Your Excellency, Sir S.W. Tapley Seaton, Cabinet Colleagues, Excellencies of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, VIPs, Special Invitees, Students, All
My fellow citizens, residents, and visitors to St. Kitts and Nevis,
I bid you a warm welcome to this year’s special ceremony in honour of our National Heroes. The event is particularly special as we now have the full benefit of our beautiful park dedicated to our National Heroes. Today, we will unveil statues of those heroes who stand proudly as a powerful herald to all of our fellow countrymen and women as well as visitors to St. Kitts and Nevis. They embody the very qualities and characteristics that have contributed to the positive development of our beloved Federation. We chose this location for its strategic positioning as a highly visible welcome point and gateway to the rest of the island. I thank the Committee for managing the build out of these beautiful additions to our landscape.
National Heroes Park
It is fitting that we should properly honour those who have made such a significant contribution to the development of the Federation. It is even more important that we should do this not only once a year as we do today but that they stand tall all year round to remind us of those who have led the way for greatness. As such, they are a daily reminder to all of us of what can be achieved if we live our lives well.
Greatness is not something that happens by accident. It is something which is the result of commitment and a sense of purpose. Each of us will recall a special person who has had a positive impact upon us. They may be someone close to home or perhaps someone we know or they may even be remote, not within our personal circle and may even be on the international stage. Regardless of who they are, or where they find themselves in the canon of history, they will all share a single overriding quality with our very own heroes – devotion to purpose.
We live in a world of instant messaging and media that brings concepts, ideas and emotions into our homes seamlessly and with a speed that is hard to fathom. These bubbles of information and experiences are tantalising and fascinating. They both entertain and inform. However, bubbles easily pop as they rise in the air leaving nothing behind to remind us of their presence.
That is why it was so important to the Team Unity Government to create a space that captured both the enduring nature and achievements of our heroes as a legacy for future generations to emulate.
Happiness is however that enduring sense of peace that fills the soul and the core of our being when the outer and the inner self truly align. We achieve that deep sense of well-being when we are satisfied with our place in the world and with what we have achieved, when we know that we have used the sands of time that slip so easily between our fingers to best effect, when we can truthfully say that we have not frittered away with frivolities and superficialities this God-given life that has so preciously been bestowed upon us.
The National Heroes whom we honour today did just that. They used their time on this earth well and with a sense of purpose, not seeking fame or wealth for themselves but focusing on their purpose: to create a better life for their people.
Their motivation was not a quest for personal glory or fame but the defense of basic values and principles which they hold dear. And, through demonstration of a sense of duty and selfless sacrifice, they go on eventually to win decisive battles that make a real difference in the lives of their fellowmen and women.
The struggle for social justice, respect for human dignity and other noble causes by ordinary men and women who became heroes fundamentally changed the course of history. They contributed to making the world a better place with a better life for present and future generations. The triumvirate of Sir Bradshaw, Sir Southwell and Sir France is best remembered for their advocacy and action on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. France and Bradshaw loom large in trade unionism, politics and the struggle for self-rule and Independence. Comrade Southwell is credited with economic diversification, Sir Daniel with setting the modern platform for development of Nevis and Sir Kennedy as the First Prime Minister and for private sector-led growth and transformation in the 1980s.
Our Heroes therefore stand as inspiring symbols of hope. Where others see only thick, dark clouds, heroes see bright rays of light in the background. When almost everyone says it can’t be done, heroes quietly demonstrate it can be done. For this reason, stories of heroism have always been a source of inspiration throughout human history.
Remembering Our National Heroes
This year, we remember once again those people upon whose shoulders we stand, grateful for their efforts, their dedication to country and for their sense of purpose:
The Right Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw – First National Hero
The Right Excellent Sir C. A. Paul Southwell
The Right Excellent Sir Joseph Nathaniel France
Dr. the Right Excellent Sir Simeon Daniel
Dr. the Right Excellent and Right Honourable Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds
As we stand before these true giants of achievement, we should be humble and inspired, grateful and motivated, respectful and purposeful. We should focus our thoughts in this very moment, to challenge ourselves to similarly use our lives well and to good effect — just as our National Heroes did.
Though they are idolized in some cases, heroes by no means achieve perfection. They remain as human as the rest of us — with their share of flaws and prone to making mistakes. Still, the most powerful lesson that heroes probably provide us is to never lose hope and never give up.
