Honoured by presidents, Watson to bring expertise home
Dennis Rahiim Watson is returning home — and bringing change with him. For decades the motivational speaker has led the charge against gun violence in African-American communities. In return, honours have come from US and African presidents; more than 100 mayors have declared a “Dennis Rahiim Watson Day” in cities.
He is hoping that Bermuda takes his experience on-board.
“Everywhere I go I promote black student achievement,” Mr Watson said. “I tell students and adults in my lectures throughout the country that there are maybe 200,000 words in the English dictionary, but I've been from one cover to the other and my three favourite words are these: action, results and now.
“Whatever you're gonna do with your life, do it now.
“Bermuda has become a New York and the more New York-like it becomes, it takes away from the tourism. There are guns; girls are shot and kids shot — all this craziness. I'm coming home next year full time and I want to address the men in our community. If we are producing children, we have to be there to guide them because I can name a minimum of 500 men in Bermuda back in the day that guided me and mentored me.”
The 67-year-old is the CEO of the Centre for Black Student Achievement and the honorary chairman of the Black Men Against Gun Violence Taskforce.
Along with his father, Arthur “Food” Daniels, Ottiwell Simmons, Dale Butler, Mansfield Brock, Earl Hart, John Swan, Jim Woolridge, Ira Philip, Lee Harvey, Paget Wharton, Ivan Clarke, Cleveland Simmons, Rick Richardson, Milton Hill, Byron Phillip, Ed Ible, Alvin Daniels, Sergio Dean, David F. Furbert, Walter Robinson, Alex Scott, Alma “Champ” Hunt, David Raine, Austin Thomas, Walter Brangman, Arthur Hodgson, Paul Monday, Cyril Packwood, Quentin “Tiny” Burgess, Charles Fubler, Dale Butler, Walter “Spanky” Lister and Austin Ward are among the many males who “kept me out of prison” and enabled him to achieve what he has today.
Roosevelt Brown, the late civil rights leader and political activist who was also known as Pauulu Kamarakafego, sits at the top of that list. His interest stoked by Malcolm X and others who had committed their lives to a better society, Mr Watson attended Dr Brown's historic Black Power Conference in 1969, at the age of 16. The following year he left the island to make his way in the US.
“Bermuda was undergoing the same social transformation that New York and America was going through and all of the people that Roosevelt Brown brought to Bermuda in 1969 befriended me and made it possible for me.
When I came to New York in 1970, they gave me a place to stay.
The most famous of all the people Roosevelt Brown brought to Bermuda was Dr Yoseff Ben-Jochannan and he helped me to get into a school for dropouts called Harlem Preparatory School.
“I owe all of my success to the Black Power Conference of 1969 and the mentorship of Dr Roosevelt Brown,” said Mr Watson, who travels at the request of leaders in the US, the Caribbean and Africa to uplift people in their communities.
“Roosevelt Brown did all of his work in Africa. I'm his son, his spiritual son.
“Everywhere I go, I represent him; whenever I speak at these conferences with African presidents, I am representing him.”
He returned to Bermuda in the late Seventies, working as a postman and in various hotels.
“I left in 1979 and I came back to New York and I became a full-time motivational speaker. I'm a New York-based person and once you get established in New York, the rest of the country's a piece of cake.”
With the help of an agent he took his one-man show, The First Black President of the United States, “all across the country” — 25 years before Barack Obama made Mr Watson's dream a reality.
“There's only four places I have not been: South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Vermont. I have travelled throughout America and the Virgin Islands so many times, and Bahamas and Barbados, so I have been lucky.
In 1997 George Fraser, the father of all motivational speakers in America, wrote a book called Success Runs in Our Race and he put me in his book as one of the 50 best black speakers in America — that is an honour.”
The show allowed him to spread a powerful message across college and university campuses — that anyone can grow up to be president.
It also gave him the opportunity to one-up the actor Denzel Washington, a longtime friend.
“I look at Denzel and say to Denzel if I were to die tomorrow, you will have gone down in history as playing Malcolm X, but I will go down in history as setting the stage for Barack Obama becoming president of the United States.
“I am the only person on this earth that set the stage ... and every time Barack Obama sees me, he calls me Mr President.”
Aware that were it not for the “kind” words of many people he might have travelled a different path, Mr Watson hopes that parents remember they have a duty to parent their children.
“Social media has taken over the planet,” he said. “I go to the park. Women come with their baby carriages and they tell the kids to go play.
“They don't go and push the kids on the swings, they don't go and help the kids slide down the slide, they're on their phones and the kids get no attention.
“I grew up with hands-on folk, going to Horseshoe Beach and playing marbles and playing cops and skipping rope — you know, all the stuff we did back in the day.
“Bermudians are the most creative and blessed group of people on the planet earth — and I have travelled throughout the world — but they don't know it. And not only do they not know it, they don't appreciate it. I am so thankful.
“The reason why I'm not in jail is because Bermudian men took an interest in me and they did not let me do stupid stuff.
“My mother, every time I got on my bike and went to parties and did all sorts of stupid stuff, she would say to me on a regular basis: ‘I don't want you out in the streets or around town dragging my good name in the mud'.
“So, what I'm saying is, in order for us to get the guns out of Bermuda and to stop the killings, I would suggest that there be mother summits.
“Every Sunday there ought to be a mother summit where all the mothers get together in one place. I wish the pandemic would have never happened because mothers have to come together very much in the way Mr [Louis] Farrakhan brought the Million Man March together.”
His hope is to put that all in place when he returns home to “retire” next year.
“I'm giving people something to think about and I want to help to return Bermuda to the icon it was. I'm seeing all these advertisements: come back to Bermuda, you can stay and do your work ... we want to bring prosperity to all.
“If I am the foreign minister to Dr Brown and Ottiwell Simmons and Lois Browne-Evans and all of the folk from back in the day, I've got to do my job [in Bermuda].
“I've done everything, I've been everywhere. I'm going to come to Bermuda and set up a foundation, open up an academy and I'm going to teach what I've been teaching here.
“Until I'm 90, I'm still going to get on the plane and speak at colleges and universities. I'm still gonna work.
“But I need to go there to play some golf and swim and have some codfish and potatoes and go visit all my people.”
• Contact Dennis Rahiim Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org