STORY By JACK WARNER
Professor Selwyn Cudjoe is my friend but he is also more than a friend, he is one upon whom an iconic stature is endowed especially within the African community of Trinidad and Tobago.
His scholarship has driven him beyond many boundaries including race but his voice was the parallel of that of the late Satnarine Maharaj as he raised issues relating to the perils of the African people and their sufferings from time immemorial.
He is a different type of scholar. His work is not just a description of the social landscape or a critique of a context. He is solution-driven and provides options to the challenges he raises, options that are both germane and applicable.
It is for this reason his work is well respected, his articles are widely read and he is not viewed as anathema to the national community because his considered opinions are well thought out.
So, when I picked up the Sunday Express of March 8, 2020, specifically to read the contributions of my friend and saw the caption “Black Betrayal,” I was overwhelmed with both sadness and excitement because the topic had links to my own scholarship, having taught history for many years at both the Ordinary and Advanced levels, and even as a part-time Lecturer at the University of the West Indies. I felt that even at this stage in my life Professor Cudjoe will provide me with something I could take away to continue my journey as an African man in this pluralistic
However, having read the article, I was truly disturbed because it reflected a dialogue of which I am all too familiar.
It was not just a dialogue that reflected betrayal but one that raised issues of abandonment, of rejection, of systemic hatred for a people who blindly supported a Government that they perceived was a reflection of their race in a country where votes are cast mainly on that criterion.
The dangers of sycophantic voting
The professor’s article contained a response written by one Aaron St. John and chronicles the type of suffering he witnessed under the PNM, living in the Hills of Laventille. What was most telling was that at his age, for a pretty long time the PNM was the only party he knew. St John was clever enough to acknowledge and point out that elders in the Laventille community spoke of these same conditions which have existed under the PNM for decades.
His complaint was not against the PNM; as a matter of fact, it was no complaint at all.
It was just a description of the life that people who believed that “being born a PNM they had to die a PNM” encountered and it was a reflection of the dangers of sycophantic voting and the results of being taken for granted.
St John’s narrative was an invitation to Professor Selwyn Cudjoe to abandon the pen and armchair type of critique and instead walk into the hills of Laventille and speak authoritatively from the standpoint of experience the sitz em leben (setting in life) of his people.
Aaron St. John has raised many challenges in his response to Professor Cudjoe but not only Professor Cudjoe but to many who are eager to condemn, eager to criticize and eager to articulate solutions for a demographic they only know about from a distance.
Aaron St. John has raised questions concerning the return of the absentee landlord who failed to understand the struggles and pains of the African slave on the plantation and who makes decisions based on skewed images with which he has been presented.
In Aaron St. John’s response, there is a cry for iconic characters like Professor Selwyn Cudjoe to come visit and spend some time in the Hills of Laventille, with a view to provide an emancipatory discourse first hand for a people left in bondage by a Government to whom they have been faithful for the last sixty-four
Opportunities and access to progress are unavailable
To the Professor’s credit, he took St. John’s invitation and the descriptive narrative presented by St. John was a reality that the national community could no longer deny.
The scarred psyche of a people has contributed to the social demise that has plagued us for the last two decades, and success stories of boys and girls who grew up from behind the bridge are quickly fading away.
The blame we lay at the feet of black people who come from these areas should be now discarded as truth, through an authentic voice which has now shared the lies we have been fed. Now we begin to understand that the crime coming out of Laventille is not the murders we read about or the gangs that keep multiplying, but rather the abandonment and betrayal of a people who served faithfully a Party for 64 years and received nothing.
My own experience has taught me that people from the Hills of Laventille have to forsake their identity as employers would not hire them regardless of their fitness for the job if they were to mention that they were from the Hills of Laventille.
Opportunities and access to progress are unavailable. Maybe the time has come for the people of Laventille to explode out of this human demise by sending a strong message to this Government that continues to keep them enslaved; by withholding their vote or voting a different way and see whether or not things will change in the communities where they live.
I am writing this story with a heavy heart
Laventille has a younger generation now. They see life differently. They are not brainwashed by doctor politics as their forefathers have been.
This younger generation is not fooled by social makeshift jobs like URP and CEPEP. These are children with a different kind of ambition; children who want to become engineers, lawyers, doctors, scientists even politicians. They want the same access to progress like children living in other parts of the country.
But without de jure representation, a de facto model will arise because nature abhors a vacuum and thus we understand now why it is despite the human cries to do something about the gang culture, it continues to multiply. The main reason is that people like Fitzgerald Hinds, Adrian Leonce and Marlene McDonald according to the people, have abnegated their right to lead.
Aaron St. John’s story is a sad one and his open invitation to Professor Cudjoe and the Professor’s acceptance to visit have put paid to the rhetoric of a Government and a party that once said it cares, that fooled people into believing that it is ready to lead, but continued the traditions of leaving its supporters behind to suffer and die as a result of the cruel and inhumane treatment meted out to them by a party they hoped would love them as they loved it.
I am writing this story with a heavy heart because there is much that could be done for Laventille and this is just one place we could start.
While their representatives who rode their backs amass wealth, power and influence and then migrated out of their communities now provide influence and privilege for their children, the people who gave to them such opportunities and access have nothing.
One scholar told me if we change the way we look at things, the things that we look at will change.
Maybe if we stop treating the people from Laventille as gun-toting gangsters and start building communities with the basic amenities in life; and providing the access to education for their children, just maybe the way we see Laventille would change.
Aaron St. John extended an invitation to Professor Selwyn Cudjoe and he accepted it. All of us who have an interest in making Laventille a better place should not just accept this invitation as ours, but make contributions to stop the alienation of the children and the people living in the Hills of Laventille.