Wednesday, November 27, 2013


The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society. The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents. The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.
Article 7 from the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” which was adopted by the United Nations as General Assembly Resolution 1386 (XIV) on 10 December 1959
I had a very interesting conversation with my grand-daughter on the weekend of Saturday November 14 - Sunday November 15 about the history and value of education for Africans especially in North America where we live. The conversation began as she was doing her homework and it soon became obvious that she was also very interested in how to handle bullying. The conversation meandered between the history of enslaved Africans being denied formal education to today where all children are entitled to free elementary education and should also enjoy their time in school free from bullying.
Canada is one of the now 193 countries that have signed the “United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” We discussed Article 7 at length because that article deals with the right to education and for "full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right." The right to enjoyment of education, play and recreation is something to which every child is entitled. Children also have the right to: "an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society." Our discussion included the role of those adults who work in the education system to ensure that children were free from bullying so that they could develop their abilities, individual judgement, sense of moral and social responsibility to become useful members of society. We discussed what being a useful member of society would be and agreed that in elementary school it included doing homework to ensure taking every opportunity to learn. On the website of the "Canadian Coalition of the Rights of the Child" (CCRC) we read about a report on how well Canada implements the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CCRC also makes recommendations for major changes.
One of the recommendations from the report entitled "Right in Principle, Right in Practice" was: "Canada needs to focus on developing the full potential of every child, to help address the challenges of its aging population. That is the central theme of the report. Too many children face obstacles to realizing their full potential." My grand-daughter and I discussed the importance of that recommendation; that she and other children must be educated to "realize their full pot potential" to take care of the aging population which will be the people who are adults today. I reminded my grand-daughter that having access to education was a dream for our ancestors during the enslavement of Africans. We talked about the risks that enslaved Africans took when they tried to learn to read and write which is taken for granted by their descendants. Enslaved Africans risked being maimed and murdered by their White enslavers if it was discovered that they were literate.
On November 20, 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the "Convention on the Rights of the Child." On November 20 Canada recognizes National Child Day because of the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" which covers the rights of children (political, health, education, etc.,) in one document. The Convention has 54 articles describing specific rights for children. These rights include: Children have a right to good health, food and drinkable water. They also have the right to be raised by their parents. They have a right to a home, clothing, good food, an education and time to play. They have a right to protection from violence (which includes bullying by other children or adults) abuse and slavery.
Since 1989, 193 countries have promised to defend and promote the rights of children and improve their living conditions by signing the Convention. Only three members of the United Nations have not signed onto the Convention: Somalia, South Sundan and the United States of America. By agreeing to the Convention, countries like Canada promise to respect the rights of children listed in the document. All children are entitled to the same protection and services, regardless of whether the child is a boy, a girl, a refugee, Aboriginal, has a disability or is a member of a racialized group. Countries must ensure that children are not discriminated against on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion, origins, a disability, language, political opinions or economic status. Children have the right to give their opinions and take part in decisions that affect them. Children also have freedom of expression which gives children the right children to write a letter to be published in a newspaper or to participate in a legal public gathering.
By the time she was preparing to go home my grand-daughter was "wondering" why many adults (even educators) seem not to know about or care to recognize the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that every child has rights especially to an education and play time free from bullying.


November 15, 1979 Dr. William Arthur Lewis, a professor at Princeton University, is awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his publications about the economic problems faced by underdeveloped nations. Lewis's winning of a Nobel Prize in Economics made him the first person of African descent to win a Nobel in a category other than Peace. Lewis was born in St. Lucia and was the first person of African descent to teach in a British University or at Princeton University.
Excerpt from “African American History Day by Day: A Reference Guide to Events” published 2012 by Karen Juanita Carrillo
William Arthur Lewis was born in St. Lucia on January 23, 1915. His parents George Ferdinand Lewis and Ida Louisa Lewis were both school teachers who had immigrated to St Lucia from Antigua 12 years before their son was born. Lewis was the fourth of the couple’s five sons and describes his mother’s influence on his life after his father died when he was only 7 years old: “My father died when I was seven, leaving a widow and five sons, ranging in age from five to seventeen. My mother was the most highly-disciplined and hardest working person I have ever known, and this, combined with her love and gentleness, enabled her to make a success of each of her children.” Lewis was an exceptional child and gifted student who completed his secondary education at 14 years old. In his biography which he submitted when he received the Nobel Prize in 1979 he wrote: “I left school at 14, having completed the curriculum, and went to work as a clerk in the civil service. My next step would be to sit the examination for a St. Lucia government scholarship to a British university, but I would be too young for this until 1932. This job was not wasted on me since it taught me to write, to type, to file and to be orderly. But this was at the expense of not reading enough history and literature, for which these years of one's life are the most appropriate.” Lewis did sit the examination in 1932 and won the scholarship to attend a British university.
