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Lay minister Justice Frank Seepersad

Outspoken judge and lay minister Frank Seepersad says there is a race relations crisis in T&T which needs to be addressed urgently.

From the pulpit of the St Andrews Theological College Chapel in San Fernando, Justice Frank Seepersad called for a “Road Map” to treat with race relations and legislation on hate speech.

However, he said, “On an individual level, we should hang our heads in shame because too many of us have engaged in race bashing and discrimination.”

Seepersad who was delivering a virtual Independence Day sermon said the dream of American civil right activist Dr Martin Luther King for unity has not been realised in T&T and this was evident in the level of racism seen recently.

“In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we, in this Republic have experienced a regrettable deterioration in our race relations with the build-up and conclusion of our general elections. On the 29th August, 57 years ago, just one year after our independence, Dr Martin Luther King delivered his inspiring speech on race relations.

“Regrettably, it appears that we have forgotten that the lasting impressions which we each shall make will not be based upon the colour of our skin but upon the lives we have lived and the contributions we made.

“Dr King’s dream applied not only to the United States but to the world at large. Sadly the type of coexistence which he espoused is still elusive, including here in Trinidad and Tobago.”

“Our blessed Republic is reeling from a destructive degree of distrust, disdain, disrespect and dislike among the two major ethnic groups.

“There have been hurtful and ill-advised advertisements and social media commentary which exposed the entrenched nature of our deep-rooted ethnic biases and the disturbing disconnect between our groups.” Calling for the destructive devils of discrimination and disunity to be stamped out, he lamented, “We have a crisis on our hands and it must be addressed. We simply cannot continue upon this path of divisiveness and discord.

Let us not delude ourselves into believing that it is just emotive electoral rhetoric.

We have a problem, our people are at war with each other and we must address this reality if we are to save ourselves and our children.”

The national focus, he said, should be on a culture of inclusivity and citizenship as citizens still do not have a sense of national identity.

“We may wish to consider the formation of a bi-partisan committee to fashion a roadmap for the improvements to race relations and reconciliation.”

He said pressure groups should advocate for the enactment of legislation to regulate hate speech as well as statutes to prevent discrimination by the State and to ensure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of resources.

He added that a focused educational revolution has to be prioritised as values of tolerance, love for country, empathy and the honing of emotional intelligence need to be imparted to our children.

He said for far too long significant pockets of the population have planted seeds of racial discord within their children.

Seepersad said people have allowed themselves to be used as pawns by those seeking power through tribal politics.

Noting, however, that there have been moments of national unity in times of tragedy and sporting events, he called on citizens to forge a blissful society for their children and grandchildren. “Faced with the present COVID-19 pandemic which can bring us to our knees, more than ever we need to look within and find that common ground so that we can together, as a family, fight for our future.”

He urged citizens to commit to forging a society where people are not identified as Indian, African, White, Syrian, Mixed or Chinese, but Trinbagonians.

“One people in this native land where every creed and race finds an equal place where we can boast of unity and where our respectful interaction with each is not defined by our ethnicity but by our love for God and country,” he said.