July 21, 2012:
Today, as we celebrate the 174th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery on August 1st, 1838, we thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in our beautiful Trinidad and Tobago.
Emancipation is a historical fact but it is also a state of mind – a free people, free to dream our dreams and free to become the best we can be. In fact, and consistent with your theme for today, we can only progress and develop as a united people if we exercise our freedoms while respecting the freedom of others.
Unity is a free choice of free people – no amount of laws can unite people if they don’t want to unite.
Look at the problems in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern states where unity was imposed by laws but yet it is unenforceable. We in Trinidad and Tobago have the opportunity to progress in peace and prosperity, and develop in harmony and synergy if we use the opportunities that we have as a free people in a free state.
I am sure it has been an enriching day for all those of you who visited the many booths that form part of the learning environment that helps us to know more about the significance of this day in the lives of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
The arrival of the Flambeau Canboulay a short while ago was truly a sight to behold! I would like to ask you all to give all of the gifted dancers and performers a round of applause! We all know how important it is for us to further educate and involve ourselves in our history, customs, traditions and rituals. They help to anchor us firmly in our history and light the way forward into the future.
My friends, Emancipation Day is a constant reminder to us of the importance of enjoying, while at the same time safeguarding, the rights and freedoms we enjoy in our country. We are free to assemble, free to worship, we have equal opportunities for employment, housing and education, and we can select or reject those who wish to represent us in government.
My friends, many of us here remember the history lessons of our schooldays, and if you don’t, you must remember the emotional intensity of the Mighty Sparrow’s “SLAVE”, a reminder of the cruelties done to our ancestors.
The image of a human being, being captured, forced to go to a distant land to work for no pay, little food, with the knowledge that if he tries to escape, he will be shot and killed. This was the cruel reality 174 years ago, this was the reality our ancestors faced.
We have come a long way as a nation and as a people. Today, our entire nation unites in celebrating Emancipation Day as we unite to celebrate celebrate the many different national events that link us together in peace and harmony.
If we take to heart the theme of today’s celebration, “Develop and Progress Through Unity”, the only way for us as a people, and as a nation, to develop and move forward is by uniting and working together, remember, united we stand, divided we fall.
And I am happy to say that in our cosmopolitan society, this is not a foreign or new idea. Everyday we see it here in Trinidad and Tobago, citizens of every creed and race working in harmony for the betterment of themselves, and our country.
Let this and all our other national celebrations of Emancipation be recognitions not only of freedom, but also of our unbending resolve to never give in, never give up. Let us never forget where we came from and what it took to achieve what we enjoy today. But most importantly let us never forget the millions who came before us and fought for us to enjoy the freedom we have today. They struggled so that when we dream, we can reach out and take hold of our dreams. We must continue to further the work, so that the future generation can reach out and take hold of their dreams.
Let us commit to a future that will remain free, successful, joyful and built on the principles of truth, justice and freedom.
Let us commit to continuing to work together in harmony as we strive to make our dreams, our dreams for our families, and our dreams for our Trinidad and Tobago.
My friends, many of us today consider these freedoms and rights to be an entitlement. Many of us have forgotten the persecution and struggles of our ancestors that allow us to enjoy these freedoms. But it is my hope that because of the important work of organisations such as the Southern Emancipation Committee, that we will all remember the significance of rights that we enjoy today.
And so, as I close, I would like to thank the Southern Emancipation Committee and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church for the opportunity to share this important evening with you. I promise today, to continue to work with your Committee to ensure that these invaluable lessons are never forgotten.