BY PROFESSOR IVELAW LLOYD GRIFFITH, PHD
One of Guyana’s most popular National Songs entreats us thus,
“Let us co-operate for Guyana
Let us co-operate for our land,
Let us resolve to fight together
See we do it right together
Can we do it? Yes we can.
“Each man must do his bit
with his comrades,
Each man must do his bit for his land,
Each must resolve to help another,
Learn to call his neighbor ‘brother’
Can we do it? Yes we can.”
When Billy Pilgrim penned those powerful lyrics several decades ago, our native land was not so widely and numerically dispersed in different lands; Guyana did not have massive “regions” outside the continental territory that is Guyana; there was no mighty region 11—New York-New Jersey, no powerful region 12—Toronto, no influential region 14—Florida, and more.
Yet, I would hazard the conjecture that when Pilgrim conceived that song that so powerfully evokes senses and sensibilities of nationhood, of patriotism, he contemplated speaking to Guyanese everywhere; those in all 10 administrative regions at home and throughout the “regions” across the Diaspora, in the Caribbean, Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Asia. I add Africa and Asia because, yes, our Guyanese Diaspora extends there, as well. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are few Guyanese in Antarctica.
The occasion of our nation’s momentous Golden Jubilee of independence is, therefore, a wonderful occasion for all Guyanese to remember Pilgrim’s powerful entreaty and to help our nation in the various ways that we can, irrespective of where we are located physically. It is a splendid occasion for Guyanese in the Diaspora regions to accentuate the things that bind us and subordinate those that might divide us, to knit the Diaspora tapestries into a powerful Guyana quilt, both to serve the legitimate interests of Guyanese and hyphenated Guyanese in the Diaspora and the nation called the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Just imagine the powerful voice for Guyana that Guyanese and Guyanese-Americans just in the New York Tri-State area would constitute were we to establish a unified lobbying presence there.
Importantly, though, fostering Diaspora unity, stronger Diaspora engagement, and more structured synergies between the Diaspora and the motherland is not the responsibility only of brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, but also of actors and institutions in Guyana. In this respect, the disenchantment with the lethargy on the part of political managers in Guyana that exists in various parts of the Diaspora is both real and understandable.
It is my contention, though, that the onus is not just on the government in Guyana to act, there is space for other institutions to play meaningful roles. One such institution is The University of Guyana. In this regard, one of the priority initiatives I plan to pursue when I return to Guyana in June to serve as Tenth Vice Chancellor and Principal is the establishment of a Center for Diaspora Engagement. I have already approached a few respected individuals New York and Washington, DC about hosting a conference in Guyana in 2017 as part of the evolution of the project, and I would welcome hearing from individuals interested in not just dreaming engagement in this area, but also doing engagement.
Mine is a call for Guyanese in the Diaspora to unite, for us to institutionalize the basis for strengthening the things that bind us irrespective of the region in which we live, and give true meaning to the words Billy Pilgrim’s National Song. Can we do it? Yes, we can!
Dr. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, former Provost and Senior Vice President of York College, CUNY, is Executive-in-Residence at The University at Albany, SUNY, and Vice Chancellor and Principal Designate of The University of Guyana.