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Inside Paradise: How one woman overcame racism in the Caribbean
Published on February 10, 2016 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Sherna Alexander Benjamin

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality," ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

If history could tell the true story of racism, prejudice, and segregation, many people in the Caribbean would stand in complete amazement and be ashamed of their actions. Guilt would take the place of pride and arrogance, because they would realize the true extent of the pain, hurt, and death caused by intentional or unintentional acts of prejudice, stereotyping, and racism.

Sherna Alexander Benjamin is a victim advocate and trainer, executive director, and a university student
We have heard the stories of many great freedom fighters like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. We have seen videos of them in action. We have heard about one coloured woman, Rosa Parks, who was so tired after a long day at work that she did not want to give up her seat in the bus to a white person and how the fight for one bus seat began the fight for freedom of all in her race.

Most times, we look outside of the Caribbean for such heroic acts and we would identify and seek to support the persecuted. However, we often fail to look Inside Paradise. We fail to look at home, for oftentimes many support the acts of racism, prejudice, and segregation in one way or another and seek to justify it.

Sixty-two years ago, a female ‘white’ baby was brought into this world; her father was a white man and her mother a woman of colour, as we would say in the Caribbean (black). This girl child while growing up never knew what it meant to experience racism until she entered the Calypso Arena, when she stood on a competition stage at Skinner Park in the presence of approximately 15,000 people with TV cameras rolling to earn herself a place at the Dimanche Gras -- the final big show before Carnival Monday and Tuesday, two days of artistic displaying of costumes and revelling in the streets.

Racism, prejudice, and hate were manifested that day in the majority of people attending. There were hateful speeches and hurtful words hurled at her. Then came the missiles, oh yes, the barrage of missiles of all descriptions without mercy or compassion. She was literally pelted while performing on stage with all types of missiles from sucked up oranges to toilet paper to empty beer bottles. And, remarkably, she still stood her ground.

She showed no fear that day, but with grace finished her rendition. What she only heard others speak about and saw on television -- what she never experienced as a child -- came home to her as an adult. That day on the Calypso arena stage she saw the true face of racism and felt its pangs among her own people and in her own country of birth.

To stand fearlessly and persevering in the face of racism and hate, to use music to unite communities and bringing peace where many in a nation judge you based on the colour of your skin, takes a type of courage which many cannot comprehend or imagine. To stand your ground while being told you do not belong, verbally attacked, and the media having a field day with your pain -- by inflicting more deadly blows -- takes a level of determination, fortitude, patriotism, and forgiveness that is rare.

“Jealousy, envy and hatred will always be in our lives and it’s up to us how we handle it.” ~ Denyse Plummer

Sherna Alexander Benjamin (L) and Denyse Plummer

The woman I describe and speak about is Denyse Plummer. She is called many things by many people; however, I love how one of my friends describes her. He says, “Denyse Plummer is a little woman with a gigantic personality.”

Denyse Plummer is a woman who made history in the Calypso arena in Trinidad and Tobago. She is a woman who beat all the odds. And she shows the folly of racism every time she stands on a stage to perform.

It is funny how many Caribbean people can detest the perpetration of racism that they see happening internationally; however, when it comes to the Caribbean, many people seem to justify why it should happen. Willful or unconscious ignorance overrides education; yet, education enlightens and bridges the gaps of separation and fear. Fear of the unknown or miscommunication breeds contempt, and contempt breeds hatred, and hatred can kill, causing separation and divisions in so many ways.

I often ask myself the questions: has post-colonialism ushered in a type of neo-colonialism where the oppressed somehow unconsciously find pleasure in being the oppressor, or is it that colonialism has left such a sour taste in the mouths of many Caribbean nationals that anything linking them to it is despised and rejected? But those questions can be explored in a subsequent piece.

Last week, I sat down alongside the Queen of Calypso; speaking with Denyse Plummer has always been a dream of mine and I felt like an excited child, even though she no longer sings calypso. Her life journey has now taken her on the road to a higher calling, a road which many may call the path to finding peace within. Today, Denyse Plummer is using her singing abilities and talents to be a minister for God and is lifting up the name of Jesus Christ through her music.

Almost two years ago, when Denyse began this journey of spirituality, many dubbed her crazy. Others said this was a fad she was going through and this too shall pass; while many encouraged her to return to the calypso arena because they missed her presence. However, she also endured the loss of many friends as they pulled away from her. Referring to the latter, Denyse said, “This hurt, but I understood why they left me. But, I still love them, for loving them is the only thing I can do.”

