CONVERSATIONS WITH BASIA – DR LOUISE BENNETT

By Basia Alicia Powell

Our history is so much more than slavery, it includes breaking records in sports, winning Grammys, Academy Awards, becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, world leaders, businesmen and busiesswomen. Our people have achieved a whole lot over the past 100 years and they deserve for us to tell their stories. Their outstanding achievements and contributions deserve our attention. We have more to be inspired by, than to be ashamed of. Today, I am featuring the work of this powerful Jamaican woman, who also happens to be my personal “sheroe” The Rt. Hon Dr. Louise Bennett Coverley.

Louise Bennett or “Miss Lou”, as she was more popularly known, was a Jamaican legend and poet, whose work must never be lost or forgotten. While I have allowed many people to believe that I moved to Jamaica in the mid 90s to find a Jamaican husband, that is not really true. The truth is, I moved to Jamaica in my early 20’s, after this powerful Caribbean female icon made me fall in love with the people , culture and language.

When I saw “Miss Lou” performing on stage, she made me know that there was nothing I could not accomplish as a black woman. She had a rhythm in her voice, the way she talked and walked was like nothing I had ever seen as a young black girl . She made me proud to be a Caribbean woman. Her tone was compelling,and her laugh was infectious. She was pure fire.

The first time I saw her on stage, she was performing with fellow poet and story teller, Trinidadian legend, Paul Keens-Douglas (another hero of mine and my husband’s). I fell madly in love Miss Lou because she was a strong women representing Caribbean culture with pride.

After I discovered her, I would go on to represent my high school at numerous poetry competitons as Miss Lou and became obsessed with the fictitious character she created by the name of “Miss Mattie”. I perfected the art of speaking Jamaican patois by imitating her, to the point that I started telling my teachers I was born in Jamaica. They were confused because my birth certificate said otherwise😳.

Today, I want to pay homage to this great West Indian icon and Caribbean queen, for using the art of story telling to channel social commentary to uplift and educate her people. I sometimes wonder if she was alive today, what would her commentary be about racial injustice. One thing for sure is, it would have been sweet.

As the world confronts the issues of racial injustice and inequality, we must start a new conversation with the next generation. The question remains, “Do we keep teaching the history of slavery to our children?” How is this benefiting them? It is my view that some things must be left in the past.

There are many parts of our history that illustrate the greatness of our people. So many of our free ancestors have paved a successful path for us, and their stories are worthy of being told. Don’t get me wrong we must celebrate our ancestors, but we are not our ancestors. I am a firm believer that, ” We are what we focus on.” Time to change the conversation.

Take a look at my reenactment of The Rt. Hon Dr. Louis Bennett, reciting her poem “Back To Africa” . In this piece she was reminding us that, if we were born in the Caribbean we should not consider Africa to be the motherland. Thank you Miss Lou for all you did for Caribbean Culture globally, and for me as a young black woman.

Take a look at this 👇🏽

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