I have to admit that I’ve reached the stage of my life where I am regularly affected by bouts of nostalgia. On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, KREM’s Lisa Love was playing Eddie Floyd’s “Consider Me.” In the summer of 1969, that song absolutely ruled the jukebox in the pool hall downstairs of where I lived with my wife, pregnant with our first child. This was at the corner of King and George Streets in Belize City.
I had spent time earlier the said Tuesday with Nuri Muhammad, as I often do on Tuesday mornings. Nuri Muhammad had been like a special consultant to the fledgling UBAD movement during that summer of 1969. He was on holiday from university in Oakland, California. The interaction between us had not been altogether smooth that summer of ’69, and after he returned to school in September that year, I had not seen Nuri until he came to Belize in 1972 as the Belize Imam of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.
The division in UBAD in early 1973 which led to its dissolution in late 1974 had not been as cataclysmic emotionally for Belize City’s black community as it may have been, because Nuri’s Nation of Islam was an option to which many UBAD members and supporters turned.
Conversations between Nuri and myself have been dominated lately by the existential threat which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum next April poses for Belize, as we have known Belize. Through the decades, Nuri Muhammad has always been doing a lot of counseling work with young Belizeans, counseling and mentoring being areas in which he is trained and skilled. Myself, since I have not been involved with basketball and football for more than a decade and a half, I’m not really in touch with young people.
Something dramatic has happened in Belize’s black community over the last fifty years. “Consider Me” not only returned me to the summer of 1969, but led me back to September of 1968, when I began teaching English at the Belize Technical College. In retrospect, I can see that Belize’s black community was very confident in itself back then, and a modicum of that confidence, incidentally, had to do with the fact that our ladies softball team was beating the other Caribbean teams, first Jamaica and Bahamas, and later Bermuda. Two of the Belize ladies softball stars, the sisters Deborah and Judith Lynch, were students at Belize Technical, and it seemed to me they were viewed by the Technical school community as campus stars.
As my mind wandered back to 1969 and 1968, I thought of the fact that so many Belizeans the age of Nuri Muhammad and myself had set up permanent shop in the United States. This is a new Belize we are looking at, where people of African descent have become a decided, shrinking minority here, and yet, paradoxically, an elite group of blacks have become politically powerful and financially wealthy beyond any of their individual dreams a half century ago.
Belize has changed for sure. The question is, how much have former black leaders like myself and Nuri adjusted to the changes insofar as our personal perspectives are concerned. It’s seven months until the ICJ referendum, and April 10 will be here in the twinkling of an eye. Are people like Nuri Muhammad and myself really resigned to the possibility that we may have lost more than half of our generation, permanently, to America?
There are sincere Belizeans who take major issue with the “diaspora” description of Belizeans in the United States and other foreign countries. But it is for sure that Belizeans are scattered (hence, “diaspora”) all over the United States. That physical dispersal is such that it may be impossible for the Belizean diaspora to become an organized, informed voting bloc in the ICJ referendum. Myself, I had always assumed that modern communications and conferencing technology had made it so that if the Belizean diaspora were ever confronted by an issue as serious as the ICJ referendum, they could come together fairly quickly. But, I have now begun to grow skeptical on that score.
Let’s turn now to the matter of the younger generations of Belizeans. While younger Belizeans appear to be very much distracted by the fun things in third millennium Belizean life, they are much more educated than our generation was overall, and the Internet offers them the opportunity to inform themselves about a specific subject very quickly. Needless to say, there was no such thing as Internet fifty years ago. In addition, my sense today is that social media connections, non-existent in ’68 and ’69, make it possible for young people to enter mass mobilization, again, very quickly. You saw that in Tunisia and Egypt a few years ago.
In 1969, Nuri held “liberation classes” in UBAD’s Hyde’s Lane office for young students and activists, while the UBAD executive was moving from indoor meetings at the office to holding public meetings, in June of that year. We did not have the radio and television access which we now enjoy at Kremandala. It may be, however, that radio and television access have spoiled us, that radio and television may be a curse in disguise where mobilization of the citizenry is concerned. Just saying.
Remember, this is mere nostalgia, a dose of “yesterday when we were young.” I want to say this in closing. It may appear tangential, but you have to understand that those of us who paid our dues back then, so to speak, share a bond. Nuri Muhammad and I were isolated from each other for decades, often hostile in fact, but we had the shared bond of having paid our dues. I told him this Tuesday morning that it is always difficult for me to criticize Said Musa publicly, because there are ties that bind us. In those days back then, Said Musa paid his dues.
Those who are close to Said resent the occasions on which I have to censure him. I understand how they feel. But, I have to do what I have to do. I didn’t choose this business, you know: this business chose me.
Power to the people.