~ “No More Auction Block!” ~
158th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Abolishment of Slavery on July 1st, 1863
Good morning to everyone here in this space and within the sound of my voice. Last evening, I heard one of our Honorable Members of Parliament on the floor of Parliament, and she’s here today, the Honorable Ludmila Duncan say, “We are living in historical times.” History is being created in times in which we now live. Even as we commemorate history and our heritage that has passed on before, today, you can, we can make history. Those words touched me. As one of our Xenials as she calls herself, in between some of us as Gen Xers, even the baby boomers, and the millennials, generation Z, all of those who are still to come; Together we can!
Today, July 1st, is the ninth time since we started in 2012 to commemorate Emancipation Day in St. Maarten. We give thanks to the vision of those who recognize that this day is significant in our history. It acknowledges and should inspire us all. I recognize in that regard people like Camille Baly, Jose Lake Sr, Jose Lake Jr., Neville York, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell and many others played a pivotal role in ensuring that who we are and what we are capable of remains in our minds and I thank them. Because they did, we can and today, we commemorate all who are doing it, all who are busy making history and whose names will be called for years to come.
They promoted our history, not only his “story,” but our collective history, our heritage and our truth. Our truth, based on humanity, strength and the perseverance of us as a people despite that period of enslavement and the continued indoctrination. That indoctrination which served to erase a great part of our culture and history by substitution and years of enslavement and discrimination.
Yet, here we stand today, 158 years later made official. If you know our Ponum song, for many years massa been a hide’em. Everyone knows what that phrase means right? Because St. Maarten is unique, in that two colonial powers amicably shared this 37 square miles island; this land of salt; this oualichi land. And when one side was free in 1848, guess what happened? And many first of Julys we celebrated the run for freedom over that hill in Cole Bay into Bellevue. And when that could not be sustained any longer because the “property” that you paid good silver for, on the same aution block, was running away and therefore your are not able to make anymore money because of capitalist reasons. There was an agreement that “okay, these over here free too.” But then the rest of the Dutch Kingdom; the rest of what was the former colonial dutch islands were then declared free.
But today, we have to stand proud, because recognizing this true history and the lessons learned, the lives lived, exemplary of that same identity that was trying to be erased, we must learn to love our uniqueness, our strength, and our resilience through the times. We must also still look, evaluate, assess
and recognize all vestiges of colonialism still present in our systems and in the way we think. Because hundreds of years of indoctrination will not be erased in 158 but every step made is a building block in that history of self-pride, self-love, and our I can do it-ness regardless. It’s up to all of us but it starts in the mind.
Though there is no more auction block on which we physically stand, where we can be bought and sold, we are still in meetings around conference tables and now virtually bargaining for our lives, bargaining for our souls and also for a few pieces of silver for our survival with the blood sweat and tears of our own people.
I remember getting what they call ‘chicken skin’ a couple years ago when the manifestation was just up the street and it was the atlantic remembers or the sea remembers. Seeing these bodies coming out of the water it reminds us that the ships remember, the sea remembers, the sand remembers, the earth remembers and all our ponds remember because our ancestors blood sweat and tears are in there.
I recognize that we are in historical times and today, a concerted step was made in the city of Amsterdam whereby the Mayor apologized for the role of Amsterdam city in the history of the enslavement of people that actually was at the time, 40% of the economic development of the Netherlands. It’s a start. It’s a start.
Recognition of the atrocities against humanity where today, we can talk about human rights, that auction block signifies that we were not regarded as human; we were things, we were posessions to them and we were seen as less. Today, we are supposed to be in a kingdom. Today, we sit as equals at a table and everyday I see the recognition and the respect growing. So we are making history and though it might not go as quickly as some of us might liked, especially me, I have learned to be patient. I have learned to take the small wins for my country. I have learned to accept that it has been a long road and the road continues and there will be more behind me.
Today is for this generation of baby boomers and Gen Xers. We did not know these terms when we were growing up but I think I was born in a time when we had to do without and we came in to a time of technology where we could do alot more. That is why I say to my people ‘today, we have no excuse.’ Many of us were kept back from education in the past, however, what is our excuse now? Education is right here (in our smartphones). The time we spend playing games, if a tenth of that is spent enlightening our minds, as to the power within our minds, it would be amazing what we could produce and what we could do. That is why I keep having hope. I keep saying ‘We Can!’
In the time that I have this platform that will continue to be my battle cry. It doesn’t have to be with aggression and it doesn’t have to be with insults because as you treat someone as you want to be treated with respect, you must show respect. Respect does not mean you are going to be given your right all the time as well.
Something that I have seen change lives of the students in my classroom was a concept by Rita Stein called R.I.C.E; Respect, Impulse Control, Compassion and Equity. Respect starts with yourself. I can remember when I started to say little curse words, I would hear the elders say ‘stop disrespecting yourself’ and I didnt understand what that meant. We tell children respect us but we have to teach them to respect themselves. Children learn what they see so no matter what you say or what you do, it is what they will do, so start with self. Everything I do is a reflection of me. It doesn’t matter what
happened before, it doesnt matter what happened or what I think caused it. Start with self, respect yourself and then you can respect everyone whether they’re right or whether they’re wrong.
Impulse control - If someone says something on the floor of Parliament, I would prefer to do something aggressive; that base animal instinct but I have to control that. We have to control impulses to show that we are in control of ourselves because when you don’t outer forces are controlling you.
Compassion - It means put yourself in another person’s shoes. Try to see what they are dealing with today. Compassion; feeling for somebody. You don’t have to love them; feel for them. “I understand where you are coming from today, you need a win. I’ll let you have that win.”
Equity - Equality is a word we like to use but I like equity. That is why when I found those four rules of life I use them. Not everyday I can keep them, but I wake up the next day and try my best again. That is all we are asked to do as human beings. Equity means giving each what they deserve. I always use the example as a mother with two children 10 years apart. They do not eat the same amount of food and they don’t have the same requirements. The older one actually needed more love and attention, more one on one than the younger one. The younger one is a free spirit; goes as he pleases. As a parent you have to recognize what your child needs and give them what they need and when one says ‘You love that one more than me,’ say ‘No, I’m giving you what you need, if you need more, tell me.’ And that is how we need to treat people in life; equitably.
And so, as we remember what we are here for today, remember you are not a thing, you are not something to be bartered and you have a brain; the power is within you. I challenge each and everyone today, find your passion and your dream and go for it no matter what. Then we will truly have left the auction block.