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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/18/14

Caribbean - American Contribution To Black History

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Today, nobody can doubt the sterling contribution of Caribbean-Americans to the growth and development of the United States. And it's been a long history of proven commitment by those who have made this country their adopted homeland. That our ancestors from Africa labored without reward or recompense in the dark days of slavery underscores the stake that Caribbean -- Americans have here in 2014. And for the ignorant and uninformed few who consider Caribbean -- Americans outsiders, just sponging of the legasse of American hospitality I say this -- read your history.

But not so long ago, it used to be the politically correct thing to deny one's Caribbean roots. Indeed, early Caribbean immigrants, relatively few in number, only wanted to assimilate into the American mainstream. Those who came before cautioned newcomers to "not rock the boat. Hide your Caribbean identity"; learn to speak "Yankee" in a few days. Never speak in public about the "old country." But even with this old timeish sentiment that found favor among certain sections of the growing Caribbean community, Caribbean nationals, later to be fully assimilated into American life with the honorific name "Caribbean --Americans," formed alliances, and remained at the vanguard of the Black Liberation struggles in their adopted homeland.

Today, in 2014, the term "Caribbean -- American" is synonymous with hard work, a growing community of highly literate and skilled people, a landed immigrant community taking hold of and fashioning with a true exotic "Caribbean flavor" all those areas of American infrastructure -- from government to religion. However, in recent times there has been a kind of "two steps forward three steps backwards," movement in the forward march of Caribbean-Americans to self sufficiency and empowerment.

It is my humble opinion that there can be no doubt that there is still some ways to go before we can truly say that this community has "come of age and has arrived." Still, that should never diminish the contribution that immigrants from the Caribbean have made and continue to make to all facets of American life.

Many stories are still told today about the early Caribbean immigrants who waged initial struggles to be accepted by both Black and white America alike and for economic well-being. For the most part, these early immigrants, many of whom came from the middle and professional classes in their various Caribbean island homelands, were forced to take low-paying, menial jobs on the way up the social and economic ladder. They drove taxis, tended bar, worked in people's kitchens as housemaids, and did two jobs, and sometimes three, to help the family here and "back home."

Modern day success stories like Golden Krust and Royal Caribbean Foods delight inspire a new generation of Caribbean-American business leaders. Their national success and example of humble start-ups now doing big things resonate and personify the Caribbean-American approach to business and economic independence. Lowell Hawthorne, the president and CEO of Golden Krust, and Vincent "Vinny" HoSang, the president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Foods Delight, are two Jamaican pioneers in the art of taking indigenous foods and packaging and marketing them to the wider community. They have used the franchise example of American businesses like McDonalds and came up with their own unique franchise models that targets a Black and Caribbean-American user demographic. Their products are now found on the shelves of major national business like Costco and BJs.

But in today's climate of xenophobia, and the sustained attack on the immigrant community, Caribbean-Americans living here must be reminded that they are not all "wards of the state," and recipients of public handouts by white folks. Indeed, the Caribbean-American experience and achievement in the United States and their unequalled penchant for hard work is chronicled in the pages of Black History. And there can be absolutely no doubt that starting with the American War of Independence, Caribbean-Americans have been involved and at the forefront of every major struggle in the liberation of Black America.

From the War of Independence to the New Deal to the Civil Rights Era, the Caribbean-American record in America is one of which generations yet unborn can be very proud. Starting with Crispus Attucks, the Barbadian man who was the first casualty of the War of Independence, to modern day leaders all over the country, Caribbean-Americans have excelled. Hardwork, dedication, and a commitment to excellence at all and every level have marked their sojourn in America. Today this large, dynamic and upwardly mobile community is recognized as one of the growing affluent, educated, and upwardly mobile ones within the wider Black and immigrant communities -- and American society as a whole.

