By Christopher Famous
On July 18, 2017, I was elected to the House of Parliament in Bermuda. Each new Member of Parliament is given the opportunity to present their maiden speech. Below is my maiden speech delivered on October 20, 2017.
Due to recent remarks in this house against someone I regard as a brother I feel compelled to rise to my feet for a short statement.
First Lady of the United States of America Michelle Obama once said, and I quote: “Every day I wake up in a house built by slaves.”
Well, Mr Speaker, every day that we are in this house we are in a house built by slaves.
Yes, Mr Speaker, brick by brick our enslaved ancestors built this house nearly 200 years ago.
Without a doubt those that forced our enslaved ancestors to build this house never envisioned that one day they and their descendants will never be in control of this house, this Government or this island of Bermuda.
Well, Mr Speaker, today is the day we remind some of their descendants that there are no more boys to order around.
There will be no more bowing down to anyone anymore.
Simply put, Mr Speaker, today we are here as the descendants of those great tradesmen that built this house, not as enslaved persons but as free men and women, to remind everyone that there are no slaves in this honourable house.
There are only leaders.
House of Assembly Bermuda was built by enslaved Africans PHOTO
Mr Speaker, with that being said, having heard the brilliant speech about purpose by my fellow, newly minted MP Dennis Lister 3rd in this chamber, allow me a few minutes to address some aspects of the term Leadership.
I will begin with a quote by His Imperial Majesty, Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie.
“The true leader is one who realizes by faith that he is an instrument in the hands of God and educates himself to be a guide and inspirer of the nobler sentiments and aspirations to the people.”
Mr Speaker, over the majority of my life I have had the privilege and honour to be mentored by the majority of the leaders of the Progressive Labour Party, inclusive of Dame Lois Brown Evans, Hon L Fredrick Wade, Dame Jennifer Smith, Hon Alex Scott, Hon Dr Ewart Brown, Hon Eugene Cox, Hon Paula Cox, Hon Marc Bean our current Premier Hon. David Burt and our late chairman Mr Maynard Dill.
Each one of them challenged me not just to assist this party but more importantly to assist this country.
That is what true leadership does.
True leadership does not seek to hold power to itself but to groom the next generation of leaders.
I would not be in this seat if it were not for the leaders in this country, both then and now who deeply influenced my upbringing and continue to shape me, even today.
The primary mentors and teachers with respect to leadership are to be found in our homes and in our neighborhoods. So let me give homage to my family and the community which nurtured me.
Mr Speaker, Bermudians have historically come from diverse backgrounds. Some from the United Kingdom. Many others from the Azores.
Today I will speak briefly on the history of those of us from the West Indies
Mr Speaker, like yourself and perhaps 60 percent of all Bermudians, our people came to this island via various islands in the West Indies.
The Bermudian writer Cyril Packwood chronicled in his seminal book “Chained on the Rock” that the first persons of colour to arrive in Bermuda came as indentured servants from the West Indies.
Thousands of our people came here as enslaved Africans and Indigenous Americans. Some came as free people of color. Post 1834 others left the brutal plantations of the Caribbean to start life here in Bermuda. Not to bow down to Bermudian colonial masters, but to determine their own destinies.
Just as we did on July 18, 2017
Mr Speaker, my biological relatives have surnames such as, but not limited to; Byron, Brown, Charles, Fraser, Rubain, Matthews, Harris, Lugo, Thomas, Wilson, Webb and yes indeed Famous. However, let us not be fooled by surnames, as DNA tests will show that almost everyone from St Kitts and Nevis is biologically related.
Even the Cannoniers.
Mr Speaker, when we take stock of many of the historic leaders of our community, our unions and the political party that we represent we find a common thread or common identifier: “The St Kitts club”. Many years ago that nomenclature was used to denigrate us but now we wear it with pride.
It was that strength and unity derived from our African-Caribbean roots that brought us out of bondage, through segregation and into leadership in all areas of Bermudian life.
Mr Speaker, when we were denied a place of worship, we built churches such as the Evening Light Pentecostal Church on Parsons Road, the Emmanuel Baptist Church on Dundonald Street and the Church of God on Angle Street.
When we had nowhere to play sports, we built workingmen’s and community clubs such as the former Pond Hill Stars and the Pembroke Juniors Clubs; and subsequently, the Devonshire Recreation, North Village Community Club and Young Man’s Social Club, all of which remain with us today.
When we had nowhere to educate our children, we built schools such as Powell’s Nursery on Friswell’s Hill and the Berkeley Institute on Court Street.
When we had no representation for workers of Bermuda, we built the unions.
When we couldn’t eat in their restaurants, Mr Wilfred Degraff cooked us beef pies.
And when we were ready to fight for our civil and political rights, we, in partnership with black Bermudians from the old line families, built a party called the Progressive Labour Party that fought for social and racial justice.
