Repairing the Breach in the Caribbean
By: Donald M. McCartney, D.M., MPA, MSc.Ed. (Hons.), B.A., T.C.
On 16 April 1889, while speaking on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, Frederick Douglass attempted to harness and clarify the defining questions that were of importance, at the time, with respect to Black men and boys.
“….Mark, if you please, the fact, for it is a fact, an ominous fact, that at no time in the history of conflict between slavery and freedom in this country has the character of the negro as a man been made the subject of a fiercer and more serious discussion in all the avenues of debate than during the past and present year. Against him have been marshaled the whole artillery of science, philosophy, and history; we are not controlled by open foes, but we are assailed in the guise of sympathy and friendship and presented as objects of pity.” – Frederick Douglass
As we approach the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the same questions, regarding Black men and boys, are being raised again.
These questions are being revived because many, too many Black men and boys are not a part of the economic structure or the body politic. Upon close examination, it becomes clear that many of them are not in community with their ethnic group.
For the most part, Black men and boys live in isolation, better yet, they are marginalized. They find it difficult to connect with society in general and the significant persons in their lives in particular.
The spiraling murder rate and other acts of violence (particularly against young men and the elderly), makes it clear, that many Black men and boys in the Caribbean, pose a serious and critical problem of interpersonal violence in every corridor and thoroughfare that Caribbean peoples and residents must cross. Consequently, Black men and boys in the Caribbean are feared, demonized and vilified.
When Frederick Douglass spoke in the late 19th Century, he raised the following crucial and defining questions:
- How does one protect a group from public dissection as if it existed as a mere aberration in the society?
- How does one create for that group a group concept so that it is able to sustain itself as a self-respecting group within (the Caribbean) a society, which views it as an aberration?
The answers to these questions must be sought as we search for a way out of the morass in which we, as a people, find ourselves.
The answers to these questions must be found; so that we can save our Black men and boys.
The answers to these questions must be found; so that we can free those Black men and boys who have become slaves to violence and crime. We must come to the realization that, that which impacts Black men and boys impacts all Caribbean people and those who reside among us.
The answers to these questions must be found as we continue to approach the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
Unless and until the answers to these questions are found, we will continue to be a people in a quandary.
There is a breach within the fabric of Caribbean society, which has led to a breach in the lives of Black Caribbean males. A serious attempt must be made to repair this breach at all cost.
All Caribbean people, who are concerned about the state of the Caribbean in general and the fate of the Black Caribbean male in particular, need to ponder, take to heart, and act upon Isaiah, chapter 58:9-12.
“Then you shall call and the Lord shall answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness, and your gloom shall be as noon day. The Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire with good things. You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not, and your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt. You shall raise up the foundations of many generations and you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
The message from Isaiah is powerful. It tells us that the only way to create a genuine community is to become repairers of the breach, restorers of safe streets in which to dwell.
Becoming repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets are the foundations for assisting Black men and boys who are in trouble to move from trouble, to engage their families and ultimately build solid citizens.
In this regard, all Caribbean people must become repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets. Our future depends upon it! It is the imperative of now!
There must be a regional response with respect to the issues confronting Black men and boys in the Caribbean. This is no time for throwing up our hands as a gesture of capitulation, (posing the useless question: “What is wrong with these young men?) and rolling our eyes. It is time for action…serious sustained, positive action!
Those who become engaged in this regional response must be individuals who are prepared to make a difference in the issues of Black men and boys in their communities. To this end, the Caribbean must move towards the establishment of a Regional Task Force on the State of Black Men and Boys in the Caribbean. This is the advocacy here-in. This Task Force is hereby branded the Thurston Foundation in honor of Charles Thurston (1910-1980), an influential community figure in the Bahamas and in the life of the author. He demonstrated the most effective and efficient training for “raising a boy in the way he must go” (Proverbs 22:6). According to scripture, “give men of that sort, double honor” – 1 Timothy 5:17
The work of the Thurston Foundation, as an NGO (Non-Government Organization), should and must be a joint venture between governments of Caribbean member-states and Corporate Caribbean.
