Many of us grew up in a Caribbean where the frequent message, ranging from gently implied to pungently expressed, was that we were a second-rate people. Forty or fifty years ago those messages were all around us – I recall them vividly – and it took migration outside the region for me to gradually realize, from the exciting road of personal experience, how wrong that message was; that in fact the only agent holding Caribbean people back was lack of opportunity. Time and again, in my time in North America, I would see examples of our people, coming out of modest circumstances at home, just rising and shining in these new countries to which they had migrated. For me, and many migrants like me, given our early brainwashing, these examples can come as a surprise, and you question them, but as time passes, and the examples continue, the counter message sinks in: we are a people of substance, and if the opportunity comes we will rise and shine.
Two weeks ago, for example, I played with Tradewinds in Orlando in a fete organized by some Caribbean folks, one of whom is Sam Roberts, son of former GT Crime Chief ‘Skip’ Roberts. For airport pickup, and to move the band around, Sam engaged a company named Luxury Rides, owned by a Guyanese Brian Bacchus – one of those “rise and shine” examples.
I had never met him before this weekend, but a West Dem boy, like myself, Brian, who is from Stewartville, had migrated to New York, around 1980, worked as a taxi driver for a few years, then started his own limo company in 1985 and moved his business to Orlando in 1996. From the time Sam put me in touch with Brian I was impressed with the professional attitude of the man. He replied to emails promptly. He double-checked information. He sent you reminders. Any question you threw at him, he had an answer. The rest of the Tradewinds guys were travelling from Cayman, and I from Guyana, but Brian sent us detailed information about airport connection, to the point of even which escalator to use, following baggage collection, to find the car waiting for us. In one email I even joked with him: “Banna, the way you’re operating I can tell without asking that you left Stewartville a long time ago.”
After we met in Orlando, we laughed over that several times, but Brian is a classic “rise and shine” example. Today he manages and operates 20 vehicles and his clients are primarily celebrities in the music and sports world – Roberta Flack, Air Supply, Michael Jordan and the Bee Gees are among them – and a range of high profile people in business generally. Standing back and watching Brian operate – always in a jacket and tie, always on time, often personally supervising his other drivers, never rattled, always on top of his game – tells you that you’re watching a true professional and (here’s the kicker) he’s a “GT bye from Stewartville”. I can’t tell you how sweet that is.
More and more every day one encounters Caribbean examples like Brian going outside, competing level with the long-established businesses in those countries and shining at what they do. Coming back from Orlando, I met a couple more. On the Caribbean Airlines flight from Miami it was bad enough dealing with that “stay on board” requirement in Trinidad, but things turned worse with the flight attendant’s announcement that the co-pilot had been taken ill and to find a replacement for the leg to Guyana would delay us for at least one-and-a-half hours. You could hear the groans all over the plane. But then class came to the rescue. Flight attendant Kendall Sharpe and his colleague Joel CheeAlloy turned what could have been a vexing situation into something almost acceptable. Kendall seemed genuinely apologetic for the delay. He organized a film, and drinks. He made a joke about the distribution of the wrong landing card for Guyana, arranged for passengers to disembark and visit the duty free area (another joke about that) and generally got everybody, including one insistent grouch, on his side. In a situation where many flight attendants would come across as edgy, Kendall and his co-attendant (if there wasn’t such a word, there’s one now) relaxed all the Guyanese. When the flight eventually left, after just an hour’s delay, he jovially thanked the largely GT crowd for being so nice. As the Trinis would say, “Hear, na, padna: that Joel fella like he make wid some special alloy, oui; and as for Mister Kendall, he sharp too bad.”
Two more recent examples of “rise and shine” are at hand in the person of the young Guyanese student, Sarah Hakh, who topped the entire Caribbean in the recent CXC exam results. We may not have the Education Department facilities of a Trinidad or a Barbados, but young Sarah, and several other high-achieving CXC Guyanese like her, provide the evidence again that in the area of raw material we can excel and do excel
In a completely different category, just last week, is the unusual ability to make music from an ordinary carpenter’s saw demonstrated by Kitty-born Moses Josiah who entertains subway riders with this specialty in the New York subway. I heard Moses play at a function in New York a few years ago, and I couldn’t believe the musical tone and, especially, the perfect pitch, and high notes, he was getting from bending a saw back and forth. Known as “The Maestro”, Moses captivates crowds with his amazing technique which includes vibrating the saw between his legs to create a tremolo effect. Not widely known here with his unusual instrument, Brother Moses is making a living putting out his singular talent in the Big Apple.
There are some slackers among us – I give you that – but the folks who complain about low standards here and attribute it to low potential are dead wrong. We have the potential; what we lack is the opportunity. When we find the latter, we demonstrate the former.