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Theatre boycotters see self-created barriers impacting Island's young men

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Photo by Mark TatemNine year-old Z'dao Dill ties a white ribbon of peace on the railing in Wesley Square on the observance of the 52nd Anniversary of the success of the Theatre Boycott which ended formal segregation in Bermuda.

Five decades ago black people had their freedom restricted by segregation today young men are doing it to themselves.Progressive Group member Erskine Simmons yesterday reflected on the irony of self-imposed barriers facing young men who can’t enter some parts of the Island due to gang warfare.He was speaking at a gathering at City Hall to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Theatre Boycott, which paved the way for the end of segregation.“When we draw barriers around ourselves, we exclude the possibility of making friends across that barrier,” said Dr Simmons, 78.“I urge our young people to reconsider their behaviour as we try to work for a harmonious community.“What they really need is a project that they can involve themselves, that doesn’t call for violence, that calls for co-operation.“Because the same people who are fighting one another can do a great job co-operating with one another. Let me urge young people to redirect their energies: energies that build rather than energies that destroy.”Dr Simmons and the rest of the Progressive Group secretly organised two weeks of peaceful rallies outside Bermuda’s theatres in June 1959, protesting against segregation in hotels, cinemas, restaurants and schools.Initially dubbed a ‘storm in a teacup’ by a white politician, the protest had a great effect even though the identities of the Progressive Group remained a closely guarded secret for 40 years.On July 2, 1959, black people gained free access to cinemas for the first time, with the colour bar later being lifted in hotels, restaurants and schools.Imagine Bermuda’s Glenn Fubler, who organised yesterday’s ‘Observance of Freedom’, said of the Progressive Group: “Those pioneers learned that freedom was more of an internal matter and they moved from victims to victorious.“This watershed was a long time coming, when a small number of young people seized the initiative and organised the Theatre Boycott, which successfully removed those formal barriers for upcoming generations.“This effort was far from easy and with the injustices that were the reality of those times there was great temptation to let anger boil into violence.“However, that transformation was achieved entirely through peaceful means, as hundreds of ordinary residents rallied together with a trust in themselves and a sense of faith in the concept of freedom.”But Mr Fubler noted the gang violence which has gripped the Island means not everyone can enjoy that freedom today.“Ironically, more than 50 years after that great step forward in Bermuda, we have entered a period where new barriers are being erected,” he said.“The current challenges to the community mean that many of our young people are caught up in a dynamic in which numbers of them have only limited access in our small Island, by the threat of violence.“This new apartheid and its implications offer a wake-up call for our entire community and we can benefit from the lessons of our past, in order to bring about another renaissance.”National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief said he was present at the Boycott as an 18-year-old graduate of the Berkeley Institute.“At the end of their protest, freedom reigned,” said Mr Perinchief.But he continued: “Fifty years later, the young men of this Country are restricting one another, other young men, from freedom of movement across this Country.“Let us as a Country, let us as people, let us as citizens of all races or political persuasion, pledge to break down all barriers of freedom or restraint in this Country.“I pledge to do my part both as a citizen of Bermuda and as the Minister of National Security.”Deputy Governor David Arkley and US Consul General Grace Shelton said the UK and United States had overcome past differences to become allies; Hamilton Mayor Charles Gosling said much remains to be done with race relations on the Island.Former Bishop of Bermuda Ewen Ratteray, who was at the get-together, told The Royal Gazette: “The example of those who were victorious in bringing down the barriers 52 years ago is a very precious one we can learn from today.“The changes to take place today have to come from all of us working together, putting aside violence. Violence is no solution, it only destroys.”Yesterday’s event concluded with white ribbons of peace being tied at Wesley Square, the sacred ground where residents rallied for peace 52 years ago.

Progressive Group members Izola Harvey, Gerald Harvey and Erskine Simmons speak in Wesley Square.