Everyone has a duty to spotlight contributions to island, Black History Month honouree says
A former teacher and civil servant said it was up to everyone in Bermuda to highlight people who had contributed to the island.
Gary Phillips explained that his own upbringing had left him with no questions about his Black identity, which helped to shape his ambition and thirst for knowledge.
Mr Phillips, who taught at the Berkeley Institute, where he was a pupil, said: “I believe that we're missing an opportunity in this community to highlight the diversity of the people who make up the mosaic in this country.
“I think that everyone needs to accept that responsibility.”
The Bermuda National Gallery chairman was speaking after he and Martha Dismont, the founder and former director of Family Centre, were honoured by the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club last Friday as part of Black History Month.
Mr Phillips said: “We as individuals cannot wait for a syllabus to be written about the importance of everyone in this community and the contributions that they have made.
“This is where I applaud the Princess hotel because they have decided that they want to shine a light on those persons who have made a significant contribution to the understanding of the various peoples on this island.”
Mr Phillips, who is also the chairman of One Communications, said his early childhood education in Middletown in a segregated Bermuda, combined with deep West Indian roots, helped shape his character.
Mr Phillips said: “I listened and I knew from very, very early on that I had a rich heritage, that I had a rich background.
“OK, so we couldn’t go to the cinema. OK, so we didn’t go to these White schools.
“But … there was no telling me that because I didn’t go to a White school that I was less than a human being, that I had less opportunity to learn.
“So the doors of those career opportunities may have been closed but certainly the expansion of knowledge and the awakening and the moving from darkness into light … those things were made available to us.”
Mr Phillips highlighted the importance of young people respecting their parents and teachers who tried to help them.
He said: “The burden really is on the individual to look around you and see who are the shining stars, see who are the people who are trying to make Bermuda and your society and your community a better one, and emulate them.
“Aspire to be like them and aspire to carry the torch for them because if you don’t, their energy will have been in vain.”
Mr Phillips paid tribute to his mother and grandmother, who he said were pivotal influences.
He added: “They gave us a torch and you carried the torch and you tried to keep it alive.
“You tried to fuel it, you tried keep it alive because once it goes out, it’s lost.”
He also highlighted his concerns about a lack of confidence in public schools that drove parents to pay for private education.
Ms Dismont applauded the stories of “persistence and courage” from the past but said she was “saddened” that the same spirit seemed to be less widespread in modern times.
She added: “I wonder where the fight has gone today. Our community has been in a very challenging state for the past 30 years and we seemed to have lost our fight for our quality of life.”
Ms Dismont said Black History Month highlighted the contributions of people that had not been “proportionately acknowledged in the past”.
She compared it to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement “to see, in visible ways, the removal of the disproportionate sufferings within the lives of Black people”.
Ms Dismont, the widow of a Bermudian, said she had felt guided by God to remain on the island after the loss of her husband and work to improve access to opportunities.
She added: “The work at Family Centre was driven by a desire to help others to feel a sense of dignity and self-respect despite their challenges.
“I have to tell you that I was surprised at the number of Bermudians who did not own a sense of self-respect and self-importance when I first arrived.”
She highlighted that life on a small island often meant that “past mistakes create a large profile of attention”.
Ms Dismont said: “We need to learn how to forgive, while fixing the broken man, or broken woman.
“We need to have natural and appropriate consequences for wrongdoing, which is the principle of accountability.”
Part of the proceeds from last Friday’s event will be donated to charities chosen by Ms Dismont and Mr Phillips.
Mr Phillips picked the Bermuda College Foundation and Ms Dismont opted for Family Centre.