“Greetings Bredren and Sistren. To those visiting from overseas, from Babylon and all its manifestations in the world, I greet you in the name of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I the First, Jah Rastafari.”
I’ve never attended a meeting about STEM education and been faced with a question that started out with that kind of greeting. I just returned from a UNESCO meeting on the International Decade for People of African Descent in Guyana. The United Nations declared the decade of 2015 – 2025 as one to focus on the conditions of the African Diaspora in the context of a swiftly changing world.
I am part of a group that is considering STEM and computing education under this charge. It was a deeply meaningful, intimate and cultural affirmation of my core belief about the reason that STEM education is so important.
It is a matter of power.
Beyond STEM education, the meeting focused on health and wellness, education and culture, human rights and safety, business development, and spirituality and religion. The people were luminaries from around the world – ambassadors, scholars, theologians, Rastas and Guyanese community members of all stripes.
It began with Mando Dowoti Desir, a Voodoo High Priest from Haiti, honoring our ancestors and asking their guidance and protection as we seek to construct a better future for our people. Her call to the ancestors was in Creole. It was guttural. It felt that she was calling them to come immediately to be with us because we needed them desperately.
Dr. Verene Shepard, world renown professor of history and African and Caribbean studies from the University of the West Indies, gave the opening keynote address. She began by slowly and meticulously reciting the words of Emperor Selassie by way of Bob Marley:
Until the philosophy which holds one race superior, and another inferior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.
What struck me about this meeting was that it put identity first. The premise was that power, in all its manifestations, derives from an unquestioned sense of self – an unequivocal belief that we are not second, that we are not inferior.
To this point, a number of the African and Caribbean scholars gave chapter and verse reminders of the stunning degree of inhumanity that Black people all over the world have been subject to at the hands of Europeans. They pointed out that in many cases, our national heroes were forged precisely because of their resistance to European barbarism. Yet we prevail dragging behind us the weight of a heavy past.
Under these circumstances, the theme went, it is our responsibility to, “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.” I took that to mean an intellectual revolution that enables Black people to measure our intellect against understanding and command of natural phenomena, as opposed to parity with White people.
Interestingly, because this meeting was in Guyana and a lot of the people there were from the Caribbean or African countries, the term minority was missing. Only some of the Black Americans checked it in with their luggage. Black people in the Caribbean and in Africa are not numerical minorities and do not refer to themselves as smaller fractions of a whole. It was refreshing not to be burdened with a title that bookends my identity with “under” on one end and “minority” on the other.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s son, Dr. Julius Garvey, was at the meeting. He was welcomed as a hero and member of a royal family. The Rastas in attendance treated him as if he were the son of God. It was amazing to witness. He sat on the dais underneath a banner of heroes which included his father. The words emblazoned beside the iconic photograph of Marcus Garvey with his plumed hat and epauleted shoulders were:
Never forget that intelligence rules the world and ignorance carries the burden.
That is what I believe. That is my overstanding.