History was made on February 16th, 2013, as Black History Month was celebrated at a Hindu Temple in New York City. Scholars, clergy, dignitaries, musicians, poets and the youth honored the memory and legacy of the Caribbean American Afro community in the United States. Topics discussed included economics, finance, health, politics, youth technology, interfaith relations and liberation theology; interspersed with performances from poets, drummers and Steel Pan music. It was the first time, in the United States, that Black History Month was celebrated at a Hindu Temple.
The Trinidad and Tobago Interfaith Council (TTIC) joined forces with the Shri Trimurti Bhavan Hindu Temple, the Consulate General of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, New York and Sadhana-Coalition of Progressive Hindus, to present an afternoon conference championing pioneers of social change from the Caribbean American Afro Community. The Trinidad and Tobago Consul General, Mrs. Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam, in her address, applauded organizer Dr. Glenville Ashby and the TTIC for their vision and the diversity in the evenings' programme. Among the interfaith discussion, presentations included the African responsibility in global competitiveness and success; Caribbean American economics and finance; GMO factors and High blood pressure in the black community; a history of Caribbean Americans affects on politics in New York City and the United States; Islam and human rights in Africa and the Caribbean; youth technology and culture, plus a talk on the idea of Liberation Theology. Greetings were also extended by the Chinese and Indian communities from Trinidad and Tobago.
In a coup for the Hindu community, Sadhana-Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a non-profit organization focused on advancing the depth and scope of Hinduism, secured the location for this event. Co-Founder, Mr. Rohan Narine met Dr. Glenville Ashby last December and decided to work together to plan this event. Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, Rohan's father and president of the Shri Trimurti Bhavan Hindu Temple agreed to host the commemoration. One of Sadhana's objectives is to facilitate meaningful inter-religious discourse, so partnering with TTIC for this historic event was apropo. Rohan also spoke at the commemoration about youth technology and culture, saying, “The youth possess the ability to shape their environment through smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. By providing them with the funding, ideas, and platform to let loose their potential, the generation before them can partner with the youth of today to make the world a place of peace, starting today, starting now.”
Imam Mohammed Hack talked about Islam's role during the slave trade in Africa, making the point that no Muslim Africans sold their brethren into slavery, although Arab Muslims did. He said, "there's more commonality among all faiths; they share 75 percent of things in common, yet we spend most of our time talking-and fighting-about the differences". Dr. Donald Reid, Author and Economist, shared some alarming statistics and the prevailing sentiments about economics among the Caribbean American community, many feel they have lost the 'Caribbean American Dream' [work hard, buy a house, raise kids and retire back in the Caribbean], he said, "many feel education is no longer a guarantee of a job". Dr. Reid quoted a recent survey of 1000 Caribbean American youth, "54 percent not sure they can ever buy a home, 55 percent are not sure they will get a good job, 59 percent fear they will not be as well off as their parents", and many people feel success in the United States is no longer a given. Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, president of the Shri Trimurti Bhavan Hindu temple, asked the question "how can we change the world", he suggested that faith based organizations must begin to talk to one another, while individuals must do more for others-be altruistic. He called upon all places of worship in the United States to cut energy consumption by 20 percent and "save 630 billion dollars".
"Extra salt was given to slaves during their journey from Africa to the west to prevent vomiting", said Dr. Roland Guy, "salt is a killer and has become a legacy of slavery that contributes to high blood pressure in the African community". Dr. Guy also suggested that modern medications do not work well for Africans because "the drugs are made to suit European DNA".
Elder statesman/activist Mr. Ernest Skinner, remarked that Brooklyn is the hub of Caribbean American politics, although for a long time many were not known or regarded as West Indian, simply New Yorkers, and did quite well among the electorate. In recent decades as African Americans became more aware of the West Indian affiliations, their base has been diluted. He mentioned many prominent Caribbean American politicians including Hyland Jack, Manhattan's first Black Borough President, a Grenadian.
Surrounded by life size Hindu deities, murals and chandeliers, Patrick Stewart played Steel Pan music to bring some Caribbean warmth and happy feet into Shri Trimurti Bhavan. In short order the mood changed noticeably as most everyone in attendance was tapping their feet and swaying in their seats to David Rudder's High Mass. Artists Earl Noel and Obicey Etienne played a traditional piece on their African drums and accompanied Poet Baba Mahaba Olufemi and author Ms. Nandi Keyi Ogunlade during their readings. In his closing remarks, Bishop Allan Baxter, suggested we refer to these proceedings ad an Educultural happening and called on all to meet regularly and continue the discourse, as "much was learned here today".
-- Darrel Sukhdeo, Community Organizer and Sadhana Volunteer