Progressive Labour Party MP Chris Famous paid tribute to the legacy of leadership through mentoring that led him to the House of Assembly, when he made a moving maiden speech in the House of Assembly on Friday.
Referring to a quote by Michelle Obama, who said: “Every day I wake up in a house built by slave,” he reminded MPs that every day they sit in Bermuda’s House of Assembly, they all sit “in a house built by slaves”.
“Yes, brick by brick our enslaved ancestors built this house nearly 200 years ago,” said Mr Famous. “Without a doubt those that forced our enslaved ancestors to build this house never envisioned that one day they and their descendants will never be in control of this house, this Government or this island of Bermuda.
“Well today is the day we remind some of their descendants that there are no more boys to order around. There will be no more bowing down to anyone anymore. Simply put, today we are here as the descendants of those great tradesmen that built this house, not as enslaved persons but as free men and women, to remind everyone that there are no slaves in this Honourable House.
“There are only leaders.”
He also commended “newly minted” MP Dennis Lister III for his “brilliant” maiden speech about purpose, while discussing the importance of leadership. Then he reflected on what he considers “the privilege and honour to be mentored by the majority of the leaders of the Progressive Labour Party”, including the late Dame Lois Brown Evans and Frederick Wade, Dame Jennifer Smith, Alex Scott, Dr Ewart Brown, the late Eugene Cox, Paula Cox, Marc Bean, Premier David Burt and the late Maynard Dill.
“Each one of them challenged me not just to assist this party but more importantly to assist this country. That is what true leadership does.. True leadership does not seek to hold power to itself but to groom the next generation of leaders.
“I would not be in this seat if it were not for the leaders in this country, both then and now, who deeply influenced my upbringing and continue to shape me, even today.
“The primary mentors and teachers with respect to leadership are to be found in our homes and in our neighbourhoods. So let me give homage to my family and the community which nurtured me.”
While noting that Bermudians have historically come from diverse backgrounds, including the “St Kitt’s Club”, he said “perhaps 60 percent of our people came to this island via various islands in the West Indies”.
He also referred to the book ‘Chained on the Rock’, by Bermudian writer Cyril Packwood, who chronicled “that the first persons of colour to arrive in Bermuda came as indentured servants from the West Indies”.
“Thousands of our people came here as enslaved Africans and indigenous Americans. Some came as free people of colour. Post 1834 others left the brutal plantations of the Caribbean to start life here in Bermuda. Not to bow down to Bermudian colonial masters, but to determine their own destinies.
“Just as we did on July 18th, 2017.”
He noted that his “biological relatives have surnames such as, but not limited to; Byron, Brown, Charles, Fraser, Rubain, Matthews, Harris, Lugo, Thomas, Wilson, Webb and yes indeed Famous”. But he said: “Let us not be fooled by surnames, as DNA tests will show that almost everyone from St Kitts and Nevis is biologically related – even the Cannoniers.
“When we take stock of many of the historic leaders of our community, our unions and the political party that we represent we find a common thread or common identifier: ‘The St Kitts Club’. Many years ago that nomenclature was used to denigrate us but now we wear it with pride,” he said.
“It was strength and unity derived from our African-Caribbean roots that brought us out of bondage, through segregation and into leadership in all areas of Bermudian life.
“When we were denied a place of worship, we built churches such as the Evening Light Pentecostal Church on Parsons Road, the Emmanuel Baptist Church on Dundonald Street and the Church of God on Angle Street.
“When we had nowhere to play sports we built workingmen’s and community clubs such as the former Pond Hill Stars and the Pembroke Juniors Clubs; and subsequently, the Devonshire Recreation Club, North Village Community Club and Young Men’s Social Club, all of which remain with us today.
“When we had nowhere to educate our children we built schools such as Powell’s Nursery on Friswell’s Hill and The Berkeley Institute on Court Street.
“When we had no representation for workers of Bermuda, we built the unions.
“When we couldn’t eat in their restaurants Mr Wilfred Degraff cooked us Beef Pies.
“And when we were ready to fight for our civil and political rights, we, in partnership with Black Bermudians from the old line families built a party called the Progressive Labour Party that fought for social and racial justice.
“Simply put, we did not cry or go around begging colonial masters for their scraps or trickle down economics. We did what we do best. We led.