Our current National Heroes were essentially political and/or trade union leaders who played pivotal roles in major political struggles of the past century that have transformed St. Kitts and Nevis for the better. The genesis was the landmark 1935 labour riots on Buckley’s sugar estate, which served as a catalyst for similar uprisings across the British colonial Caribbean. The Buckley’s estate uprising represents a tipping point in our local and also the region’s history.
Though the exploited masses of the day were primarily fighting for better wages and conditions of employment, the unrest at Buckley’s took on a much broader dimension. It effectively marked the beginning of the end for British colonialism in the Caribbean. The gradual transition from colony to associated state to sovereign nation-state was finally completed in 1983 when St. Kitts and Nevis gained its Independence.
Consecrating The Future
The Team Unity government, which I have the honour to lead, is committed to strengthening and safeguarding the legacy of our National Heroes.
Your government is mindful that no females currently grace the pantheon of our National Heroes. It is an issue we plan to address as gender equity represents an important plank of our policy platform for balanced development, which seeks to ensure that no one is left behind. We recall that landmark social and legislative reforms to advance women and children were realized with the naming of Her Excellency Constance Mitcham as Minister of Gender Affairs.
It is no surprise that the observance of National Heroes Day and Independence Day always happens to be days apart. It reflects the existence of a symbiotic relationship between the two. Independence was won largely through the sacrificial struggles of our National Heroes. In addition to the unveiling of life-size bronze statues of our heroes today, there are two other initiatives relating to our National Heroes.
Firstly, the government is seeking to convert the former residence of our first Premier, Sir Robert Llewelyn Bradshaw, into a museum where residents and visitors can go to learn about his life and times. In the second initiative, the abandoned Buckley’s plantation is being redeveloped for preservation as a national heritage site of national significance. Senator Akilah Byron-Nisbett chairs the Committee spearheading this national effort.
Word to Our Young People
As we celebrate our National Heroes, we pray that more citizens, especially our youth, will be inspired by their example and motivated to make their mark on history’s page in an even bigger and more impactful way. The example of our heroes shows we are not entirely helpless in the face of challenging circumstances.
To the contrary, by drawing on our inner strengths and firmly believing in the correctness of the mission before us, we can be masters of our fate and change the course of history, not so much for ourselves, but more particularly for those around us and those who will come after us.
National Honours Awards
Not everyone can be a National Hero. But we must always recognize the long and meritorious contributions of our citizens to nation building. There are plans over the coming year to review the National Honours Act. Proposed changes will allow acts of courage and bravery by other citizens to be publicly recognized.
Today, we also recognise those people who have distinguished themselves by their own contributions to society.
For the Companion of the Star of Merit:
Mr. Alphonso Barker – Business Entrepreneurship/Culture
Mr. Kenneth Kelly – Business Entrepreneurship
Mr. Alphonso Bridgewater – Sports Administration/Public Service
Mr. Creighton Pencheon – Culture
Mr. J. Calvin Fahie – Policing/Community Service
Mr. Elston “Ellie Matt” Nero, MH- Musical Excellence Locally, Regionally, Internationally
Mrs. Sylvine Henry – Public Service/Community Service
Mr. Hilton Clarke – Education/Community Service
Mr. Adrian Lam – Musical Production/Community Service
Ambassador Sydney Osborne -Education/Public Service
For the Medal of Honour:
Mrs. Ellenita Nathaniel – Education/Community Service
Mr. Sylvester Hodge (King Socrates) – Calypso/Music
Mr. Walston Shield (King Starshield) – Calypso/Music
Mrs. Jacqueline Leader (Singing Jackie) – Calypso/Music
Mr. Errol Dolphin (King Arrow) – Calypso/Music
Mr. Lionel Gumbs (Mansion Bull) – Culture
As the good book says in Ecclesiastes:
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
My government exists to serve our people and country honourably and with distinction as a nation under God.
As we consider that purpose we can reflect upon the words of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations. He was renowned for his focus and commitment to peace and remembered for a life well lived. He said and I quote:
“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”
I say to you let us use our time well and, in so doing, collectively and individually achieve greatness in nation building.
May God bless us, guide us and help us on our path and enable us to also live our lives well in service to our country and to each other.