Remarks by Ms Susan Shurland, Deputy Permanent Secretary, at the Launch of the Pan African Festival 2018 Commemorating Emancipation

May 27, 2018

Good afternoon.

It is an honour to represent the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts at this launch of the 2018 Pan African Festival, Commemorating Emancipation.  The theme “Empowerment to (Face and) Overcome Today’s Challenges” is apt in recognising the 180th Anniversary of the end of chattel slavery.

I am indeed curious and very excited to learn more about the various projects and initiatives that you, The Emancipation Support Committee, have championed and continue to drive, to empower young Trinbagonians about African Heritage. These projects and initiatives are an opportunity for us at the Ministry; an opportunity because we have long since realized that promoting and preserving heritage is by no means easy nor can it be done without collaboration.

The Ministry’s mandate under our National Developmental Goals speaks to “Putting People First; Nurturing our Greatest Asset” and that is what the people of our nation are, a great asset. Therefore it is up to us to ensure that our citizens understand their heritage and their inherent greatness.

But how can we maximise our efforts? How can we better collaborate to harness the rich stories and knowledge that reside within the elders and teachers of the Emancipation Support Committee, not only through the programmes that you do but the ones piloted and run by the Ministry. Our efforts need to extend beyond the disbursement of funding for Emancipation Celebrations and other like events. How can we, that is the Ministry and the Emancipation Support Committee work to “harness our greatest asset” in a more meaningful and sustained way?  This is the challenge I want to throw out to you today.

“The supreme artist exercises an influence on the national consciousness which is incalculable. He is created by it but he himself illuminates and amplifies it, bringing the past up to date and charting the future.” These are the words of Trinidad born Pan-Africanist, CLR James. I chose this quote not only because of who said it and his relevance to the work of the committee, but because of its relevance to what we strive for everyday in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts. “An influence on national consciousness….. illuminates and amplifies…., bringing the past up to date and charting the future.” This is our collective challenge; using our various platforms, knowledge, history, cultures, art forms, artistes and everything we do to influence the national consciousness.

As a Ministry we do this through our many, many programmes. The Best Village Trophy Competition, where we see our multicultural influence in dance, music, food, poetry; the Mentoring by the Masters programme, where for 2018, we will focus on story-telling, fashion, entrepreneurship and live productions; or even our Craft Markets that manifest the skills that passed through generations of artisans. The list of our programmes goes on and on so I will stop there.  The point I wish to make is that our programmes provide an opportunity for you to “influence” the content, the narrative, the future of African heritage in art, music, storytelling.  Best Village had over 500 groups in 2017; between 2013 and 2017, 425 mentees have graduated from this Mentoring by the Masters programme. Use your knowledge, your expertise to further “illuminate and amplify” the conversation on Pan Africanism through these initiatives as well.  Our collaboration, if mapped correctly, will have the power to bring the past up to date and chart the future.  Let’s make our past relevant to today, relevant to the environment in which our young people get and share information. Let’s make the past our current narrative but from the perspective of taking us forward and not steeped in traditions for the sake of tradition only.  Tradition most certainly has an important part to play in understanding who we are and where we have come from but in as much as we need a rear view mirror, there is a reason our windscreens are larger.

I must commend you for your commitment to educating, preserving and protecting African culture. Your organization continues to be at the fore front of the drive for the enhancement of people of African descent.  Your labour is not in vain and I assure you that our doors are open to how we can better integrate your mandate into enriching the programmes and initiatives of the Ministry, so that collectively we can influence the national consciousness and chart the future.

It is now my pleasure to officially launch the 2018 Pan African Festival Commemorating Emancipation!

I thank you for your service and I look forward to future collaborations.

Thank you all.