It is an honor to be asked to speak to you this afternoon based on your theme, “Empowering youth innovation in the new norm” “We are citizens of the world. The tragedy is that we do not know this” The year was 1919, World War 1 and the Spanishflu pandemic still raged, in support of his 14 point plan which formed the basis of the League of 2 Nations (the precursor to the United Nations), President Woodrow Wilson uttered those words.
It’s a century later, amidst another pandemic, dozens of armed conflicts worldwide, a global climate crisis, we are still citizens of a single global space of which we are called to be good stewards and the tragedy of our time is that nationalism, populism, racism and all the other “isms” undergirded by fear and fueled by lack of empathy keeps us from acting like it! It is within this context and in the spirit of “Ubuntu” a Zulu term translated, “I am because we are” which references the belief in “a universal bond of sharing that connects all 3 humanity” that I address you today not solely as Nevisians, as the St Kitts and Nevis or the Caribbean diaspora, but as citizens of this world.
Empowering youth innovation for the new norm is a collective endeavor, yet it requires individual effort to enlighten our youth, recognize and nurture their talents and aptitudes whilst shaping through a good example, their attitudes. At the end of the day, this collective aspiration to innovate or to make changes to what is already established is dependent on personal purpose, prowess, and passion.
My few words, therefore, are not and cannot be prescriptive, but instead, I hope to stimulate introspection as each of us as 4 global citizens, tries to envisage the world we wish to inhabit and determine in our hearts to make the choices and commitments that would bring the manifestation thereof.
I believe this pandemic has brought us to a fork in the road and we can choose the path of generosity or greed, fairness or fear, courage or chaos, empathy or enmity, and animosity. We can choose to embrace either diversity or divisiveness, subscribe to fake news or evidence-based truths! So what is this new norm we envisage? 5 We can begin with the obvious, because of COVID 19, the world is more interconnected than ever.
This function would not have taken this format were it not for the pandemic. Yet do we want a pandemic to become the norm instead of a once-in-a-hundred-year event? Scientists have determined that global warming is likely to induce new and emerging infections. Infectious agents can be genetically engineered in laboratories and can escape accidentally or be released by design with evil intent?
Are natural or manmade pandemics to be our new norm? Or is the new norm to be a global effort with all of us adhering to the science, 6 practicing social distancing and good hygiene, being confident in a remarkable scientific innovation which elevated vaccine production from the direct injection of a virus into the body in order to stimulate the immune system, to the engineering of a code for a portion of the virus, in order to achieve the immune response? Surely going forward, we want to be able to prevent, detect and respond to biological threats under umbrella organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium! 7 There is no doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated the health, education and economic disparities.
To use a cliché “the rich got richer and the poor got poorer” while the food lines have stretched longer. Some big businesses have grown larger while many small businesses have gone under. Economic disparities are played out in what is termed “vaccine nationalism” whereby to date, 10 countries have bought 75% of the world’s vaccine supply in some cases exceeding their population needs while approximately 130 countries are still without access to vaccines. 8 Education disparities are evidenced by limited access to online learning for some of the world’s children, many of the same are “socially distanced” from the sustenance of school meals.
UNICEF and the World Bank have estimated that 10 million children, may not return to school (24 million if tertiary education is included). Health disparities have led to the extraordinary loss of life among people of colour many of whom work on the front lines and have little access to health care.
This lack of access is being played out both in terms of difficulty getting vaccines to, and eliciting support for vaccination, due to distrust of 9 the health systems on account of a long history of racial injustice.
If COVID19 has been the more dramatic aggravator, Climate change is the more enduring “exacerbator” of health, economic, education and other disparities, and in reality, Climate Change has become an existential threat! Are melting glaciers, rising sea levels and global temperatures, severe droughts, deadly landslides from flooding, ferocious cyclones in Asia, locusts in Africa, the Amazon burning in Brazil, destructive hurricanes in the region of the Americas what we envisage to be our new norm or should we each advocate, educate, innovate, collaborate in order to 10 decrease the global carbon footprint and thus mitigate the adverse effects of Climate Change?
Now that it has re-entered the 2015 Paris accord on Climate Change, will the US leadership bear fruit? Will global institutions like WHO, UNICEF, United Nations Environmental Program, World Bank, IMF recalibrate and innovate to face the many challenges brought into focus by the pandemic and the threat of Climate Change?
You may well ask, “”what has all this got to do with me?” My answer is simply that we the people are a part of every single one of those institutions because “we are the world.” I submit that empowerment for innovation is about being 11 seized of facts, driven by focus, utilizing every facility to have voices heard and needs met according to our vision of the world for the future of our youth! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Now is the time to make the right choices as individuals, families, communities, cities and countries. The sustainability of mankind and our environment depends on it.
