CSA President 2005-2006
How did you come to specialize in Caribbean Studies?
My interest in the Caribbean grew out of my family background (my mother is Jamaican, my father Trinidadian. My family’s roots are pan Caribbean including Venezuela, Panama, Barbados, Guyana, Tobago and Haiti). My research interests began with the Grenada Revolution in 1979 and my desire to understand the changes that were occurring in the country and to contribute to the experiment in democratic socialism.
How did your interest in and commitment to Caribbean Studies evolve?
After spending a year in Grenada in 1982 working with the national adult literacy campaign and studying political socialization and social change simultaneously, my interests in the Caribbean evolved to include a focus on political economy and culture. I was interested in understanding how and why the Anglophone Caribbean managed to maintain Westminster-styled democratic governments while simultaneously exhibiting such extreme inequality and exploitation of the Black majority population. I also was interested in studying Cuban socialism and understanding why so many Black Cubans had chosen to leave the island after the Mariel boatlift in 1980.
When did you first join CSA and what did it mean to you then?
I joined CSA in 1990 at the urging of my mentor Dr. Percy Hintzen. I have not missed a CSA meeting since. I instantly fell in love with the combination of serious scholarship and fellowship that CSA offered. Attending CSA gave me the opportunity to interact with other Caribbean scholars and to develop my own work and ideas.
What were your goals for CSA the year of your presidency?
For my presidency in 2005, I chose the following theme: The Role of the Academy in Responding to the Challenged of the Caribbean. I am a sociologist who is preoccupied with the practical problems facing the poor and oppressed in the US, Caribbean, Latin American and Africa. Issues such as violence, economic exploitation, educational failure, and others have been at the forefront of my own scholarship. Given that so many of these problems plague the region I thought it would be important for one of our annual meetings to focus upon the relevance of our scholarship to the challenges facing the people of the region. I have always felt that Caribbean scholars cannot risk being regarded as irrelevant, especially given the pressing nature of the problems facing our peoples. I wanted to see a broad range of scholars from a variety of disciplines ask themselves how their work was relevant to the people and the challenges they faced.
What did you recognize to be the greatest obstacles facing CSA and Caribbean Studies during your presidency?
The greatest challenges facing CSA during my presidency pertained to the lack of organizational capacity. I worked closely with Percy Hintzen to try to address this problem by obtaining a capacity building grant from the Ford Foundation. Our goal was to make sure that CSA did more than merely put on a conference once a year and to insure that the secretariat had sufficient resources to function. Unfortunately, I don’t think we succeeded in accomplishing either of these goals but the struggle continues,
What did you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of CSA that year?
Securing the Ford grant was our greatest accomplishment. We also held a conference that attracted over 500 participants and raised funds for the association.
Why did you choose the location you did for the CSA annual conference that year?
My wife was very sick during the year I was president. She died a month before the conference was held. I wanted to hold the conference in a place where I had strong ties and contacts and where I knew I could rely on local members to create a strong local committee. With Godfrey St. Bernard as the Local Committee Chair, and veteran members like Selwyn Ryan and Patricia Mohammed willing to take on major responsibilities for the conference, I knew we would be successful despite the constraints placed upon me. It should be added that Percy Hintzen who was the incoming Vice President took on a lot of responsibility for me, and effectively served as President of CSA for two years. Additionally, we received considerable support from UWI St. Augustine from the Dean of Social Sciences Hamid Ghandany, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social Science Research and numerous others.
Where do you hope to see CSA in the next ten years?
I hope CSA will continue to grow and develop. I hope it will attract a new generation of Caribbean scholars. I hope that it will be regarded as a resource and a source of support by NGOs, governments and the people of the region. I hope that we will one day CSA will be a major intellectual force in the region.
What is one of your fondest CSA memories?
My fondest memories of CSA are related to the people I have met over the years. Although I only see most of them once a year I regard them as more than friends, they are truly a part of my extended family. Additionally, there have been occasions when CSA has been highly effective in it’s work such as the time when we held a dialogue between the conflicting political factions in Guyana, the time when we held a press conference on sexual slavery in Curacoa, and the conference in Havana where we staged a dialogue between Cuban exiles and scholars based on the island.
What are you doing now in terms of the Caribbean?
Most of my present work focuses on Caribbean immigrants in New York.
Where do see the future of Caribbean Studies?
I see Caribbean Studies at a crossroads once again. With new leadership we have the opportunity to help the organization grow and develop in new ways. The current President Pat Mohammed and incoming President Linden Lewis are resourceful and talented individuals. Together with the new members of the Council I expect to CSA develop further. However, the challenge will be to have the organization do more than merely put on a good conference once a year. If we can’t get our members to show an interest in building the CSA and participating activities beyond the conference we run the risk of limping along and not fulfilling our potential or responding to the needs of the region.
12) What would you recommend to a young scholar starting in Caribbean Studies?
My recommendation to young scholars is to see the CSA as an organization that they can help to build and develop. Use it as a resource for your scholarship – a place to network, obtain feedback on your scholarship, and a chance to develop and publish your work. However, you must also recognize that the CSA is YOU, and that if there is something you don’t like about the way the organization functions, don’t complain, do something about it. None of the leaders get paid so take initiative, volunteer and help to make the CSA more effective than it is now.