“Just as we did on July 18th, 2017.”
He went on to “speak of the communities formed by these leaders of the Caribbean family”, including Angle Street, Princess Street, Middletown, Court Street, Curving Avenue, Smith’s Hill, Parsons Road, Marsh Folly, St Monica’s Road, Government Gate, Glebe Road, Roberts Avenue, and Pond Hill.
“Collectively these areas form what is now affectionately called the ‘Back of Town’. “There was a time that many in this country mistakenly looked down on those of us from back of town. They said that we were no good or nothing to be proud of. We were considered nothing more than a bunch of Gombeys.
“They also labelled us as Pond Dogs. Let me tell you something about Pond Dogs. In order to survive in the back of town, you had to be able to think on your feet and think two steps ahead of the next person.
“In other words you had to be a leader,” he said, before listing several leaders in his view, like Austin Thomas, Robert Wilson, Wycliffe Stovell, Brother Ottiwell Simmons, Freddy Thomas, Aurelia Burch, and his aunt Dame Lois Brown Evans.
“These are but some of the people who have instilled the qualities of leadership, not through lip service but through the sweat of their brows and by the impeccable examples they set,” he said.
“To the people of ‘Back of Town’ let no one ever tell you we cannot make it. I stand here in this House as one of your own. I stand here today as a proud product of back of town. Indeed I am a proud Pond Dog.
He also recognised “other communities that also formed part of our extended West Indian community such as Devonshire, Hamilton Parish, Warwick and Somerset or Sandys Parish”.
“These communities went on to become the heartland of the early PLP during its 1960’s formation and remain our social and political strongholds,” Mr Famous said.
“The West Indian community has now – over time – become one with the older Black families. We are all one in this island home. We share the same families, the same grant and great grandchildren and of course the same culture. We are united.
“Just as we were united on July 18th, 2017.”
Addressing the workers of Bermuda, “those who wear blue collars, white collars and all the other collars”, he called on “his fellow workers” to “realize that we are more than persons simply making 9 to 5 or some other form of shift work”.
“We, the workers of Bermuda are the ones keeping this island running 24/7/365 days of the year,” he said. Whether they be “medical workers keeping their patients comfortable, the chefs who feed us, the IB workers who keep our economy floating, the accountants who ensure we are paid, or the technicians at Belco who ensure that we are powered up”, he said workers can no longer complain that they don’t have “a government that does not have the best interests of the Bermudian workforce at heart”.
But he said: “We have to do our part. Therefore, I appeal to you the workers to constantly work at keeping the bar high. Take the academic and tecnical courses that are needed to move not just your career forward to move your respective companies and indeed our island home forward.
“Essentially, we encourage you to not just be workers. We encourage you to be the next generation of business owners. Essentially be leaders.”
He reiterated that on July 18th, some 20,000 Bermudians voted for change. “The change that they want and deserve is not simply a change in political leadership. No, they want and deserve the type of change that will address their dearest hopes and aspirations for themselves and their families. We, therefore, must demonstrate the real leadership that they expect of us,” said Mr Famous.
“We did not vote ourselves into these 36 seats. Whether you are representing the PLP or not, Bermudian voters want us to address their concerns with dignity and with a sense of maturity. They did not vote for us to come up here and repeat our own opinions for 20 minutes at a time. No, they voted for us to do the necessary research, present facts and alternative options to the challenges of the day when required.
“They did not vote for us to come up here and discuss what he said and she said five, ten and 20 years ago. They voted for us to discuss what they said last week when we canvassed them.
“They did not vote for us to show our faces only when the next election is called. Indeed they voted for us to check on them daily, weekly and monthly.
“They did not vote for us to make the rich richer. They voted for us to empower those who need to be uplifted.
“They did not vote for us to come into this House and bicker like children; to the contrary, simply put, they voted for us to lead.
“If we fail to do so we may find ourselves surrounded in this building by an army of 5,000 plus Bermudians, just as others found out in March of 2016,” he said.
Mr Famous concluded: “Let those who have any doubts remember that with the will of the Almighty and the people of this country the PLP has proven once again that we were able not only to fight a political war but also to win that war hands down.
“The PLP is not in this Honourable House to bicker or war. The PLP is here in this Honourable House to lead in the best interests of all Bermudians.
“With that I have said my piece.”