In September 2015, the member states of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 the preamble to which states, “This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen 12 universal peace…”
The year 2020 began the decade of preparation for the achievement of these goals. I challenge you to become familiar with all 17 and to purpose in your heart that preparation will begin with you and all those within your sphere of influence! People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships to achieve same, that’s what sustainability is all about and that’s what our view of the new norm must be!
There was another UN General Assembly declaration in 2015, The International Decade for People of African Descent, under the theme of “recognition, justice and development.” The stated objectives include to: 13 “Promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African Descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies.”
As people of Africa and its descendants, what I call an Afro-ethnic ecosystem, we must begin to carve out our own paths, envisage and stamp our marks on the new norm. Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies terms the 21 century one of Reparatory Justice. 14 Reparatory Justice is not simply about money, it’s about acknowledgment, recompense and reconciliation for The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which, I submit, is the greatest global humanitarian wrong, one for which compensation has never been made.
The racial inequality which enabled this horror, took roots in the 14th and 15th centuries, nurtured in the 16th century by the church’s acceptance of Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel with biblical characters all White. Amplified in the 18th century by Swedish botanist and zoologist, Carolus Linnaeus’ classification of humans by skin color into 4 groups, with White 15 Europeans at the top and Black Africans at the bottom.
Racial inequality that continues today in a criminal justice system which has not acknowledged drug abuse and attendant crimes as a public health crisis but rather criminalizes such, with devastating effects on Black and Brown communities in our hemisphere. Racial inequality which leads to the profiling of our young men and was laid bare before the eyes of the entire world with a foot on George Floyd’s neck.
Shall this continue to be the norm? The world-wide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the apologies by the Church of England to add to that previously made 16 by the Catholic Church, apologies by other institutions including universities and banks that have benefitted from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, gestures by businesses to be more inclusive of people of color in management, shall these all bear fruit and become the new norm?
It was Martin Luther King Jr who said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” Where do we stand as an Afroethnic ecosystem and how do we wish to shape the new norm? 17 On the 20th of January Amanda Gourman entered the world stage.
I was particularly struck by her lines “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one” Here was a youth who was raised to appreciate who she is by a clear understanding of where she came from. A young woman who prepared and persevered and as a result has begun a journey of walking in purpose. Like Moses she had a speech impediment, like Jeremiah her Creator would touch her tongue, put words into her mouth because He knew the Plans he had for her as He 18 does for each and every one of us, to give hope and a future.
As an oppressed people it is all the more imperative that we empower our youth pledging to nurture their gifts, develop their unique talents hone their imbued skills to the fullest potential.
Our failure so to do leaves our communities and hence the world, the worse off for their inability to create, innovate, collaborate and communicate as good citizens according to the 6C’s of 21st-century education.
Our success, on the other hand, establishes a clear path to global sustainability founded, I would repeat, on the principles of peace and prosperity for all peoples, 19 health of the planet, and partnerships to achieve same. As we close out Black history month, let me end with the story of Rev Gilbert Caldwell (who died in September 2020) and his wife Grace.
In 1957 the newlyweds drove 8 hours from North Carolina to Pennsylvania for a honeymoon at the Mount Airy Resort in the Poconos. Upon arrival, they were rejected despite having a reservation, just for being Black. Rev. Caldwell became a Civil Rights leader, working with Dr. Martin Luther King, and began sharing his story. One such occasion was with students at the Beer Tavern Elementary School in Titusville New Jersey.
The 20 5 th graders were so moved by the injustice that they each wrote a letter one of which stated “the Caldwells made me think not only about standing up for myself but standing up for others and fixing mistakes that were made in the world.” These 5th graders demanded a redo and the Caldwells got their honeymoon in the Resort of their initial choice, 60 years later. Had Jesus been walking the earth today, this would certainly have been one of his empowering parables, teaching on the second greatest commandment; to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I believe He would have begun thus; “A certain couple journeyed to the Poconos for to 21 enjoy the “undefiled marital bed” and fell victim to the evil of racial injustice. In due course, there came along a group of 5th graders who did not pass by on the other side as others had done, but banded together to heal the wound, provide the lodging, thus bringing a peace and comfort to their hearts.” He would continue, “A little child shall lead them…so go into all the world and do thou likewise… as my Father has empowered and sent me, so send I you!” Ladies and gentlemen, that is the essence of empowering youth innovation in the new norm. Congratulations to your organization for 22 years of service to Nevis. May God bless us all.