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News : International : Organization of American States (OAS) Last Updated: Mar 29, 2017 - 5:30:39 PM

"Celebrating The Black Experience in The Americas"
By Oswald Brown
Mar 29, 2017 - 3:14:06 PM

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Dr. Elliston Rahming, Bahamas Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), addressing a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - His Excellency Dr. Elliston Rahming, Bahamas Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), made a strong case during an address at the OAS on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in support of his contention that there “is cause to celebrate the black experience in and contributions to the Americas.”

“And while we celebrate how far we have come from the vestiges of ancient slavery, let us use this decade to dismantle modern slavery in all its ugly forms: forced labor, human trafficking and gender bias,” Dr. Rahming said, adding that it is “only by so doing that we make a recognizable dent in closing our hemisphere’s black hole.”

Dr. Rahming was speaking during a special meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS convened on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Simon Bolivar Hall at the OAS headquarters at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. to commemorate the “International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”

Using the theme “Closing the Hemispheric Black Hole,” Dr. Rahming said that Carter Goodwin Woodson, the noted African American author and historian, made “the point that throughout recorded history descendants of the African slave trade have been underrepresented and unevenly recognized for their varied and myriad contributions to civilization and what I will call world peace, progress, prosperity, and pleasure.”

“Of the roughly seven billion people who inhabit this planet, 1.5 billion are classified as white and blacks account for 1.1 billion,” Dr. Rahming said. “The remaining 4 billion-plus are somewhere in the middle. Black people, for the most part, live on three continents: Africa and North and South Americas. Throughout history, there is a paucity of written material that records the positive influences and storied contributions that black citizens of the world have made toward global peace, prosperity and pleasure. It is this vacuum, this systematic oversight, that Carter Woodson calls history’s black hole.”

Continuing, Dr. Rahming added, “Having endured slavery; having shaken off the cloak of colonialism; having triumphed over Jim Crow laws in the United States, apartheid in South Africa, slavery throughout most of the diaspora, people of African descent – except for political power – are still far too often near the bottom.

“Despite this, I contend that some of the greatest exploits in human endeavor were spawned from the minds of descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“In the Americas, some 200 million persons are of African descent. Many more live elsewhere. Given the protracted ill efforts of slavery and colonialism, the United Nations by General Assembly Resolution 68/237 has declared 2015 to 2024  ‘The International Decade for People of African Descent’. Sadly, this clarion call towards human upliftment has gotten all but lost in the glow of the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. I would like to suggest, however, that we utilize our best efforts to celebrate the lives and contributions of those of African descent who contributed significantly to filling history’s black hole through the promotion of peace throughout the Americas. In this regard, let us salute and celebrate the lifetime contributions of:

Samuel Sharpe of Jamaica, whose slave rebellion led to the abolition of slavery not just in Jamaica but throughout the British Empire.

Frederick Douglass, an American who was born into slavery but who went on to become an advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Harriet Tubman whose ingenious anti-slavery Underground Railroad exploits led to freedom for hundreds of slaves and for which her portrait is soon to adorn the U.S. $50 note.

Benkos Bioho, a former king, who lived in the 16th century in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was brought to the West as a slave. He eventually settled in what we know today as Colombia and he was instrumental in bringing about the first slave-free village in the Americas.

Benedita da Silva of Brazil, who was born in the slums, overcame entrenched and intense prejudice because she was a woman and because she was black, yet she rose from utter poverty to become the first female and the first black governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican national, who perhaps did more than anyone else in his day to teach love of self and economic independence among people of African descent.

George Padmore, who hailed from Trinidad and Tobago, who was among the first to introduce trade unionism and collective bargaining to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was to the West what Ghandi was to the East – a symbol of mankind’s nobler virtues exemplified by the predominance of reconciliation and understanding over hatred and callous indifference.

Toussaint L’Ouverture from Haiti, who proved to be a military genius and is credited with liberating not just Haiti but also what is now the Dominican Republic.

