“Building on the Rich Legacy of Visionary Leadership”
I am delighted this morning to extend greetings and best wishes to all citizens and residents of our great country St. Kitts and Nevis as we gather together to pay homage to the truly outstanding leaders of our great Federation. Every year we return to this site, the Rt. Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw Memorial Park in St. Paul’s to celebrate, but also to remember. For us the observance of this day helps us as a people to remember – to remember where we came from; to remember those who made enormous sacrifices; and to never forget.
We remember our collective past and the men who have contributed significantly to what we are and whose philosophy and sound principles laid the building blocks for what we are today and certainly what we will become in the future. Theirs is a rich legacy of leadership that was bequeathed us and one which guided us through the years of nation building.
Today, as we salute and give honour to the memory of the Right Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw, the Right Excellent Sir Caleb Azariah Paul Southwell, the Right Excellent Sir Joseph Nathaniel France, the Right Excellent Sir Simeon Daniel and the Right Excellent Sir Dr. Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds. We celebrate their lives of service and the rich legacies that have been intricately and integrally woven into the tapestry of the history of this great nation of ours.
While each of our national heroes possessed their own unique style of leadership and we honour what each brought to bear in the transformation and upliftment of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, today I would like us to reflect on what their exemplary leadership represented in common and the vision to which we must align our actions if we are to move our great country forward.
Firstly, one of the main characteristics shared by these leaders of our people was their deep and earnest desire for our country and for its people. They were all men who came from humble beginnings and their political ideas and beliefs sprang from a deep-rooted love and affection for people and a burning desire to transform the agony, hopelessness and grim expectations they faced by eradicating the divisions and injustices that stifled their potential and life prospects..
As young men, they began their journey by aligning themselves with like-minded individuals who were involved in fighting the scourge of colonialism and for the liberation of the oppressed domestic and sugar workers. These men never let youth and poverty stand in the way of their destiny. Rather, they turned what could have been crippling limitations into fiery inspiration that fueled their aspirations for themselves, their families and their people.
Secondly, through their work in service to our country, they helped to advance the psyche of our people to bring about the mental change necessary that started us on our way toward political independence which was eventually attained in 1983. By sharing and spreading the vision, these courageous stalwarts were able to intensify the fierce urgency of now by creating an absolute abhorrence to the status quo and fomenting within the hearts of the people the rising clamour for social and political change. In so doing, they displayed the hallmark of leadership in not only inspiring the people to DO mighty things in solidarity with one another but also to draw out from them their innate courage, decency, nobility, optimism and pride which they may not have known they possessed.
Thirdly, these strong and courageous men were able to rally and organize the people around this shared vision and to turn their rising disaffection into concerted action aimed at dismantling the last vestiges of colonialism and shouldering the enormous task of nation-building. They were able to arouse the people’s creative imagination and collective sense of enormous possibilities beyond the narrow boundaries of their parochial and subservient existence to new frontiers of liberty, freedom, education and self-advancement.
Therefore, in choosing to act, rather than be acted upon any longer, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis were able to finally cast off the chains of colonialism and oppression and take their rightful place as equals around the table of the community of nations as an independent country. Furthermore, these men, as a result of the vision which had now become established and embedded in the psyche of Kittitians and Nevisians, became change agents at every transformative juncture of the progressive history of our beloved St. Kitts and Nevis.
Ladies and gentlemen, Citizens and residents, there is an old saying that “A good example of a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” There can be no doubt that our National Heroes were exemplary leaders in this regard. They were the embodiment of the virtues extolled in the theme of this year’s 35th Independence Anniversary celebrations which are Love, Service, Patriotism and Pride.
Today, we stand here as the unwitting beneficiaries of their valour, sacrifice, vision and hard work not just because of what they DID but because of who they WERE. They were men who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk by taking action. They understood that vision is translated by action, not just talk. The lofty phrases enshrined in a national motto, anthem or Constitution while good are not enough. Until the stated vision FOR a people becomes the actual BEHAVIOUR of the people, ideals such as democracy, freedom, good governance, accountability, integrity, love, service, patriotism and pride would remain empty, meaningless words on paper.
These national heroes have established an example of personal and moral integrity which offers a benchmark to us and for future generations to follow. Their humility, generosity, integrity, honour, selflessness, strength and courage were legendary and exemplary, and because they LIVED their creed, their departure left indelible footprints on the sands of time and history.
Today, on the eve of our country’s 35th Anniversary of nationhood, we find ourselves at a crossroad. With violent crime and anti-social behaviour on the increase and a governing administration whose leadership has been characterized by malignant corruption, nepotism, victimization and political malfeasance, there is a palpable sense that we are losing our way as a country. There appears to be a massive disconnect between the vision authored, shared and exemplified by these national heroes and the behavior occurring within our culture.
I therefore use this solemn occasion to call for a return to the founding principles and ideals espoused by our forebears in order to bridge the chasm between the vision that has been passed down to us one the one hand, and our present actions on the other hand. We MUST bring our country back into alignment with our foundational ideals. I firmly believe that it is not for lack of instruction that many of us, including our youth have gone astray, but for lack of being reminded about the fundamental beliefs and core philosophy that have traditionally undergirded our distinctly Kittitian and Nevisian culture and our identity as a nation and as a people.
This afternoon, inspired, especially, by the spirit of Bradshaw, Southwell, France, Daniel and Simmonds, I call upon ALL of us to come together to reaffirm the core values and beliefs upon which our nation was founded. Let us reaffirm our belief in the supremacy of Almighty God and the freedom and dignity of every man, woman and child – that every life is precious, every life is valuable. Let us reaffirm our desire to build a society that recognizes and is ordered by the recognition of the principles of true democracy, free institutions, social justice and equality before the law. Let us reaffirm our commitment to recognize the human dignity in each other that presupposes the safeguarding of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let us reaffirm the bedrock ideals and principles that are enshrined in our Constitution and upon which we the people of St. Kitts and Nevis founded our independent nation on September 19, 1983. These are the enduring fundamentals around which our social solidarity must coalesce in recognition that we will either RISE together as a nation or FALL together.
Today, as the leader of the St. Kitts–Nevis Labour Party and Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, as one who has had the privilege of leading this country for twenty of the last 35 years, I would like to say like the biblical Nehemiah: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Today, let us rebuild the national consciousness and sense of national cohesion that formed the foundation of our beloved Federation. Let us all pledge to follow in the footsteps of our revered national heroes. As we look into the future, into the next thirty-five years of nation-building, let us set a new direction that is firmly planted on the sure foundation of the values, principles and ideals they have taught us.