Or was it a day of reflection on our past and present, and a day of thanksgiving for the men and women who have taken an outstandingly courageous and principled stand in our individual and collective causes to make a difference in our lives?
If it was all about the former, then, respectfully, we wasted the day.
We have to appreciate our heroes. Doing so benefits us.
Who is a hero?
It has been said that a hero is no braver than an ordinary person, except that he or she is brave for five minutes longer.
It has also been said that a hero is a person who is afraid…….. to run away.
The truth is that a hero is a someone who faces great challenge, internal or external, with extraordinary courage, character, and selflessness.
It could be his or her conduct in a single situation that brings out his or her heroism, or it could be conduct over an extended period of time, even a lifetime.
Whichever it is, the same criteria apply.
Of every hero, we would expect enormous inspiration, the highest integrity, a heart bathed in unbiased justice, an unshakeable sense of honour, duty, conscientiousness, selflessness, fairness, forthrightness and respect, and a positive impact through the ages.
And while not all heroes achieve fame, all of them make the world a better place, whether they be a parent or guardian, a teacher or a pastor, a police officer or a fireman, a nurse or a shopkeeper, or some other person who has touched a life or some lives, or a ‘national’ or ‘international’ hero who has touched very many, if not all, of our lives.
By being heroes, they earn our respect, admiration and affection, they inspire and guide us, they give us a sense of self-esteem, pride and purposefulness, they galvanize and energize us, and they give us common cause, both as individuals and as a society.
Which is a necessary and wonderful thing, because unhappy are a people who are without heroes.
And, truth be told, we’re a people who are in desperate need of heroes, of both the ‘personal’ and the ‘national’ variety. This is so because we’ve lost our way, and social units and society as a whole have to some extent become unglued, and to a disturbing extent, dysfunctional.
Heroes are not given their rightful place in our hearts, in our homes and in our society.
For example, how many parents, guardians, teachers, pastors, police officers, fire officers, nurses, etc. are ‘personal’ heroes of our youth today? Very few, would be my guess.
How many boys( and girls) in our Federation do you think will tell us that their dads are their heroes? You know the answer, and you know the reason for the answer. And that in itself is one of the main causes of the antisocial and criminal behavior that besets our society.
And as for our ‘national’ heroes, Robert L. Bradshaw, C.A. Paul Southwell and Joseph N. France, what inspiration are we, whether as individuals or as a nation, drawing from them, other than the occasional paying of lip service? Not very much, would be my guess.
Through absolutely no fault of theirs, their vast accomplishments in our behalf are not embedded in our psyche, do not inspire and guide us in our daily lives, and are not appreciated by most of us, both old and young.
Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a significant number of our people might be hard pressed to point to one specific thing that any of these three men has done for our nation. Worse so for those who have become residents in our land.
We must do something to correct that, because while unhappy are a people who are without heroes, lost are a people who fail to appreciate, and to be inspired by, the heroes whom they have.
Mind you, a lot of us know what’s on Jay-Z’s or Beanie Man’s latest album or which movie actor is pregnant, and for whom, or which one of them just came out of rehab, or whatever. But we know little about Bradshaw, Southwell and France, and even less about Manchester, Sebastian, Halbert, Seaton, John, Solomon, Nathan and others.
Many of our young people would recognize an NBA player walking the streets of Basseterre, but they wouldn’t recognize Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, our nation’s first Prime Minister( and my erstwhile political opponent).
They’d be able to tell you about Lucky Dube, but not about Nelson Mandela, or about Movado but not about Marcus Garvey.
We must recognize our (‘personal’ and ‘national’) heroes of the past and of the present, we must document and honour them, and we must embed their contributions and their legacies in our minds, in the minds of our nation’s youth, in our institutions, and in our culture.
Until and unless we do that, we’ll continue to be a confused society, a society which doesn’t know the difference between celebrities and heroes.