He described his reason for eventually becoming an economist as a result of the White supremacist culture of colonial Britain and its treatment of the people who were colonized: “In 1932 I sat the examination and won the scholarship. At this point I did not know what to do with my life. The British government imposed a colour bar in its colonies, so young blacks went in only for law or medicine where they could make a living without government support. I did not want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I wanted to be an engineer, but this seemed pointless since neither the government nor the white firms would employ a black engineer. So I went to the London School of Economics to do the Bachelor of Commerce degree which offered accounting, business management, commercial law and a little economics and statistics.” He excelled in the subject (economics) and when he graduated in 1937 with first class honours the London School of Economics gave him a scholarship to pursue a doctorate (Ph.D.) in Industrial Economics. His work was so noteworthy that in 1938 Lewis was given a one-year teaching appointment which according to him “was sensational for British universities. This was converted into the usual four-year contract for an Assistant Lecturer in 1939.”
In 1948 when he was 33 years old he was made a full professor at the University of Manchester. In his 2005 published book “W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics” White American history professor Robert L. Tignor writes: “Lewis was an immediate success in his studies at the London School of Economics. In 1935, his first year at the school, he won the Director’s Prize for the best undergraduate essay. He gained the runner-up award for the best research paper in the next year for his essay ‘The Evolution of the peasantry in the British West Indies.’ In 1938, while Lewis was still working on his thesis, the LSE staff took what at the time was a momentous decision. It invited him to join the faculty, apparently as its first black staff member.”
As a student in Britain, Lewis was involved in more than academics. He became a member of “The League of Coloured Peoples” an organization that had been founded in 1931 the year before Lewis arrived in Britain. The League of Coloured Peoples had been founded by African Jamaican Dr. Harold Moody. Dr. Moody was born in Kingston, Jamaica on October 8th , 1882 and went to London in 1904 to study medicine at King's College. After qualifying as a medical doctor in 1910 he was denied a hospital house appointment because the matron refused “to have a coloured doctor working at the hospital.” There were other positions for which he was qualified where the authorities refused to hire the doctor and he also had great difficulty accessing housing. Ironically Dr. Moody was front and centre in many of the “hot spots” during the blitz of London saving many British lives when the Germans ferociously attacked London with aerial bombing during the Second World War.
The League of Coloured Peoples was founded to battle the White supremacist culture to which Africans were subjected in Britain and the organization’s publication “The Keys” was part of the campaign. The young student William Arthur Lewis became one of the writers who highlighted the White supremacist culture and the oppression to which Africans were subjected in Britain and elsewhere. In a 1940 review of the White supremacist movie “Gone With the Wind” Lewis wrote about the racist portrayal of Africans in the movie. In his 2005 published book “W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics” Tignor describes Lewis: “W. Arthur Lewis was one of the foremost intellectuals, economists, and political activists of the twentieth century.”
Lewis’ activism continued when he moved to the USA. In his 1982 lecture entitled ‘Racial Conflict and Economic Development” which was eventually published in 1985 Lewis said: ‘Two groups are equal in the economic sense when the proportion of persons with income above a stipulated amount is the same in both groups. For example, if 10 percent of the green group have incomes above $15,000, the blues are equal if 10 percent of blues also have incomes above $15,000. More strictly, equality at one point on the income scale is not enough; we need equality all along the line.” He addressed the reality of African American’s position in 1982 during the Reagan era and linked it to slavery: ‘Race also serves more generally as a tool of exploitation, maintaining an abundant supply of unskilled labour, while at the same time offering the low income of the subordinate group as evidence that it would not use more freedom intelligently. Race was necessary to the plantation system because it defined at sight those whose labour belonged to a master.” Today in the 21st century with an African American President some would argue that not much has changed for African Americans economically. However with the recent examples of the harassment by NYPD of young African Americans who had the money to buy expensive merchandise at an ‘upscale’ department store in New York City, this part of Lewis’1982 lecture is still very pertinent: ‘Economic equality is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for racial peace. The psychological roots of racism have also to be destroyed directly, as well as by indirect economic and political action.”

Monday, November 11, 2013


On the night of November 7, 1841, the “Creole” a brig transporting at least 135 slaves from Richmond, Virginia, to the auction block in New Orleans, was about 130 miles north-east of Hole-in-the-Wall on the northern Bahamian island of Abaco. In the early darkness the captain ordered the brig laid to. There was a fresh breeze, the sky was a little hazy, and trade clouds were flying. The captain and his family, the passengers, some of the crew and presumably the slaves had all turned in for the night. The ship was dark except for a lantern hanging in the bow.
Excerpt from “The Creole Mutiny: A Tale of Revolt Aboard A Slave Ship” published 2003 by George and Willene Hendrick
The story of the “mutiny” on the “Creole” is just one of many documented instances where enslaved Africans struggled to regain or retain their freedom during the four centuries that Africans were enslaved by Europeans. Some of these stories only come to our attention when a popular movie is made about the life of one person or a group of people. The movie “Amistad” about the group of Africans led by Sengbe Pieh who successfully fought for their freedom is a case in point. There are books that languish on the shelves of libraries in Toronto where these stories are documented. The story of the “Amistad” was published in 1953, written by a White American. William Owens who wrote “Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad” did take some poetic license when he wrote about Sengbe Pieh’s life upon his return to Africa. As the African proverb says: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” and we need to be vigilant about other people writing about our history and telling our stories.
