Bahamians Must Look Inward To Move Forward

Friday 14th, February 2014 / 09:16 Published by

I have just returned from the 16th Visual Arts Exhibition Awards Ceremony for Senior High Schools at the Mall at Marathon where I was invited by Pamela Chandler, Senior Education Officer – Art and Design, to be the Guest Speak on the topic “Exploring the Wonders of Art and Design”. I am very happy and proud to report that the students’ work was absolutely fascinating and their musical talents awesome. I must commend them and their teachers for a magnificent job! Unfortunately this is the last day for the exhibit and for those persons who were not able to view it, you will miss a definite treat!

I promised the attendees that I would sit at my computer forthwith and pen this letter expressing my extreme disappointment (but not my surprise) at the fact that there was NOT ONE POLITICIAN in attendance to show their support for the students and their talents, and to encourage their efforts. Let me hasten to say that I was not present at the Opening (if there was one), but if the amount of applause I received on pointing out this blatant disrespect is any indication, I doubt if any of them were present then either!

I am proud to be a Bahamian. My husband and I pursued careers in the arts because we recognized the absolutely important role the arts play in any society and have spent our lifetime nurturing this belief. When I viewed the quality and diversity of the art work that was on display today and listened to the passion of the student artists who spoke with such pride, I was so encouraged because it reinforced for me the forever brightening light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel of ignorance in this country.

These students need support, encouragement and understanding. They need an environment where their talents are nurtured and opportunities are laid in their path to pursue their dreams. Gone, thankfully, are those days when our parents would admonish us to ‘look for a REAL job’ if we expressed an interest in an art career. Art is as essential as our other basic human needs for food, shelter, clothing and community. In these modern times there is ample evidence to support the importance of grounding our Bahamian society in our art, culture and heritage. I contend that politics does not run the country – art and culture does – and unfortunately the politicians just don’t get it! Because they do not understand the power of what art, culture and heritage can bring to the table, they ignore it and carry on with the same ol’ same ol’ business as usual. Well I, for one, do not intend to let such a sorry state of affairs pervade our country. I will continue to speak out and I encourage others to speak up too!

It is time for a reality check: Wake up Bahamas and see what you lookin’ at!  If you truly believe in The Bahamas for Bahamians you should start listening to those Bahamians that can ‘learn’ you on how to do it right! It is time for the ‘powers that be’ to give Art, Culture and Heritage the respect it deserves, and for the record, this does NOT include imposing Mardi Gras and Carnival concepts on our home ground to dilute the power of junkanoo! It is so sad to listen to the boasting about a million dollar festival based on ‘other people tings’ to contaminate and dilute OUR culture, instead of sitting around the table and strengthening the power of our own junkanoo! The question we should be asking instead is: ‘How can JUNKANOO be an economic engine to power this country and its people right across the board?’

Bahamians are geniuses – plain and simple – and we need to truly take stock of what we can bring to the collective table for our own benefit. Yes, a behemoth hotel enterprise can provide hundreds of jobs, but what truly are the social benefits in the long run if we are not at the same time developing our social consciousness, improving our minds and providing opportunities for the advancement of our people? Success through self empowerment can strengthen our pride and self respect and reinforce the foundation of our communities. Yes, it takes time and hard work, it takes a vision and a passion along with perseverance to succeed, but we MUST pursue this path.

After 40 years of Independence we are still looking outside the country for whatever type of ‘saviour’ we can find to create jobs. Yes, jobs are needed but we also need to believe in ourselves first so that we can have respect and pride in our own abilities and create our own opportunities. The answer lies right here amongst the Arts because Art is Life, and if we would only embrace our own culture and heritage, we can make a difference in our social and economic landscapes.

We spend time talking about the level of crime in the country and plaster this negativity all over the front pages of the newspapers, social media and the airwaves, giving it pride of place. Why aren’t we allocating POSITIVE stories to these choice spaces instead? I would like to challenge all the media houses right now to see which one has the gumption to take the risk of relegating the negativity in this country either completely out of public view, or confining it in a smaller space to the back pages! It is not surprising that more and more persons have indicated that they have no desire anymore to listen to, or read the news because of its concentration on negativity.

Have we stopped to consider what social consequences this constant diet of scandal, crime and sensationalism is producing? Although this approach allows the media houses to take their increasing income all the way to the bank, it also demands that they keep looking over their shoulders whilst doing so in case someone is trying to rob them of those very funds! This is where this path has taken us, focusing on crime and hopelessness rather than successes like the ones demonstrated by the students today. Instead of merely reacting to crime, why don’t we examine, question, and evaluate the root causes of these challenges, brainstorm creatively how they can be addressed, and properly implement a strategy?

Respect is a two way street and it does not come automatically – it has to be earned. So if we disagree with a government policy we have the right to express our views without fear – that is why we live in a democracy! No one person has all the answers and no one person can be an expert in everything. Since politicians are the ones that we put in the driver’s seat, I would like you to seriously ponder what exactly they are experts in. As a matter of fact, do they even have a learner’s permit?

It is obvious that we need to work together to move forward – it has to be a team effort. A leader cannot earn the team’s support unless they are ready to ‘hear’, not just ‘listen’. As Bahamian we ALL have a part in this play and we all deserve a voice on a level playing field, but in the first beginning, Bahamians are not even invited to become a part of the team. They are expected to stand quietly by whilst the bulk of our country’s income is allowed to flow away to other jurisdictions. Yet when the situation becomes dire these same hard working citizens are commanded to stop the hemorrhage! This is not the way to earn respect.

Are we willing to take back our country? Are we willing to provide talented students with the respect they deserve by providing opportunities for them to support themselves through hard work and dignity? Let us commit to work together to make this country productive again for us, the people. We can do this by encouraging basic, simple entrepreneurial enterprises using the resources we have and reinforced by with the creativity of our people. Otherwise, rest assured that as Rome burns and the emperor fiddles, the people will continue to suffer!

By: Pam Burnside

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