The Thurston Foundation must be appointed post haste and without reference to political affiliation.
The Thurston Foundation must come from a broad spectrum of concerned citizens and residents from the public and private sectors.
While these persons should be qualified for the task at hand, the Thurston Foundation must be comprised of men, women and young persons who are committed to the task of repairing the breach and restoring the streets.
The purpose of the Thurston Foundation will be to provide ideas that Government, organizations and individuals in the Caribbean can use to change the lives of Black men and boys, change communities, and by extension change their nations.
The primary aim will be to create a long-term structure of sustained intervention for Black men and boys who find themselves in trouble. The emphasis of the Thurston Foundation will be on systemic change that will bring together a multiplicity of ideas in an effort to reduce violence and crime, thus making the Caribbean’ social life whole again.
The Thurston Foundation must not shape itself around the issue of violence. Violence, in the Caribbean, has been painted with a broad brush because Black men and boys are looked upon as the face of the violence. This violence appears to have immobilized law abiding citizens into a state of panic and fear.
It must be understood by the Thurston Foundation that simplistic approaches and stereotypes are not the way forward in rendering assistance to men in general and boys in particular.
The Thurston Foundation must be mindful that there are other forms of violence that are the precursors of the violence that is perpetrated by some Black men and boys. Among these forms of violence are violence of the heart, violence of the tongue, political violence, religious violence and racial violence. These forms of violence have created in some of our Black men and boys the culture of violence that the Caribbean is experiencing today.
The Thurston Foundation must understand that violence is a symptom of a deeper and pervasive problem. The members of the Thurston Foundation must understand that finding a cure or attempting to cure violence does not of itself cure anything.
Even though the question goes far beyond Black men and boys, it is directly related to our young men in particular and their inability to participate and develop within the body politic and the economic structure of the Caribbean.
Mindful of these broad concerns, the Thurston Foundation must seek answers to the following questions.
- First: How do we bring relief and assistance to communities and families that are experiencing the great hurt and harm of violent behaviour?
- Secondly: How do we find a way to reestablish community and make inroads into violent behaviour, the major social problem of the day?
- Thirdly: How do we expect to engage Black men and boys in constructive dialogue and participation within Caribbean society while, at the same time, refurbishing the image that has now been unfairly placed upon the entire population of Black men and boys?
These men and boys suffer as a consequence of media and political short-sightedness, stereotyping and the actions of those who commit violent acts without regard for society.
The Thurston Foundation must endeavour to frame a public response to the Caribbean’s difficult policy issues regarding Black men and boys, while at the same time laying the groundwork for sustained approaches to put these issues to rest.
This could be accomplished by repairing the many breached relationships in our nation, communities and families. Members of the Thurston Foundation must acknowledge the fact that all of us have a role to play in the process of repairing the breach and restoring the streets. By this inclusiveness, Black men and boys will be restored to their rightful places in the Caribbean.
The Thurston Foundation must give consideration to three broad areas, which can assist in the transformation of the Caribbean, and by extension Black men and boys.
- The first of these is the human condition and human development. Consideration of the human condition and human development will give clarity to the common good as a working principle and establish a connection with one human to another.
The idea of the human condition and human development embrace the concept of fair play, expanded opportunities and the necessity for each person to be able to contribute to development of the Caribbean.
- Secondly, the ancient concept of polis states that members of a society have to honour their rights and responsibilities. One cannot have rights without responsibilities.
- Thirdly, the concept of public works or the important contribution everyday people can make to the commonwealth, which is best exemplified (illustrated) by telling stories of common work, and celebrating our common life and heritage and our efforts in creating citizenship.
The concepts of the human condition and human development, polis and public works will provide the basic framework for the report of the Thurston Foundation.
The human condition and human development, polis and public work are the keys to strengthening families, restoring our streets to safety, and rebuilding civil societies in our communities. These concepts must be embraced by communities, expanded upon, and put into practice in order to create safe havens for our children, the elderly, Caribbean people and residents generally.
The themes that should be detailed in the report of the Thurston Foundation should include polis, the common good, civic storytelling, grassroots civic leadership and restoring community institutions.
