February is designated as Black History Month in America. Guyanese born Ashook Ramsaran, formerly of Bloomfield, Corentyne, spoke about Black History last Saturday February 25 at NYC Public Library located at Hillside Ave and Lefferts Blvd. The event was organized by Queens Book Fair & Literary Festival, a regular series of lectures and debates on critical issues. This is an initiative of NYC based educator Dr Dhanpaul Narine who profiles outstanding personalities online and in the West Indian newspaper.
Other speakers were: Jackie Jones (Dep. Superintendent, Distr. 79, NYCDOE): The importance of Black History. Rusat Ramgopal, LLB, LLM: Black History: Lessons for the Future Moderator was Guyanese born Dr. Rosalind “Rose” October. Several children and you adults gave stirring poems and speeches. Musical Interlude: byTafazool Baksh, resident conductor who has a trove of Guyanese music and related experiences. At the conclusions of the program, Deo Gosine, representing Indian Diaspora Council of Trinidad & Tobago, presented IDC mementos to the panelists and moderator, as well as Dr, Dhanpaul Narine.
The theme of Ramsaran’s speech was: “Celebrating Black History in America: Black History and You”. Ramsaran told the audience that Black history is American History. He said the history of America cannot be told without Black History. “It is inextricably intertwined and cannot be separate. It’s the body, heart and soul of America regardless of some who want to disregard or dent it”.
He went briefly into the presence of Blacks in America — came as slaves. “In late August 1619, a ship arrived in the British colony of near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia, who were sold to the colonists bearing a cargo of twenty to thirty enslaved people from Africa’. The arrival of this cargo, said Ramsaran, led to the barbaric and unprecedented system of American chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. He added: “This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the source of so much that still defines the United States. The rest of his speech follows:
“No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.
1619 – 1st arrival of slaves in USA
1776 – Declaration of Independence (all men are created equal) 1861 – Civil War starts to end slavery
1865 – Emancipation – end of slavery
1965 – Civic Rights Act
Over the 400+ years, forced missing during slavery and voluntary racial mixing by marriage have led to over 70% of blacks in America having Caucasian and/or Native American ancestry.
Some people ask what Black History is given 1 month? Isn’t it worth more since American history is defined by Black history? And others ask why February, the shortest month of the year?
Blacks in America have made significant achievements in all segments of society: From days of slavery to President of the USA. Entertainment; Music; Space, Sports; Legal & Professional; Political; Businesses; Media; Judiciary (Ketanji Brown); high number of people of color in the Biden administration, contesting elections, and that’s very good progress.
In general, people of color are progressing but have a slower rate to reach social justice and equity.
Yet there is racism, injustice, incarceration, discrimination and police killings while being black. Even banning books on race. America needs a sober assessment of itself, by itself, to ask the hard questions and change of heart to bring about social justice.
There is inherent discrimination in America. There was an incident where a high ranking elected federal official told the hospital that no people of color to attend to his ailing mother – and the hospital complied. That’s outrageous. But little did he know that the transfusion his mother was receiving was from a blood pool with no discrimination.
We have come a long way but so much more to be done. United Negro College: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
A famous American Rodney King: Why can’t we all get along? Acknowledgement, acceptance and equity. That’s necessary.
BLACK HISTORY & YOU (& ME)
What does Black History mean to me – and to you and others?
For me it goes back to my childhood days in Guyana and living among the descendants of African slaves brought during British colonial times and were freed at the time of Emancipation in 1834.
Most of my teachers were of African origin, several school mates, one of my headmasters and several co-workers during my brief civic service tenure in Georgetown – as well as co-workers, magistrates and attorneys while I worked as a court clerk in New Amsterdam and Whim courts.
It was peaceful co-existence with shared interests. We were friends and neighbors working and living together – although separate but sharing in cultural and religious activities, always respectful and understanding.
It was later after I had left Guyana for studies in USA that racial tensions developed and is still evident with the racial divide that still exists in that country.
I am fortunate. My home is here in USA and had been for 55 years. In one of my earliest journals, I wrote that my life is “North of Key West”, and that defines where and how I think and live.
So I focus my efforts on living, giving back and contributing to the betterment of life in Queens, New York and some national issues.
There are opportunities for me as a person of color and I am grateful & have embraced those opportunities as a Person of color. There is discrimination but I don’t let it stop me from participating in education, business and civic matters:
Education at NY Polytechnic School of Engineering
Business: President of Ramex, an electronic manufacturing co. Executive Vice President of Queens Civic Congress
Chair of NY Presbyterian Hospital Community Advisory Council President of Indian Diaspora Council
Member of St John’s University Caribbean & Latin Amer studies Secretary of Caribbean American Coalition
Co-Chair of Finance, First Presbyterian Church of Flushing
Board Member of AM Weprin South Asian Coalition’
Co-naming of streets for outstanding people:
Borough President’s Civic Engagement Committee
Chair of QCC Citifield Committee – entertainment at CitiField
I remember the movie “Mississippi Masala” with Denzel Washington and Mira Nair how close we are. His statement: “You are 1 shade lighter than me. That’s all”.
The history of Black America gave me and millions of immigrants to come and settle here, contribute to society and make better livelihoods for themselves and their families. .
Always remember that we owe generations of Black American them so much that made our lives better. We are grateful.
I try to foster and support inter-ethnic relations because it’s a bigger voice when we collaborate and learn from each other. There are inherent obstacles, yes. I have travelled to 42 of the states on business and leisure and I know when I see discrimination.
I regularly interact with elected and appointed officials: Caucasian, Blacks, Asians, Latino.
I financially support many African-Americans & Asians in office from US Congress Minority Speaker, US Congress Members, NYC Mayor, City Council Speaker, Council Members, NYS Assembly and Senate Members.
I am grateful for the long and arduous pathways carved by Black American to make it possible for me to be here and make progress in my life and the lives of others. To contribute in any way I can.
I trust that I have provided some valuable information to you on this topic, as much as I can in the 12 minutes allotted. I trust that I have shared with you the importance of Black History in everyone’s lives.
That history is intertwined, our journeys are inter-dependent. That collectively we all share the same space, time, history, needs, and aspirations. Our lives are interconnected and it is important that we understand history and one another to make our lives better and share our pain and progress with others around us.
So I encourage you to learn more about history. It makes you a more informed person and a better society in which to live”.