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WHAT REV. KEITH RUSSELL HAD TO SAY

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Good evening. I am delighted that you have invited me to this symposium to make a brief presentation on this extraordinary event in Bahamian history.

I begin here. The day I was born; the day I graduated from college. I have eight siblings and I’m still the only one to date to have done so; the day I committed myself to a lifelong Christian vocation; Majority Rule Day; I start with these because I want you to see the company that Majority Rule Day keeps in my mind, not in some distant past, but in the present moment.

And so, I am overjoyed that we have finally included this day on our calendar of holidays. This is an enormous step in the right direction, but we are not where we ought to be yet. The struggle for the preeminence of this day continues. Yet, a journey of a thousand miles must begin with that first crucial step.

For one, we are not there yet because all of us are still not on the same page regarding the day’s eminence. Unfortunately, many of us continue to feel a kind of perverse guilt if we have to engage any discussion involving the brutality inflicted upon black bodies, minds and souls by Colonialism, white privilege and racism. I wish that I could tell you that these triple tribulations are evils of the past. Absolutely not! Their lingering legacy affects us adversely in the present moment. Because of these evils, black Bahamians are still struggling with identity issues, with issues of self love, with issues of love and appreciation for indigenous culture, with issues of always privileging things European over things African. And the list goes on. However, the celebration of Majority Rule helps to mitigate the ugliness of this legacy. This celebration helps to give us a positive sense of self. It celebrates our human dignity, our courage and our dogged determination.

In addition, we are not there yet because some of us are reprehensible enough to sell our birthright for a bowl of porridge. For political reasons, to appease a particular constituency of Bahamians, a specific prescient of power, or to make the neocolonialist among us happy, many downplay the significance of this remarkable day; and certainly to the detriment of our collective healing and progress. What those political parasites miss is that the celebration of Majority Rule helps to inform those masters of oppression that the humanity of the oppressed is equal to their own. Consequently, we can truly, together, create one Bahamas, where we celebrate our common humanity.

Moreover, we are not there yet because there are those of us who are old enough to know the story; yet, our sluggish actions concerning reciting it display a profound laziness. How will those who are not old enough know of the meaning of this exceptional day without story tellers? We must be deliberate and intentional and consistent and passionate and unashamed about telling this story.

And it must be a stylized telling, filled with pump and pageantry, with enthusiasm and animation, with a gleam in our eyes that bespeaks the grandeur of the moment, with a sacred regard that recalls the memory of imprisoned hope reaching up out of our collective pain.

These younger ones are living in a house they did not build; and eating from fruit trees they did not plant. They ought to be told about how and why the house was reconstructed; and why they now have fruit bearing trees in their backyard; that is, they need to know why they now have a house they can call their own and why they have the privilege to dream in that house and have those dreams fulfilled. Majority Rule Day teaches these lessons.

The young need to be told that this house and these fruits were not always available to persons kissed passionately by nature’s sun. They need to be told with such detail that they can almost smell the dripping sweat occasioned by the enormous sacrifice of those who rebuilt this house and planted these trees with profoundly little resources in the heat of the blazing sun. They need to be able to almost taste the salt of those bitter tears, rolling in torrents along those determined ebony faces. They need to feel the cramp spaces where the oppressors were trying to contain our parents’ and grand parents’ dreams; and experience the frustration crawling through their bones when those dreams were deferred. The remembrance of Majority Rule ought to be a visceral experience for us. We ought to feel it in those complex compartments of our psyche and in the deep, scared places of our souls.

We ought to speak about Majority Rule Day with the passion and grandness Shakespeare’s King Henry does about St. Crispin Day, in the play Henry V. It is based on a real historical event during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between the English and the French. On October 25th, 1415 (St. Crispin’s Day), the greatly outnumbered English defeated the French in a significant battle.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Are we there yet? No. But in this present moment, in sacred spaces like this, in such enthusiastic gatherings, I see a gleam in our eyes; we are joyfully pressing towards that mark. So in the words of a great Bahamian extract, James Weldon Johnson:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.