LAVENTY, I AM SORRY …definitely a black betrayal!



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.