A.N.R. Robinson, former Prime Minister and President of Trinidad and Tobago, whose vision and indefatigable efforts led to the creation of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

Colin Powell, of Jamaican heritage, who was the United States’ first black Secretary of State and National Security Advisor and whose war doctrine has become the international template on how to reduce civilian casualties in war zones.

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, who perhaps above and beyond everything else, proved that it is possible to govern even in hostile envisions, free from personal or institutional scandals.”

With respect to progress within the Americas and the contributions of people of African descent, Dr. Rahming said that “we need look no further than how all of us, without exception, have a descendant of slavery to thank for many of life’s comforts we so easily take for granted.”

Continuing he listed  a litany of examples of accomplishments by blacks:

“If you find that bleach, instant coffee, mayonnaise, ink, shaving cream, meat tenderizer, and shoe polish are important to you, thank black inventions pioneer, George Washington Carver.

“If you enjoy potato chips, thank black inventor George Crum.

“If you know someone who has had open heart surgery or if one day you require one, thank black medical pioneer Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

“If you enjoy the design and layout of this city, Washington, D.C., or if you have become reliant on your watch to help manage your time, thank Benjamin Banneker.

“Do you take your suits and dresses to be dry cleaned? Give a shout out to Thomas Jennings, a black man, who in 1821 was the first to receive a patent for dry cleaning.

“When you go to bed tonight if you turn off a lamp, black inventor Lewis Latimer, who worked with Thomas Edison, holds the original patent for the electric lamp.

“Garret Morgan, a descendant of slaves, invented the traffic light and the sewing machine; Frederick McKinley Jones invented the x-ray machine as well as the automatic refrigeration system for trucks that allow perishable goods to travel long distances; Marie Van Brittan Brown was the first to develop the modern home surveillance and security system; Shirley Ann Jackson’s pioneering research led to the inventions of the fiber optic cable, portable fax machine and the touchtone telephone; Mark Dean conceived and developed the colored PC monitor.”

Dr. Rahming added, “And so we have looked however briefly at how descendants of slavery contributed to peace and progress throughout the Americas. I therefore now turn to my third “P” – pleasure. In what ways have descendants of slaves contributed to our level of pleasure throughout the Americas. In the interest of time I will cite just two categories of pleasure from which we have all benefitted: music and sports.

“What would our world be without reggae and Bob Marley? Imagine a world without the Mighty Sparrow. But there’s not just reggae and soca that are outflows of the African experience, there’s also jazz, the blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock and roll and soul music – all of which can be traced back to the Motherland and all of which have infused millions of hearts irrespective of race or language with a sense of hope, happiness, love, endurance and survival. So while Bob Marley is immortal, and while the Mighty Sparrow is eternal, we must pause every now and then to salute Michael Jackson, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Whitney Houston, Byron Lee, Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Celia Cruz, Josephine Baker and countless others who contributed to our joyful tears, teenage romantic moments and can-do spirit.

“Finally, as a source of pleasure, descendants of slavery have used the instrument of sports to warm our collective hearts, knit us together and lift our spirits during our deepest, darkest hours.

“If you like boxing, there were none greater than Joe Louis and Mohammed Ali; if you prefer basketball, you may wish to know that blacks make up 75% of the players in the National Basketball Association. Pleasure!

“If you like American football, 70% of NFL players are black. PLEASURE! If you like soccer, as I do, Pele, thirty plus years after retirement, still has no equal, not in all of Europe or Asia or wherever. If you are partial to cricket, Sir Gary Sobers is still the standard bearer of excellence. And I would be remiss not to mention track and field and the pride we all felt by the unmatched achievements of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner Kersee, and yes, Usain Bolt. Indeed time would not permit me to comment on Tiger Woods in golf or the Williams sisters in tennis.

“It is therefore for these and countless other reasons, Mr. Chairman, that I say while there is much work to be done, and still much land to be possessed, there is cause to celebrate the black experience in and contributions to the Americas. And while we celebrate how far we have come from the vestiges of ancient slavery, let us use this decade to dismantle modern slavery in all its ugly forms: forced labor, human trafficking and gender bias. It is only by so doing that we make a recognizable dent in closing our hemisphere’s black hole.”

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