the society without the religious, racial and gender baggage with which Cudjoe seems to be continuously obsessed.

  3. I tend to remember the first speeches (inauguration) of the six presidents which were supposedly inspirational. As one waits to see what would transpire with time of the sitting incumbent president then we shall see the salt of the individual. My gut feeling is she will outperform her predecessors. The interesting feature is she is the first woman president of the nation and the feminine instincts of care for the children of the nation will ‘kick in’. Ellis Clarke the one who penned our constitution, Noor Hassanali who was abroad during the 1990 bloody coup, ANR who literally bent the law on moral values to take away the 18-18 tie from the incumbent sitting government at the time and Max Richards the only engineer who commanded a 10 year posting like his predecessors with the exception of ANR and Carmona, each with 5 year stints. Indeed, we can criticize some of their actions doing their job but otherwise they did what was expected. The current POTUS is another kettle of fish who does so much wrong but seems acceptable with a 42% population support. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  4. A beautiful tribute to the President. In a nation starved of role models President Paula Mae-Weekes is a light on a hill. She embodies the strong and determined Africana woman whose life is one of dedication to mission. A missional person not distracted by the applause of others.

    I listened to her speech as she sought to clear the space on which she will stand. Perhaps the word inspiration comes to mind given her background in the field of law and having served so well in various capacities. It is against this background she is a light on a hill given that the justice department in TNT has sunk to an all time low. A pit of darkness with a judicial system like a rudderless boat adrift on the ocean without a charted course.

    Can she addressed the brokenness with some inspiring words or will she be locked into the prison of the presidency never to be on public display. Yes behind the scenes she will talk to a dysfunctional prime minister leading a dysfunctional government. But does he possess the ear to listen actively. She seems to be a no nonsense person who grew into that strong sturdy “guava tree”. The one that always provided shade and good fruit.

    My thoughts on the Presidency should be one where the office holder can pursue the greater good according to their innate desire. Michel Obama was a strong advocate for eating healthy and excercising. Other President wives were advocate for various causes. Our Presidency is stuck in the British Stoic mindset. Astute and aloof as was demonstrated by Sir Ellis Clarke. Perhaps the embodiment of that position.

    There has to change in the rigid constitution that would allow the President more flexibility as an office holders. Paula apart from being the head of the scouts can be a strong advocate for child abuse victims. She can pursue charitable causes along with humanistic causes whilst maintaining an “A” political posture. The office carries enormous good will but can become a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister if that is all it allows. As Dr. Rowley seem elated at the end of Carmona Presidency. One can only guess the nature of their conversations.

  5. “T&T is a multicultural, multi-religious,multi-racial pluralistic society which is not primarily African……” TMan
    While this statement holds true as a matter of semantics. There is definitely a cultural “push” to make the country “appear” more hindu in defining the traditional Trinidadian. I say this not to attract replies of racism against hindus but to rather analyze behavior and promotions of what is ‘Trini’. While known for most of its existence as “the land of calypso”, “the home of the steel band”, “the land of the hummingbird” etc. Youtube has pulverized that identity with “the statue of Hanuman”, “doubles as the national dish” and “roti as the most popular cuisine”.
    Adding to this is the local airways and TV networks being bombarded with hindu or Indian programming. Yes, we are a MULTI-CULTURAL nation but hindi is NOT our national language. So why are we forced to digest our local airways with so much hindustani conditioning?

    I am aware that this will provoke responses of irrational race provoking thoughts but first, I would like to ask the question, is that true? If my statement does not represent facts, then I sincerely apologies and take back my observations. Almost all the homes I visit, most people in Trinidad are not interested in local programming because the menu of programming is filled not with “multi-cultural” programming but pronounced Indianization of the visual media. This is not to say that such programming is unnecessary but whereas Indians are always complaining of equity and balance, there is little in this area of activity to encourage participation by the non-hindu. Most homes that I frequent have settled for watching U.S programming rather than local ones because of this.

    I felt compelled by that statement to make this comment because TMan also felt the need to comment on Cooper’s description of the President’s blackness. If Indians and hindus are serious about equity and balance in areas where they are not represented in great quantities, then we too should complain about things that tend to pulverize our participation.

  6. I agree that our new president chose the right tone and balance in inviting members of the society to work with her to make this a better place. Our country faces a lot of challenges. After fifty years of independence, we are still left as a people without a national identity. Jamaica, who gained independence at the same time as us is strong on its national identity. Every Jamaican you meet, regardless of race, identifies himself/herself as ‘Jamaican’. Bob Marley is without doubt a Jamaican treasure, beloved all over the world as a symbol of Jamaican identity. It used to be that we, as Trinbidadians had ‘ambassadors’ like Learie Constantine, Sonny Ramadhin, C.L.R James, Dr. Rudranath Capildeo and of course the great Dr. Eric Williams. Those people were not just identifiable but strongly Trinidadian in heritage. With the advent of American culture seeping into our habits of behavior, we tend to be anything else but cultural. The shops that used to sell us Mauby, sugar cake, peanut punch and tosco, now only knows pepsi, coke, hamburger, hot dogs and sprite. Where is the local flavor?

    Calypso is dying and the new generation cannot wait for it to disappear. When you look on the horizon, there is hardly a chance that we will ever see a calypso artiste with the talent of the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener or Shorty. Of course there are still some greats around like Gypsy, Chalkie or Shadow but they are few compared to the amount of young talents venturing into all sorts of pseudo musical story telling. The calypsonian is our local philosopher. He comments on the temperature of our longings, he sees the hunger in our eyes, he laments our failings, he rejoices in our happiness and yes, he watches every step the politicians make that might hinder our growth. Those times have almost gone and now all our ballades sing about is wine and jam.

    Our politics is deeply rooted in race and we discern our governments not by their performance by purely by how they appeal to our racial sensitivities. We have lost our sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Our moral compass is guided by the location and geography of our neighborhoods. We are definitely not interested in ‘nation building’, for to do so might require that we support an ideal that does not belong to our party of choice. We are a nation of complainers. We neither seek nor enquire about facts or functionality, we only care about those we identify with.

    So yes, this is the country that our new President heads. Her well chosen words on ascending to the presidency were fitting to all those who heard it, but the true test comes when she will be faced with making tough choices. We are a country divided by race, color, creed and class. We never strove to achieve the production levels promised with independence, nor have we tried to experiment with the discipline we need to be productive and worse yet, the only tolerance we have is to be punished by standing inline lines, sitting for countless hours in offices awaiting services.

    If her speech is a true indication of who she really is, then she is in position to call out our failings and shepherd us unto a better rail of understanding, so that we can understand each other better are are at present. I join in congratulating her and hope that her presence remains hopeful for a better Trinidad and Tobago.

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