I ran into a very successful businessman on Friday afternoon when both of us went to look for the same person. This gentleman is from the generation of Belizeans before mine, and one of the aspects in which his story is a great one is that he never got the opportunity to attend high school, whereas all of his close childhood friends did.
Over the years, the gentleman and I have spoken briefly on several occasions, but it may be that Friday was the occasion for our longest conversation ever. Almost certainly, it was our most probing, perhaps actually challenging. I would say that he is not bitter about his tough childhood, but it is for sure that he is triumphant in his adult success, which is spectacular.
Before our time, there were stories like this. I don’t think Isaiah Morter, our first native millionaire, attended any kind of high school. Bob Turton dropped out of primary school when he was nine years old. It is possible to do business without being educated, but on Wall Street today the business leaders are educated to very high levels. They all have Master’s degrees in business administration at a minimum, and some will have degrees in law and accounting besides.
In America, undergraduate university is considered only a general foundation in education. There, you get a first degree, which is called a Bachelor’s. After undergraduate university, Americans go to various graduate schools, where they begin to specialize in areas like medicine, law, business, accounting, engineering, and all the various scientific and technical fields.
It would be extremely difficult to make it in pure business in America today with only a grade school education, because so much of business there is about socializing, which involves a lot of conversation about various subjects at the university level and higher.
My older Belizean acquaintance has an exceptional sense of humor and a very sharp mind, which have served him well. He is a member of the power structure of Belize. But, there are certain subjects which he will not be able to discuss at a high level. One of these is Marxism-Leninism, and this is a subject you need to understand if you are going to make major decisions for Belize and Belizeans. I believe this.
I won’t pursue this line of discourse with you, and I will move from discussion of my older acquaintance to some of my personal history. I got a first degree in 1968, and at that time only about 30 or 40 Belizeans were in possession of these animals. A first degree was a big deal back then, but now there are thousands and thousands of Belizeans who are university graduates. You have to get a second and third degree to be a big time academic these days.
I think that Belizeans back then generally felt that you were supposed to behave a certain way and live a certain kind of life if you were a university graduate. In my case, I had realized before I graduated, in fact several months before I graduated, that the main reason I was finishing this degree was so that the power structure in Belize could not put me in the insane asylum when I returned home. This is how bad it was in Belize back then where anything involving African consciousness was concerned.
About six years before, the Belize power structure had put Charles X “Justice” Eagan in the insane asylum for saying some of the same things I was about to say. In 1968, I didn’t know about what had happened to Justice: it was only self-preservation instinct which was saying to me, finish this white man’s degree so they can’t declare you crazy. It is true that Justice was a primary school dropout and it is also true that his beliefs were more extreme than mine, but I feel that if I had dropped out of university and come home without the paper, they would have used the insanity brand to crush me.
As it was, in seeking to discredit and silence I, the power structure of Belize used the weapons of politics and finances. They placed seditious conspiracy charges on me in the Supreme Court, after they took away my employment and forced me to become a hustler in the streets. The masses of the Belizean people began to say that I was “throwing away” my education, because they knew that, at least theoretically, I had a lifestyle option to what I was doing in UBAD.
At the same time the masses of the Belizean people were saying what they were saying, however, they were listening to my ideas and opinions, and they agreed with many of these. In a similar fashion to how my older acquaintance feels triumphant because he made it despite the hardships and deprivation of his childhood/youth, I man feel vindicated because I made it on my own terms.
“To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels.”
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.