Mr Speaker, simply put, we did not cry or go around begging colonial masters for their scraps or trickledown economics. We did what we do best. We led.
Just as we did on July 18, 2017
Mr Speaker, I would be remiss if I do not speak of the communities formed by these leaders of the Caribbean family.
Communities such as, but not limited to:
• Angle Street
• Princess Street
• Court Street
• Curving Avenue
• Smith’s Hill
• Parsons road
• Marsh Folly
• St Monica’s Road
• Government Gate
• The Glebe Road
• Roberts Avenue
• And may I proudly say, Pond Hill
Collectively these areas form what is now affectionately called the “Back of Town”.
Mr Speaker, there was a time that many in this country mistakenly looked down on those of us from Back of Town. They said that we were no good or nothing to be proud of. We were considered nothing more than a bunch of Gombeys.
Mr Speaker, they also labelled us as Pond Dogs.
Let me tell you something about Pond Dogs. In order to survive in the Back of Town, you had to be able to think on your feet and think two steps ahead of the next person.
In other words you had to be a leader.
Leaders such as, but not limited to:
• Mr Austin Thomas
• Mr Robert Wilson
• Mr Wycliffe Stovell
• Brother Ottiwell Simmons
• Mr Freddy Thomas
• Ms Aurelia Burch
• My aunt, Dame Lois Brown Evans
Mr Speaker, these are but some of the people who have instilled the qualities of leadership, not through lip service but through the sweat of their brows and by the impeccable examples they set.
To the people of Back of Town let no one ever tell you we cannot make it. I stand here in this house as one of your own. I stand here today as a proud product of Back of Town.
Indeed I am a proud Pond Dog.
Mr Speaker, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other communities that also formed part of our extended West Indian community, such as Devonshire, Hamilton Parish, Warwick and Somerset or Sands Parish. These communities went on to become the heartland of the early PLP during its 1960s formation and remain our social and political strongholds.
The West Indian community has now – over time – become one with the older black families .We are all one in this island home. We share the same families, the same grand and great grandchildren and of course the same culture. We are united.
Just as we were united on July 18, 2017.
Mr Speaker, as we are a labour party please allow me to address the workers of Bermuda.
For clarity, I am talking about those who wear blue collars, white collars and all other collars.
To my fellow workers of Bermuda let us realize that we are more than persons simply making 9-5 or some other form of shift work. We, the workers of Bermuda are the ones keeping this island running 24/7, 365 days of the year.
Be it the:
• The medical workers keeping their patients comfortable
• The chefs who feed us
• The IB workers who keep our economy floating
• The accountants who ensure we are paid or…
• The technicians at Belco who ensure that we are powered up
The workers of Bermuda can no longer complain that we do not have a government that does not have the best interests of the Bermudian workforce at heart. However, we have to do our part.
Therefore, I appeal to you the workers to constantly work at keeping the bar high. Take the academic and technical courses that are needed to move not just your career forward but to move your respective companies and indeed our island home forward.
Essentially, we encourage you to not just be workers. We encourage you to be the next generation of business owners.
Essentially, be leaders.
Mr Speaker, before I conclude, allow me to also address the Honourable Members of this house.
Honourable Members, on July 18, 2017, 20,000 Bermudians voted for change. The change that they want and deserve is not simply a change in political leadership. No, Mr Speaker, they want and deserve the type of change that will address their dearest hopes and aspirations for themselves and their families. We, therefore, must demonstrate the real leadership that they expect of us.
Honourable Members, we did not vote ourselves into these 36 seats. Whether you are representing the PLP or not, Bermudian voters want us to address their concerns with dignity and with a sense of maturity:
- They did not vote for us to come up here and repeat our own opinions for 20 minutes at a time. No, they voted for us to do the necessary research, present facts and alternative options to the challenges of the day when required.
- They did not vote for us to come up here and discuss what he said and she said five, ten and 20 years ago. They voted for us to discuss what they said last week when we canvassed them.
- They did not vote for us to show our faces only when the next election is called. Indeed they voted for us to check on them daily, weekly and monthly.
- They did not vote for us to make the rich richer. They voted for us to empower those who need to be uplifted.
- They did not vote for us to come into this house and bicker like children; to the contrary, simply put they voted for us to lead.
Honourable Members, if we fail to do so we may find ourselves surrounded in this building by an army of 5,000-plus Bermudians, just as others found out in March of 2016.
Mr Speaker, the Holy Scriptures say that there is a time for war and that there is a time for peace.
Let those who have any doubts remember that, with the will of the Almighty and the people of this country, the Progressive Labour Party has proven once again that we were able not only to fight a political war but also to win that war hands down.
Mr Speaker, the PLP is not in this honourable house to bicker or war.
Mr Speaker, the PLP is here in this honourable house to lead in the best interests of ALL Bermudians
Mr Speaker, with that I have said my piece.