Despite many hardships, Caribbean-Americans have focused on getting ahead. Now the early generation of immigrants has retired, own their own homes, and have sent their children to college. They have also educated themselves along the way. This rising middle class has only now begun to flex its political muscle since the economic and social tasks of assimilation have now been completed. First and second generation Caribbean -- Americans, those born here in America, have helped this community put down its roots, thus becoming an important part of American life. These new torchbearers will build and solidify the foundations started by the tremendous hardwork, sacrifices, and tenacity that their grandfathers and father, mothers and grandmothers have demonstrated.

On their journey Caribbean-Americans have drawn on the achievements of many who traced their roots to the Caribbean region in the persons of  Hulan Jack, the legendary trade unionist Raymond Jones, "The Fox of Harlem," and one of the first Caribbean-American members of New York's City Council, the king-maker Fred Samuels.

On the shoulders of these pioneering Caribbean-American leaders now stand a modern generation of new leaders in all areas of American life. The entertainment industry is littered with the names and achievements of Caribbean-American actors like Cecily Tyson, whose portrayal of Harriet Tubman, the legendary Black freedom fighter is considered a classic, Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, activist, and ambassador of goodwill, and Sydney Poitier, exquisite actor of film and television. Today's crop of actors who trace their roots to the Caribbean are no less impressive: Sheryl Ralph and Delroy Lindo from Jamaica.

Two Caribbean-Americans, former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first elected Black woman to the United States Congress, and Trinidadian Congressman Mervyn Dymally, were indefatigable fighters for the cause of all Blacks. Both have made their marks on national and international politics. As did the deceased former Black Nationalist Leader Stokely Carmichael, now Kwame Toure, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and who excelled during the Civil Rights/Black Power era in the United States. Of course, the work and dedication of the late Cleveland Robinson, a Jamaican, who marched with Dr.Martin Luther King,Jr., and who helped him plot the course of the Civil Rights struggle, also stands out, as well as his lifelong commitment to workers' rights in the trade union movement.

Retired General Colin Powell, the youngest Chief Of Staff of the United States Armed Forces and former United States Secretary of State, was blessed by having a Jamaican mother and father. Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the powerful and influential Nation of Islam, traces his roots to the tiny Caribbean island of St.Kitts. And the legendary Malcolm X's mother came from the revolutionary island of Grenada, while his father was a Jamaican.

Today, New York is home to a little over 580,000 Caribbean -- Americans (U.S. Census figures 2012) and while there is still some way to go, Caribbean-Americans have prospered and excelled. Indeed the impressive list of achievements reflects strong and bold strides in every area in the fight for social and economic justice. Caribbean -- Americans have partnered with African-Americans in forging a common understanding and a need to work together in each other's interests. Not only that. Caribbean -- Americans have reached out to other immigrant communities to broaden the base of the socio-economic and political struggle.

This natural dynamic has spawned the likes of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Assemblyman Nick Perry, Former City Councilwoman Una Clarke (Jamaica), former Councilman Dr. Kendall B. Stewart (St. Vincent & the Grenadines), deceased Assemblywoman Pauline Rhodd Cummings (Jamaica), former City Councilman Rev. Lloyd Henry (Belize) and State Senator John Sampson (Guyana) in the political arena. They have been joined in recent times by the star-potential City Councilman Jumaanie Williams, who traces his roots to the revolutionary Caribbean island of Grenada and Haitian-American Matheiu Eugene. Social and educational interaction has produced Nobel Prize winner, the St.Lucian playwright Derek Walcott, the acclaimed novelists, Paulie Marshall and Jamaica Kincaid, actor extraordinaire Sydney Poitier, and basketball stars, Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan and many, many others.

So this record of not remaining aloof from the fracas that is American life and politics is clearly outlined in Black historical records. Caribbean -- Americans have also had to contend with similar problems faced by African -- Americans, and then some more. They have had to deal with the problems of racism and discrimination. They have been used as handy scapegoats when opportunistic politicians needed a vulnerable group of people to beat up on. And they have been used as an unwitting tool against each other in the devious tactic of divide, rule and conquer.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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