The concepts of the human condition and human development, polis and public work can be accomplished if civic, social, religious and professional organizations, as well as business, government and the philanthropic sector work together.
The Thurston Foundation should appeal to individuals and organizations to join in the effort to rescue the Caribbean and preserve it for all of its citizens and generations yet unborn.
The Thurston Foundation must see the need for wide ranging Regional Conversation and Dialogue if solutions are to be found.
As a part of this exercise, a Regional Conversation and Dialogue on Race, Ethnicity and Nationality must be a central part of the agenda. This is a major tool for assisting Black men and boys since public opinion is most vital when advocating change. Caribbean people can engage each other by learning to talk to each other and finding common cause.
This Conversation and Dialogue should take place over a period of several years. These facilitated discussions will begin with the Thurston Foundation members talking to neighbours, friends, peers and others in their homes, town halls, schools, churches and workplaces.
Boys and men in trouble or headed toward trouble have to decide for themselves that they wish to change. After all you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
Men and boys must assume personal responsibility and be held accountable for their actions. Parents must be prepared to parent so as to give young men a chance to succeed.
This is the light in which the Thurston Foundation ought to frame its recommendations and responses. It is anticipated that this new way of looking at how to bring violence under control, to be repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets, brings with it a spiritual, a practical, a pragmatic and political element. All of these elements must work together if we are to create a better society for these men and boys and their families as well as for all Caribbean people.
In order to accomplish the goal of creating a better society for all stakeholders, there must be an integrated plan of action. For example, the loss of a social centre in some neighbourhoods, settlements and cities requires that all civic, social, religious and cultural organizations act with a sense of urgency to plan from the local to the regional levels, to study their individual areas jointly, to combine their efforts in programming, and to cooperate in long-range planning; so that damaged or lost infrastructure can be repaired or replaced. A coordinated approach to these activities will develop a sense of organized companionship toward the goal of restoring our social and economic future.
A general discussion of the goals, missions and aspirations of those affected will determine agenda building and planning. Our civic, social, religious, and cultural organizations must develop themselves into a working network. This would give impetus to a new Regional Dialogue, thus adding voices to existing organizations. This new dialogue will focus on the bridges that must be built based on study and a sense of community mission.
The Thurston Foundation will have a life of eighteen (18) to twenty-four (24) months after which it will be expected to make its final report. There will be interim reports every six months.
The Thurston Foundation will be expected to make a number of recommendations in its interim and final reports. These reports will be designed to keep the Government and people of the Caribbean abreast of its findings.
The information gathering meetings, of the Thurston Foundation, will be open to the general public, while its deliberative meeting will be held in private.
The recommendations of the Thurston Foundation will form the core of a ten (10) to twenty (20) year plan which will enable the Government and Corporate Caribbean to begin to assess and ameliorate the problems faced by Black men and boys in the Caribbean.
Discussion, of the issues laid out in this presentation, will go a long way in introducing the concept of polis, a comprehensive idea with respect to values, manners, morals, and etiquette that are required for structuring public life on both the social and political levels.
These areas present a broader and tougher vision of community. The term community, as it is presently used, is indeed overused and has little meaning. It does not have the kind of force of intent that is now needed to rectify and restore our homes, communities and nation.
This concept, of repairing the breach and restoring the street, will give Black men and boys much more room to determine how they will participate actively in the social and political life of the Caribbean. They must not be alienated from a society that their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents helped to build and develop.
There is allowance made for a discussion about how one becomes a whole individual and citizen participating in Caribbean society under the rubric of both polis and community, and the dependent social contract that polis implies.
In order to commence addressing the many issues facing and surrounding Black men and boys in the Caribbean in the 21st Century and beyond, public policy and activity must become aligned with the work of the repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets.
About the Author
Dr. Donald M. McCartney is a life-long educator and specialist in “Management and Organizational Leadership”. Though he is well-respected in his home country of The Bahamas – with success track records at every level of the education spectrum: K-12, Post-Secondary, Graduate and Post-Graduate – he has executed his professional vision throughout the Americas. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida and Jose Maria Vargas University in Pembroke Pines, Florida.