“The time has come to put an end to age-old prejudices, preconceptions and mutual mistrust that are often at the base of discrimination, racism and xenophobia.” (Pope Francis) Oct 26, 2015

On Monday August 31, T&T will celebrate the 58th anniversary of our Independence. We cannot hide our heads in the sand, like ostriches, and ignore the perilous journey ahead for our nation if we don’t take action to understand and reconcile race relations in T&T. There is too much at stake if we sit on the side lines as passive bystanders and fail to step up and play our part to build our nation together.

Over the years, we have allowed racism to keep simmering in the pot. And the fumes from the pot are imbibed by various ethnic groups, feeding the hearts and minds of those whose psyches are already influenced from childhood by what some call “this socially transmitted disease.” And every now and again, the pot boils over—as it does before and after our elections—including our recent general election, and we are all adversely impacted by the fallout.

Let’s continue the dialogue that has been going on in various quarters, quietly, and at times, openly, about how we can defeat what I call this “hydra-headed monster.” During her acceptance speech, the Democratic nominee for vice-president of the USA, Kamala Harris, called on the country to confront its struggles with racism. She said, “Let’s be clear, there is no vaccine for racism. We’ve got to do the work.”

Yes, and there is no cavalry coming to rid us of this monster. Only we can defeat it. This is why Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean, Faculty of Law, UWI, St Augustine Campus, and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) are organising a FREE virtual National Symposium tomorrow, Sunday August 30, from 1:00 p.m. on the theme: A time for healing—Understanding and Reconciling Race Relations in Trinidad and Tobago.

I will be the moderator of the event, which will be streamed live on UWI St Augustine Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/UWISTA/). Please join us and participate in the event. Representatives from various Faith communities will open the Symposium with prayers.

Professor Emeritus Rhoda Reddock, UN CEDAW Committee;

Madam Justice Donna Prowell-Raphael, judge, Equal Opportunity Tribunal;

Dr Kadija Khan, Clinical Psychologist, UWI;

Mr David Abdulah, activist & Trade Unionist;

Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, chair, Council for Responsible Political Behaviour;

Dr Sheila Rampersad, journalist;

Mr Kwasi Mutema, chair, National Joint Action Committee (NJAC);

Dr Raymond Ramcharitar, writer, cultural historian;

Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean, Faculty of Law, UWI, former Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination—Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

There will also be input from youth. Pope Francis rightly said to youth gathered in Krakow, Poland on World Youth Day in 2016: “Today, we adults need you to teach us, as you are doing today, how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism, not as a threat but an opportunity. You are an opportunity for the future.”

Last year, PM Rowley stated in his Independence Day speech: “Let’s all work to converting the lows of partisan political rivalries, just as they confront us, into the highs of harmony, mutual respect and a permanent space for moral values…We must be aware that the century is now demanding that citizens create their own New Society, in which they both own the change they want, and the future they think is possible. Let us hold hands and step confidently forward with ‘boundless faith’ in a destiny which we can shape.”

How I yearn for the day when we can move from such noble sentiments to making them a reality. And let’s accept the fact that the “blame game” used in the political arena fuels racial discord/tension and is anathema to us, as a people, stepping “confidently forward.” As we seek to shape our destiny, let us “rage” against racism.

There is no place for racism/ethnic strife in our beloved country. Each of us must counter the narrative that currently threatens to derail us from our goal of building unity, harmony, peace and goodwill, and promoting human dignity and fraternity in T&T.

This National Symposium tomorrow, Sunday August 30, offers an invaluable opportunity for participants to re-affirm our commitment to nation-building; valuing the many gifts that God has bestowed upon us, including our diverse ethnic communities.

Join us, and may God bless our Nation.