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We are all part of this incredible journey

For centuries, millions of people suffered and died at the hands of those who used power, greed and relentless hatred towards other human beings because they either had the “wrong” skin colour or were ethically and religiously rejected as inferior.

The world has been struggling for thousands of years to eliminate evil concepts that some people were worthy only to be slaves, while others milked the land for whatever they felt brought them satisfaction and a feeling of control over the destiny of civilisation.

No matter how long it may last, wrong has never triumphed over right. Good and bad people come in all colours across the face of the Earth, and that is why as we celebrate Black History Month, we are all part of this incredible journey through dark storms of unimaginable hatred and bigotry. The aim is to build a better world where we accept and understand each other as never before.

The struggle is far from over because there are still parts of the world where people are torn apart by ruthless power seekers, as the evil objectives of terrorism has freedom-loving people on edge about the direction our world is moving in. The American Civil War, mainly fought over whether former slaves should be given full human rights as citizens of the land, two world wars and subsequent military conflicts that left millions dead, have yet to produce global peace for all.

As long as there are people on this planet that still exist in a form of slavery, we need to remember those who braved fearful odds all those years ago to lay the foundation for others to carry the torch of justice and freedom. We also must not be unmindful of the continuing struggle to eradicate prejudice in its various forms from all society.

When one considers that the early settlers in Bermuda had no supermarkets or pharmacies to gather supplies, it is a most horrific thought over what day-to-day existence was like. Scrambling to build shelter and finding food was enough of a challenge for the most hardened seamen. This truly was a period when the main objective was survival. When illness struck under those conditions, only fate determined the outcome.

The first black settlers who were brought to the island some years after settlement began in 1609 obviously were confronted with more than the harsh elements of nature, as they began an adventure into the unknown.

With enormous courage and a spirit to survive, they somehow were able to a cope with the dreadful nightmare of slavery and set the wheels in motion for a Bermuda that most of us enjoy today. When slavery finally ended with emancipation in 1834, there was jubilation among the black population, but, in reality, the struggle for social justice would be a long and testing time, as authorities of the day were reluctant to remove the institutional shackles that prevented blacks from full participation in community life. Thus began a journey that also resulted in brave acts from whites who disapproved of the system of racial segregation. Their bold deeds of teaching blacks in secret how to read and write are equally a part of Bermuda’s incredible journey towards justice for all. Heroes come in all colours.

The white priest who was imprisoned for helping blacks to build a church in Warwick was another example of conditions throughout the island. This is why it is important that, in reflecting on the dark side of our history, we remember all those blacks and whites who toiled against an unjust system that they knew to be wrong.

As the years rolled on, and the face of Bermuda began to change through persistent efforts to educate Bermudian blacks, even with a segregated system, the unstoppable march had begun that would lead to the day when blacks not only became professionals in a number of areas, but even the House of Parliament was no longer off limits.

The list of black Bermudian heroes is long indeed, but I would like to mention one who was an influence in my early life. His name was Cecil Walker Frith. He was, to the best of my knowledge, Bermuda’s first licensed embalmer and operated on Ewing Street, Hamilton. A graduate from the New York School of Embalming, he was contracted by the United States Air Force, which had a base at Kindley Field at the East End. Some of the aircraft were B-17s and B-29s, which had featured in the Second World War. Occasionally, his services would be required when there was a mishap.

He had a keen sense of community involvement and at one time was president of Pembroke Hamilton Club, better known as PHC. I worked at his funeral home and remember him as focusing on the positive, with the belief that everyone who really tried could be successful.

It was not easy for the black population to make inroads in the business sector of life in those days, but many blacks with the same spirit of determination of those early arrivals persevered despite social obstacles to become successful citizens and to create pride that Bermuda one day would be for everyone and not a select few.

It is to be hoped that this Black History Month will not only be a time to reflect, but to build on what we have achieved so far. With diverse co-operation, the brotherhood table that Martin Luther King Jr often referred to will get closer to reality. Meanwhile, Bermuda’s incredible journey continues.