(L-R): Sherna Alexander Benjamin, Denyse Plummer and Denisha Ramdhan

Listening to Denyse speak about her newfound faith in Jesus Christ, her journey in the entertainment arena, her challenges and wrong decisions, but more so, her love for country, and her passion for the Caribbean people stood out to me. I thought I was a patriot. But listening to her, made me realize that my patriotism still has a long way to go. Her love for country and its culture is truly admirable and she deserves to be in the hall of fame for truly she is an icon.

I remember saying to myself years ago, “Sherna, people talk what they know, what they do not know and what they want to know. They invent and embellish stories when they are fearful, hurt, do not understand what is happening, and especially, when envy and jealousy is present. Never allow their words and the rumours perpetrated from their words to define you or shape your life. Always rise above it and use the negative as threads to build your ladder of success.”

Denyse Plummer has done just that. She has used the racism perpetrated against her as a stepping stone and as treads on her ladder of success to show to the nation that she was not leaving. She proved that love is the only thing that can conquer hate, racism, prejudice and indifference and that forgiveness is never easy but possible, and that protest can be nonviolent. She showed the power of music and how it can be used effectively to unite people of varied races.

Denyse attends World Outreach Church Ministries located at 17 Morne Coco Road in Petit Valley, Trinidad and Tobago. I saw the deep appreciation for God: her inward peace was being transferred and her passion for the Christ was evident. Under the covering of one of the Caribbean’s most prolific ministers of the gospel, Minister Carl Meade, and his beautiful wife, Minister Julie Meade, Denyse continues to grow spiritually and excel. What she loves about the church is that the ministration of the Holy Spirit is effectively seen and experienced. And though the membership is small in comparison to mega churches, the people are divinely connected and there lies a family bond so strong that all you can exclaim is: “Oh what love!”

In fewer than two years, Denyse has written a compelling book titled The CROSSOVER. In this book she tells all the dark secrets: the first time she lost her virginity, the baptism of fire referring to her induction into the Calypso arena, her addiction to nicotine and the love for the casino halls. What I love about the book is the fact that she left nothing out, no matter how shameful or regrettable. She shared it all as each page of the book is more captivating than the previous one and each experience leaves you with a life lesson and causes you to truly reflect on your own life. But it also lets you see her in a new light as she shows her crossover into this new path of being in service to God and man.

Denyse now speaks of ministering the word of God in song to save souls. Her love for and strong support of her family, her new friends in Christ Jesus, her desires to travel to various countries not for bacchanal and revelry but for praise and worship as she is now on focuses on kingdom business. She hopes one day to open worship for the likes of Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, and Joel Osteen. She wants to stand on the stage of Trinity Broadcasting Network to sing rapturous praises for God. She desires to do this all to serve God and humanity in deep humility.

A little woman with a big heart for God, family, people and animals. May her experiences be life lessons for us all. May her courage ignite a dedication for purpose, country, and people. And may it yield constant growth and positive change. May her boldness stand predominant as she will forever be remembered as the woman who changed the way the calypso game was played and a woman who looked racism in its face and shouted ‘Nah Leaving’ as she went on to win twelve titles and receive numerous other awards, which she displays proudly on her trophy shelves and, she is also the recipient of one of the country’s highest awards The National Humming Bird Gold Medal bestowed on her by the president of Trinidad and Tobago.

A woman of grace, excellence and class, a dedicated mother and wife, and a true friend to those who know her, but also a servant to the poor and disadvantaged. To the Calypso Queen Denyse Plummer, I say as did David Rudder to Haiti, “Denyse, I am sorry: sorry for all the hate you experienced and the bitterness which brought you to tears, sorry for all the racism which you endured, and sorry that so many misunderstood you. But I will forever be grateful for your strength for you pioneered a road for many women to be strong. You showed great brilliance and fortitude even under the heaviest of loads, and you stood victorious when others thought you would have failed. You stood your ground and said to all your detractors, ‘This is my home, this is my culture and I shall not be moved.”

May you enjoy my unedited interview with Denyse Plummer for Caribbean News Now for my weekly feature Inside Paradise. I must say thank you to World Outreach Church Ministries, Minister Carl Meade, Minister Julie Meade, Denyse Plummer, Together Brothers Studio, my team and everyone who made this article and interview possible.

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