Best known as the Belize headquarters of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the historic Liberty Hall on Barrack Road continued to be a place of social interaction and political organization even after the decline of the UNIA, but it has fallen into a state of disrepair for some time now.
Earlier this year, some $4,000 was raised in a fundraiser organized by the Rasta United Movement, one of the current occupiers of Liberty Hall, to effect repairs to the upper verandah of the historic building.
Now, a new movement within its walls aims to reawaken the grassroots social sector of Belize to knowledge of self.
A “People’s University Without Walls” intends to begin classes in the very near future on the lower flat, according to organizer Emerson Guild.
Guild told us that he developed the initiative after a one-year “research experiment” at the Hattieville Prison managed by Kolbe Foundation with first-time offenders in the Wagner’s Youth Facility, many of whom, he said, were “young black teenagers who have never been given the opportunity to train themselves on equal rights and their responsibilities in society.” Since 2006, he added, he and others have been meeting with communities around the country and listening to their needs.
According to Guild, he and other volunteers were successful in reversing the plight of these offenders, so that youngsters who had not even finished primary school were being taught calculus, for instance.
He hopes to replicate that success in the wider community, and turn Liberty Hall once again into a bustling community center for “grassroots people” to re-educate themselves to take advantage of Belize’s many resources.
“We must find a way to impart knowledge and teach upliftment to our youths; otherwise we will be in trouble. With all our resources – oil, gold, land, sea, the people – we are just too rich for this to happen to us,” he said.
Guild believes that the problem with Belize’s society lies in education – or lack thereof. According to him, the current education system teaches dependency on the system and its prescription has resulted in a condition that an American professor has labeled “Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome”, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We are being violated, and we don’t want to be violated anymore,” was Guild’s simple response when we asked about the reason for the establishment of the education program.
Because of the “proactive” pressure of the Government locally and the international political economy, including “drug conglomerates,” Guild theorizes, the reaction is the spate of violence that has taken 51 lives to date in Belize City and 102 countrywide as of this writing, leading to a situation in which right-thinking Belizeans are being held “prisoners” in their own homes.
But he also believes that this can be reversed – if Belizeans are willing to think unconventionally for a solution.
“We have been limited for so long that we are starting to think that limit is normal. It is not normal, it is crazy! Conventional wisdom has created many of the problems we have. We have to have knowledge of self – personal, social, intellectual, economic, cultural, everything,” said Guild.
The program at Liberty Hall will be different from the other adult and continuing education programs in the City at present, in that it will find those who are “slipping through the cracks” – especially those who have not benefited from formal education and it will take some time to recruit participants.
Guild is also asking for volunteer facilitators for the classes to take place at the Hall (some of whom have already been interviewed), and mentioned that he has solicited international assistance of educators for the online education component of the program.