A White American couple George and Willene Hendrick published “The Creole Mutiny: A Tale of Revolt Aboard A Slave Ship” in 2003 where they wrote about the experience of Madison Washington: “An escaped slave who gave his name as Madison Washington had made his way to freedom in Canada. But in 1841, after a short time there, he determined to return to Virginia to rescue his wife from bondage. He failed to free her and was then captured and sold to a slave dealer who shipped him on the Creole from Richmond, Virginia, with at least 134 other black men and women, destined for the auction block in New Orleans. Off the northern Bahamian island of Abaco, Washington and eighteen followers, after a violent revolt, seized the ship and the Creole sailed into Nassau, where all the slaves who wanted emancipation were eventually freed by the British government.” This is one of the many stories of our history that we need to know about and not just when it is fictionalized in a movie.
There has been “much ado” about the recently screened movie “12 Years A Slave” since it made its debut at the Tellurude Film Festival (in Tellurude, Colorado) on August 30, 2013. The film was also screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, the New York Film Festival on October 8, and the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 19, 2013. I did not plan to see the movie as I am not much of a movie person I prefer to read the book. However I was invited to see the movie by an elder whose activism in the community I greatly admire so off I went on Saturday to see “12 Years A Slave.” The group of people who made up the party of moviegoers that evening are people I enjoy spending time with whenever we find the time to get together. The discussions about African culture and history (from the continent and the Diaspora) are usually worth the time we spend together (this time it was almost 8 hours.) The discussion about “12 Years A Slave” was so engaging I lost track of time and got home way past my bedtime.
The movie “12 years A Slave ” is based on the book “Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.” The book was published in 1853 the year that Northup regained his freedom from chattel slavery. Northup’s autobiography which documents the 12 years he spent in the “peculiar institution” of slavery was published the year after “Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly” which was a White woman’s take on the life that enslaved Africans led. Yet her book was reportedly the “best-selling” novel of the 19th century and the second “best-selling” book of the 19th century after the Bible. Northup’s book was also a best-seller for a time. According to an article about Northup published on October 28, 2013 entitled “Solomon Northup After His “12 Years a Slave”” written by Christopher Klein: “In spite of the memoir’s commercial success, Northup earned only $3,000, and his ultimate fate is still a mystery. The last mention of him in the press occurred in 1857 when a Canadian newspaper reported that he was forced to flee a scheduled lecture appearance in Streetsville, Ontario, when audience members jeered him with racial epithets.”
It seems that unlike the White woman (Harriet Beecher Stowe) who wrote about the lives of enslaved Africans, Northup and others like him who lived the reality disappeared from the history books until after the Civil Rights movement. Thankfully we now have the books that were written and the stories that were told being revived. There are also the movies and television versions of some of these stories. Although some of the movie and television adaptations of the “slave narratives” leave much to be desired at least there is some recognition that these stories are part of our history and this painful part of the history must be told. Knowing the history of our ancestors who struggled in their various ways to live to assert their humanity in spite of the senseless brutality to which they were subjected by the White people who enslaved them is important to our survival as a people in the White supremacist culture in which we live today. We can draw strength and inspiration from the stories of those who went before us and continually struggled to assert their humanity. We must determine to never allow our sense of self and our humanity to be eroded.
The matter of fact manner in which the slaveholders routinely brutalized the enslaved Africans sometimes made it difficult for me to watch the movie “12 Years A Slave” although I know from reading several “slave narratives” that this brutality was an everyday reality. Seeing the brutality and inhumane treatment of enslaved Africans in living colour on screen is different from reading about it. Imagine what our ancestors went through if it is so difficult to watch actors in these roles. The denial of the humanity of the enslaved Africans by their White enslavers is vividly portrayed in the words of the slaveholding Mrs Epps when she says to a grieving enslaved African woman whose children were sold away from her: “Have some food and rest. Your children will soon be forgotten.”
Solomon Northup’s odyssey (Avery Brooks acted as Solomon Northup in a 1984 film entitled “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey”) is not unique. His experience of being a free born African living in North America who was kidnapped and enslaved during the years of African enslavement in North America happened countless times. Ironically Solomon Northup who is the subject of the movie “12 Years A Slave” was kidnapped in the same year (1841) as Madison Washington made his bid for freedom on the slave ship “Creole.” Just like other groups who have been oppressed and ensure that the world will never be allowed to forget, we must know our history and ensure that the world never forgets. We must continue to push, to agitate for reparations since the White slaveholders were compensated for the loss of their property and their descendants continue to benefit from White skin privilege. We must continue to tell the stories and be proud of our heroes and sheroes and never forget.