As Gregory Foster said in his paper entitled ‘A Celebrity Culture in Need of Heroes’( 23rd July, 2006, see CommonDreams.org), referring to the USA, but equally applicable to St. Kitts & Nevis:
“We are a society of celebrity worshippers and voyeurs of the rich and famous. We are infatuated with celebrities. We grovel in their presence. We try to look and be like them. We mistake them for heroes. To most of us, who you are and know is much more important than what you do or stand for”.
And in addition, these celebrities and rich and famous persons who we have made our heroes, and in whose presence we want to grovel, are nothing but exploitative, hustling, confused and insecure self-servers. Yet, we embrace them as our heroes.
And why would we want to grovel to any man or woman anyway? No real hero would want ever us to do that, nor should we accept it for ourselves, not to mention the fact that God doesn’t like that.
We need real heroes.
And if we’re going to look for heroes, let’s look among persons worthy of the respect and reverence that befit heroes.
Let’s look to men and women in the history of our nation(right up to the present moment), our region, and our world whose lives and work, whether on a small stage( like a parent, a teacher, a pastor, a coach, etc.) or on a large stage( a major public figure),have inspired, focused and motivated us along the right path, making a difference for the better in our lives.
Men and women who, by what they did( and do) and by the stands that they selflessly and courageously took( and take), deserve to be elevated to hero status by us and by generations yet unborn.
Heroes play a vital role in character development. And our decision makers need to appreciate the importance of bringing the stories of our heroes to our nation’s classrooms, in the pursuit of the character development of the youth.
Look at what’s on the children’s school bags and school books. Look at what’s on their clothes. Look at what’s on the walls and other public places. Look at how they dress, how they walk, how they talk, and how they behave generally.
Clearly, they have the wrong people as their heroes. And it’s more our fault than theirs.
And we must fix that. Stories of our heroes, ‘personal’ and ‘national’, must be told in our nation’s classrooms , on its street corners, and on its radio stations and other media, so that we might be know, and be inspired and elevated.
The stories of our heroes need to be brought also to the stage, to the art galleries, and to public sites, so that our historians, our playwrights, our poets, our authors, sculptors, our story tellers, our actors, our musicians, our artistes, and our artists might play their roles in this all-so-vital mission of re-gluing of our society.
Knowing and embracing our heroes is a process, I’d say a revolution, which needs to happen, a revolution which, like all revolutions, must be driven by the people.
And once started, it will change so many things for the better, because it would help to end our confusion.
When I was a boy, my heroes were my father, my mother, Mr. Robert Bradshaw, Mr. Kwame Nkrumah( who I learned about from a book given to me by Mr. Bradshaw), Jomo Kenyatta, Marcus Garvey, Thomas Manchester, Mahatma Ghandi, a nun named ‘Mother Constance’ who taught me the joy of mathematics, Dr.Lake who was our family doctor; and a few others.
For the two years or so that we lived in Middle Island, a man who I knew as ‘Hooliang’ Gumbs was a hero. He took me to the mountain with him and he told me a lot of stories, many of which were well embellished by his over-ripe imagination. But to me at that time he was a legendary mountain man and character. And the bottom line for me was that he was a good man.
As I grew older, I gathered more heroes, such as Muhammed Ali, for his stand on the Vietnam War; Viv Richards for his stand against apartheid; Randall Robinson for his stand on Haiti and apartheid; Mother Theresa for her angelic, humble and utterly selfless service to the poor in Calcutta, India; Nelson Mandela; and others.
When I entered elective politics, I found a new hero in the Labour Party. His nickname was ‘Hep’, a poor, old man from Cayon who always seemed to have a cigarette in his mouth, who was as strong as an ox, who always had a ready smile and laugh, who endured his tribulations with little or no complaining, and who, night after night during election campaigns, could be seen carrying heavy equipment on his back, serving the cause of the Labour Party in which he had grown up under Mr. Bradshaw and his team.
‘Hep’ was a major source of inspiration, humility and guidance for me. He was, and will always be, one of my heroes. Those who follow me will know of him.
Likewise for the other ordinary folks who guided me in my politics, and who still show me their love, in my new life as an outcast from the DLP.
Who are your ‘personal’ heroes? And who do you think should be added to our list of ‘national’ heroes?