Last week, I was the guest speaker at a Power Breakfast event in Newark, New Jersey. This series attracts executives, business owners, legislators, educators and other professionals in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. areas.
Though I would not ordinarily accept an engagement in a cold climate in the winter, I could not resist the opportunity to interact with this diverse audience which contained many people of Caribbean origin. The discussions and valuable meetings afterward confirmed my belief that Barbados and other Caribbean nations have valuable assets in nationals who live in the United States. This goes far beyond the remittances to family members and the occasional contribution to a club or civic organization.
“There are more out than in”, was the declaration of a Barbadian-born pastor who heads a charter school and is a sophisticated entrepreneur. In truth, there are more Caribbean nationals who live abroad than the combined amounts of those who still reside at home. I also met a Barbadian woman who is president of a college that is actively seeking ways to contribute to the development of the Barbadian society as well as in West Africa. I met their innovative and well-connected friends who, because of their passionate commitment to the development of disenfranchised people, are ready to share their knowledge and experience to raise the hope and capabilities of those who need it.
Lay-offs, poor educational opportunities, crime, disproportionate incarceration, human trafficking and diminished moral standards and behaviour; occupy their minds and efforts, just as we wrestle with the Caribbean versions of these issues. We talked about ways to take social events and expand them into scalable community development initiatives. A community in that jurisdiction, is a whole country in the Caribbean but there is enough in common to enhance our efforts in both places.
Ironically, my visit encompassed the Martin Luther King holiday and Errol Barrow’s birthday. One common thread among all those I met, is a determination to embrace only those initiatives that are feasible, sustainable and contribute to the growth and development of productive societies. I firmly believe that issues such as the “brain drain”, expansion of the African-American tourism sector, “minority” financial services professionals and many others; can be turned to productive assets.
CARICOM seems to be copying the European Union and is fraught with failed attempts for Caribbean nations to unite and collaborate. There are approximately 44 million, 500 thousand African Americans in the United States, many of whom are of Caribbean ancestry. They are experiencing an increasing poverty rate and a declining mortality rate. Nevertheless, the talent of this group and that of Caribbean people is beyond dispute.
I recognize that this raises sensitive racial issues but the intent here is inclusion rather than exclusion. I have heard complaints that African Americans don’t tip and are troublesome in their demands. I have also experienced many customer service incidents where I was either ignored at a place of business, or treated with abruptness and disdain when “reasonable” requests were made.
Our walk to wellness as a nation and as a region, entails an improvement in how we behave toward each other. I have first-hand experience with the therapeutic nature of living in Barbados. Let’s build on our assets. If we think out- of-the- box; there are more available.