Gershwyn Smith (1949-2018)
Gershwyn Smith, an activist who ran for Parliament several times as an independent candidate, died on Saturday. He was 69.
Known also as Shiloh, High Priest Shiloh or Mohatma Shiloh Mahdi, Mr Smith spent decades on a campaign for the legalisation of cannabis.
He also founded the Young Progressives in 1969, which held meetings to discuss racial and social problems.
Cleveland Simmons, a musician and member of the group, yesterday called him “a dedicated community advocate”.
Mr Simmons added: “What Shiloh has done for me is make me who I am today — he was a person that had a vision for world peace and he spoke on that.
“I intend to carry that mission on. Shiloh should be given a state funeral.”
Mr Smith’s slogan for the events he organised was “unity in the community”, and the group promoted concerts through the 1970s.
He called for calm during the large-scale riots of 1977 and met Sir Peter Ramsbotham, the Governor at the time.
Mr Smith also made submissions to the Pitt Commission, set up to investigate the racial and social tensions behind the riots, which were the worst in Bermuda’s history.
Mr Smith came to the public eye in his 1993 campaign as an independent candidate.
He announced his candidacy shortly after he demonstrated in favour of cannabis outside the House of Assembly. His seventh and final campaign came in the 2012 General Election.
In 2001, Mr Smith was caught with more than two kilograms of cannabis and hundreds of plants at his home on Spanish View Road, Smith’s.
In February 2002, after a trial in Magistrates’ Court, Mr Smith was found guilty and fined $30,000 as an alternative to incarceration.
Mr Smith maintained that the drug was a food and spiritual sacrament. The Court of Appeal overturned that sentence, however, and Mr Smith was jailed for four years.
Michael Markham, another member of the group, said the Young Progressives was “not a political party, but a movement”.
“His religious beliefs were not understood by mainstream people. He was misunderstood by the establishment, but people on the street understood and respected him.”
In recent years, as gang violence escalated, Mr Smith called again for calm.
He addressed a joint select committee on violent crime and gun violence in 2011, saying the criminalisation of cannabis fuelled “gang warfare and anarchy”.
Mr Markham said: “One of the last things he talked to me about was his vision for Bermuda’s future.
“He said that Bermuda needed repentance and revival. He believed in racial reconciliation.”
Mr Markham added: “He was gentle by nature. I never saw him angry — it was all about peace. Not only did he call for peace, he lived it.”