Two watershed days, five years apart
Let's reflect on the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the success of Bermuda's Theatre Boycott on July 2 from a local and a global perspective to remind ourselves of the interconnectedness of the world in which we live.
During our planning for the local observance, we at Imagine Bermuda initially overlooked the fact that this major milestone of Bermuda's social and cultural history shared the same date with a similar US milestone.
For July 2, 1959 marked the opening up of the Island along non-racial lines with the ending of a formal policy of segregation in public places and led directly to the dismantling of structural racism in all other areas of Bermudian life.
And July 2, 1964 marked the date that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the United States which outlawed discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.
These two watersheds, five years apart, brought about paradigm changes in our two deeply connected societies.
Both shifts were spearheaded by grassroots movements committed to promoting the essential worth of each member of the human family. Global history reminds us of the need to reaffirm that sense of reverence for the trailblazers involved lest we ever forget.
Some of the seeds for the success for the Theatre Boycott were planted in the mid-1940s as a result of campaigns led by Dr EF Gordon of the Bermuda Workers Association.
With the advantage of anonymity, in two peaceful weeks of boycotting, Bermuda was effectively opened up on July 2, 1959.
In the US, where blacks constituted only 12 percent of the population, the Montgomery, Alabama boycott to protest segregated public transit in the American South lasted an entire year in 1956 and resulted in civil unrest and much violence.
It took many years of social and political protests and vigilant campaigning, resulting in number of lives being lost, before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was eventually signed.
Two days after the Theatre Boycott celebration we marked July 4, a date which is synonymous for many in both the US and around the world with the very concept of “freedom”.
And the late South African statesman Nelson Mandela has reminded us that “to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
A picture is always worth a thousand words. On July 4, 2014 two Brazilian footballers, “walked the walk”. At the end of a hard-fought battle between Brazil and Colombia, we saw David Luis and Danny Alves comforting young Colombian footballer, James Rodriguez.
Luis, who had sealed the win for his national team with a massive 30 yard free-kick, was the first to act as a big brother to his distraught younger opponent.
Alves who earlier this year picked up a banana thrown at him by racists in Spain and ate it, joined Luis as another big brother. These two football players put Mandela's words into action.
Before closing, I would like to express appreciation to those who collaborated with Imagine Bermuda to make the Theatre Boycott commemoration a success.
These include major partners the Chamber of Commerce and the Bermuda Union of Teachers; and sponsors Signworx, Butterfield's Bank and Lindos.
Thanks also go to drama director Nishanthi Bailey and her cast — Laurel Burns, Jennie Campbell Skelton, DeAzha Chambers, Raymond Johnson, Stephanie Mathews, Ty'esha Oswald and Altonio Roberts.
Thanks also to entertainers Toni Robinson, Rashae & Rashaun Bean, Ed Christopher, Three Kings and MC Thaao Dill.
We would also like to acknowledge the assistance of a number of young people representing six of the Island's schools and coordinated by Marcus Smith.
In conclusion, we thank those in the wider community who have played some part in fostering appreciation — especially among young people — for those pioneers who were in the vanguard of peaceful social change in Bermuda in 1959.
On July 2 we celebrated our connection to our history. As we face new challenges today and going forward, we must remind each other that in spite of any differences which divide us — whether they involve race, political persuasion or even World Cup team — we are all valuable members of the human family.