SATURDAY, SEPT. 25: It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you at this my final Trailblazer Awards Ceremony as your Premier.  While there is a measure of sadness, it is tempered with the realization that what we have built will continue to grow and prosper and strengthen long after my term ends.  From its humble beginnings back in 2009, we have seen several prominent members of our community recognized for their works. 

The Progressive Group, who broke down the walls of segregation and injustice by the simple orchestration of a “storm in a teacup,” and….

The late, great Minister Nelson Bascome, the man who revolutionized every government department he touched and who tragically died overseas while working for the people of Bermuda.

The issue of race has been the proverbial third rail both socially and politically in Bermuda.  For hundreds of years we were taught it was wrong, impolite and dangerous to talk about race.  Taught that to simply raise the issue, was to create division, stir up negative feelings, open old wounds and even destroy our economy.   

Through intimidation and fear, the pain that the descendents of slaves and the descendents of those who suffered under the indignity, brutality and tyranny of segregation were taught to be silent.  Through intimidation and fear the children of the slave masters and the children of the architects of Bermuda’s own system of Apartheid were robbed of the knowledge and understanding of Bermudians of color and taught to be silent.  Black and white Bermudians were taught to be “polite,” to act like everything was alright and to ignore the undercurrent of division and subjugation between our people.

This insidious form of social engineering performed over hundreds of years created a deafening silence on race and created immeasurable damage to the psyche of  both black and white Bermudians. 

How many times have you heard someone say, “Why can’t we get back to the way it used to be, when we all got along with each other.”

How many times have you heard people say, “Ewart Brown has set back race relations fifty years and we are more divided than we used to be?”

These are the verbal and social manifestations of the brainwashing that was inflicted upon our people creating unhealthy notions and unbalanced thinking.  Why do I say that?  Because only a sick and twisted mind could believe that Bermuda was more united and Bermudians got along better before Ewart Brown was born.  Only a sick and twisted mind could cause their lips to wax nostalgic about fifty years ago when we were denied the right to vote, denied the right to shape the direction of the country and denied the recognition of our very humanity.

This wall of silence that has long reined supreme in Bermuda is one of the many walls that I knew had to be challenged, confronted and crushed when I took office as your Premier.  As a people we had tried quiet and many of us had grown to like it, but quiet is merely the absence of noise.  Quiet does not mean harmony and it is harmony that we seek, harmony we must have and harmony we will achieve by talking openly, frankly and yes sometimes painfully about race.

The Bermuda Race Relations Initiative or The Big Conversation was an attempt to get white Bermudians and black Bermudians to stop talking about each other behind each others backs, to stop talking at each other and to begin talking to each other openly and honestly for the first time in our history.

We are one people, united by the country of our birth, united by our history and united by our traditions.  But when it comes to opportunity, equality and justice despite all our progress and despite the quiet we remain two Bermudas separate, divided and unequal.

The Big Conversation has begun the healing process by getting our people to overcome their fear of talking about race.  The wall of silence has been torn down and day by day, Bermudian by Bermudian we are beginning to stop talking about each other and stop talking at each other and engaging in dialogue at a level unheard of in old Bermuda.  We are closer to becoming one country, one people, united than ever before. 

When I look across Bermuda, what I am most proud of is the change in our people.  There was a time when you would see our people walking with their backs stooped, their heads bowed, their eyes cast to the ground and their voices mumbling inaudibly.  Today I see young men and women with their heads held high, speaking confidently and hope that in some small way my leadership and the Big Conversation have helped our people to progress in that way.

And as we move to address inequity and eliminate bastions of unearned privilege we can expect to hear the same voices that condemned the very mention of race.

We can expect to hear the same voices that didn’t like the fact that Rolfe Commissiong was chosen to head up the BRRI; I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear the same voices that time after time have stood against progress and change to begin tuning up their propaganda machine to obstruct, obfuscate and oppose that which is right and just for all Bermudians.

And as those voices begin to sing that old familiar refrain, they will be met by new voices both black and white saying that you will never silence us again.

The action to address race in Bermuda included a study by Professor Ronald Mincy who identified several key factors that contribute to the marginalization of our young black men.  He determined ways to prevent future generations of young black men from being excluded from opportunity in their own country and ways to bring those already on the outside back into the economic and social mainstream of Bermuda.  The findings of the Mincy Report have already begun to change the way government approaches expanding opportunity, improving education and rehabilitating Bermudians who have fallen into a life of crime.

Now that we have become more comfortable discussing race, we will now be more comfortable addressing the legacy of race, the eradication of institutional racism and unearned privilege and how we can form one people out of two Bermudas.  This work will be the challenge facing new leaders and a new generation of politicians. 

What we have accomplished in such a short span of time is to some remarkable.  To Mr. Rolfe Commissiong and his team I would like to extend my deepest thanks.  Your hard work has made a tremendous contribution to the betterment of Bermuda.  You have had your names emblazoned across the front page of the daily and you have been abused on talk radio.  Despite this you have maintained your commitment to the Big Conversation and for that I am grateful.

To the people who participated in the initial discussion groups, lectures and meetings, I know that many entered the process with skepticism and emerged as champions for positive change.  Thank you.

Our generation represented the fruition of the hard work of Dr. E.F. Gordon, Mr. L. Frederick Wade, Dr. Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego, Dame Lois Browne Evans and so many other Trailblazers whose names have been lost to history that struggled, sacrificed and strived to create a better life for our people.

The work your government has performed has been extensive and rewarding but much remains to be done. We inherited a broken system and we are still working to fix it.  Soon a new generation will take the reigns of leadership representing the fruition of our hard work and sacrifice.  And with the opportunities we have created for them, the new Bermuda we have begun to build for them, they will take their progressive thinking, innovative ideas and new way of doing things and elevate Bermuda to even greater heights.  It is my hope that as I move off the field and into the pavilion to watch the political match unfold, that the commitment to moving Bermuda forward on race is one that will also be elevated to new heights.  We have come too far to go backward, have grown too much to go back to infancy and have become too bold to ever be silenced again.

Thank you.