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Garvey & The Abolition Commemoration Farce

Garvey & The Abolition Commemoration Farce

By N Oji Mzilikazi

August 23, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 16)

Mr. Hits told me about the Marcus Garvey discussion taking place at the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) on August 17, 2012 – the date of his birthday. Never mind I had no details apart from the date, and was disappointed in their 2011 Emancipation and Garvey’s birthday celebrations; I informed others about the event.

I scoured The Community Contact looking for an article or advert about the upcoming symposium for more information, but to no avail. I called Mr. Peter Francis. Luckily, he had a flyer that he read to me.

Given Garvey’s message and philosophy, given that the UNIA is the upholder of Garvey’s legacy, and given the steadily increasing educational failures of Black youth in Canada, the United Kingdom, the West Indies and America, how could the UNIA decide to present something as important as “A Critical Discussion of the Garvey Model of Education and Development of the Black Community” and not get it in our West Indian/Black newspaper?

I was sixteen when I met the Rt. Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. I was introduced to him by a dashiki clad, afro-wearing professor – a revolutionary sight among the teaching faculty, who from unverified reports was supposedly expelled from his teaching job in Jamaica because of his “extreme revolutionary and pro-Black politics.”

We – a group of students would go to his home to read, discuss and critique things from “Garvey and Garveyism” – what we considered the “Black Bible.” He was the only person we knew with a copy. It wasn’t available in any bookstores – so all the more precious. Though he had other “Garvey” papers and books; that compilation by Garvey’s wife Amy was the Holy Grail.

I had cut my teeth on the likes of Malcolm X, Herskovits, Black Panther ideology and Maurice Cornforth – Dialectical Materialism. I knew Mao’s little “Red Book” by heart. Garvey blew my mind. It’s as if he spoke directly to me. I wanted to walk in his shoes.

Garvey opened a whole new world of thinking, being and living. Garvey centered my politics. On account of Garvey, my socialist/communist leanings were replaced by Pan-Africanism. And though spiritual and religious philosophies were to shape my politics – making me the person I am today, Garvey holds a special place in my heart.

The event started an hour late – waiting for people to show. How can one attract people; consumers and/or participants to anything, if the marketing strategy for the product isn’t properly conceptualised or well-executed?

The seminar failed to deliver. There was no critical discussion. There were no nuggets of educational information for someone with children or family attending school to take away and apply. There was no conjuring of Garvey’s spirit or transmission of his light and electricity for inspiration and fortification.

As if the speakers were ignorant of the stated subject, lazy in their preparation, and depending to wing it from accumulated knowledge; they were short on being on point and presenting well thought out constructs.

Though a question period was slated after the three speakers, I interrupted the proceedings upon completion of the first speaker remarks. I wanted to know if I was in the right place. The esteemed doctor’s dissertation was nothing but intellectual masturbation and 360 degrees removed from the designated subject.

The master of ceremonies/moderator coolly shut me down with, “the doctor was setting the stage for the next two speakers.” The other two speakers never took the stage. They meandered as well.

Cliquishness and cronyism is of such that quite a few times the second speaker referenced comments made by the first, to try and imbue credibility to him, given my stinging remarks.

How can the UNIA execute their mandate and keep the spirit of Garvey alive when he is remembered once a year? How can the UNIA birth Garveyites, when its existence is kept secret and they remain a tight-knit clique of folks who have no fight left in them – a malaise that afflict many Black organizations?

A storied association like the UNIA ought to have monthly discussions on Garvey and Garveyism. Marcus Garvey is their raison d’être. They ought to bring in scholars and authorities on Garvey like the acclaimed and well-respected Tony Martin. Monthly discussions and the like would ensure when Garvey’s birthday come around, UNIA’s cup runneth over.

Thanks to the politicking by the Black Coalition of Quebec, the City of Montreal has been commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade for a number of years now. And while that is a good thing, it has basically remained a cliquish wine and cheese affair at City Hall.

The Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is jam-packed with stories and issues to be told and explored. It’s ripe for annual conferences that could bring scholars, authors and brilliant minds from all over the world, including Latin America to our fair city – to share, elucidate, teach, inform, motivate and inspire.

The Black Coalition of Quebec need to have a committee in place, and working year round to ensure there is substance in their annual observances. And, of course the committee would liaison with those in other countries who take Emancipation and the Abolition of Slavery seriously, and have a history of intellectual discourse and reflecting diverse voices.

While the first thing opposition will utter is what about the funding? Where there is will, there is always a way. Since the City says it is down with the program, it can put its money where its mouth is and sponsor a first class conference to get things started. Then, the organization can begin its quest for private sponsors and partnerships.

Through our negligence, our community is in retrograde mode. Yet, there are the selfishly arrogant who give no thought as to what would be their legacy. They do not groom leadership or attract skilled persons with strong personalities to help grow an organization.

Also, because of their battle scars from fighting the good fight, accolades and a sense of power, albeit empty, and the small change that come their way, they believe they’re owed a free pass or dispensation, and are entitled to sit at the head table, even when they’re tired, have no fight left in them, and have become an obstacle to progress.

We cannot continue to tread water. If leadership is too tired to get things done they need to step aside. Let those with the requisite knowledge, skills, passion, and loads of energy revitalize our stagnant to dying organizations. Give them the opportunity to make those organizations relevant once more, and hopefully, take them into the Promised Land.