Cohesion Ministry, Region Four host Black History Month event for East Coast schools

Those honoured at Region Four’s Black History Month event. From left are: CARICOM IKEMBA representative Onika Frank; Regional Executive Officer Pauline Lucas; Beterverwagting student Danelle Goddette; Regional Education Officer Tiffany Favourite-Harvey; La Bonne Intention student Shenelle Harris; Regional Chairperson Genevieve Allen; and Director of Youth Gillian Frank.

Students from three East Coast secondary schools congregated at Beterverwagting Secondary on Tuesday for an event in honour of Black History Month.

Black History Month, which is also known as African-American History Month, was birthed with the intent to create a truer representation of African Americans in history. It is celebrated in February in North America. Tuesday’s event, hosted by the Ministry of Social Cohesion in collaboration with Region Four’s regional administration, exposed the students of the Beterverwagting, La Bonne Intention and Buxton secondary schools to snippets of black world history and Guyanese history, in particular, through a display by the Museum of African Heritage, a motivational talk and a lecture.

“…These are the things you need to know. These are the things that will help you to understand what contributions were made by all the different groups that came to Guyana. And we should all be proud of that because without them doing that we won’t be here today,” University of Guyana lecturer and African Cultural and Development Association member Eric Phillips stated.

CARICOM representative Onika Frank addressing the audience.

Phillips presented the lecture at Tuesday’s activity.

CARICOM intern Onika Frank spoke to the students about her own experience as a young Afro-Guyanese woman and urged them to let go of the stereotypes and ways of thinking that perpetuate self-hate.

“I stand here today as a representative of youth. Not just a youth but a strong and proud woman of African descent. I didn’t care at one point about the history of my forefathers. I felt ashamed to clothe the skin of my ancestors in our native wear. They told me that my hair was no good so I dipped it in their colonial shape, forgetting that this was their plan; to make us not love ourselves as we are. To make us not want to know where we came from so we can be fully liberated,” Frank asserted.

African cultural wear on display.

She advised those gathered that they alone have the power to define what beauty is, while noting that pride and knowledge of one’s history is the only path to development.

“…Quit saying that black hair is not beautiful in its natural state. Quit believing that emancipation is the only time that it is okay to wear African clothing. The great Marcus Garvey once said that a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. How, therefore, can we, as the next generation grow?” Frank stated.

Further, she urged that they be the “generation to embrace reparations” and to “wake up” and take their place as models of “black excellence.”

“There is a recognition that the young people in the region are not taking on the reparations debate… there is the need to engage young people because the reparations movement cannot advance if young people in the region are not supportive of the movement,” she said.

Frank also encouraged them to become youth advocates of human rights issues, while noting that the CARICOM Secretariat has recently launched a group called IKEMBA, which seeks to “Educate and empower young people about their culture, while promoting volunteerism through culture.” The word IKEMBA, she explained, is a Zulu word meaning “Strength of the people.” Tuesday’s event was also used as a forum to honour three women for their “unconditional commitment and enduring dedicated service” to Region Four. Those women were Regional Executive Officer of Region Four Pauline Lucas, Regional Education Officer Tiffany Favourite-Harvey, and Regional Chairperson Genevieve Allen.

Also awarded were Beterverwagting Secondary’s Danelle Goddette and La Bonne Intention Secondary School’s Shenelle Harris for being the most improved students at their institutions.

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