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$18M apology: UK-based charity says sorry

By Jenique Belgrave

Descendants of slaves who lived and worked at Codrington Estates in St John are set to benefit from $18 million in reparations.

This will come from the United Kingdom-based charity United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) in the form of land, scholarships, and entrepreneurial training.

General Secretary of the USPG Reverend Duncan Dormor pledged the $18 million investment in reparatory activities in St John communities on Friday as he apologised for the organisation’s historical involvement in slave ownership.

He said that between 1712 and 1838, USPG’s predecessor, the Society of Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, owned and managed the Codrington Estates, “exploiting the labour of enslaved persons of African descent within the brutal racialised system of chattel slavery individuals who lived, worked and died under the most appalling and degrading conditions and died without receiving their freedom”.

In seeking to atone for this, Dormor said, the charity will invest the funds over a ten to 15-year period to help with several reparatory activities identified by the Codrington Trust.

“First, to conduct research to locate the burial places of enslaved persons who worked on the estates, document the findings, and establish monuments to memorialise those persons, connect kinship and family groups and recognise those areas as sacred spaces.

“Second, to engage in academic work, to record and to present the full story of the estates, not only a period of enslavement and emancipation; to build a facility to house artefacts, narratives and other materials to highlight through various media the enslaved experience; and ensure that this tragedy is never forgotten.

“Thirdly, to undertake to improve the circumstances and standards of descendants of enslaved persons who are living on estates by assisting them in acquiring freehold lots in accordance with the Tenantries Freehold Purchase Act, considerations of proper infrastructure and public policy and the requirements of the constitution of Barbados. And, finally, to fuel the spirit of self-reliance and entrepreneurship amongst residents and the tenantries and the wider community of St John, especially the youth, by providing scholarships and other opportunities to assist them to develop and utilise the benefit of their heritage and ancestral legacy. This will involve working closely with the local community,” Dormor said while addressing the Renewal and Reconciliation – Codrington Reparations Project press conference at Codrington College.

Executive secretary of the Codrington Trust Kevin Farmer said the projects will engage the communities around the college and seek to identify the approximately 500 people who left the estates after being emancipated so that their descendants can be located.

“We recognise that some of those people that we wish to engage might not physically live in the society or in the community around but may be located in the diaspora, so there’s the need to have that deeper engagement and then to arrive at those activities and solutions that will simply not just benefit those who are alive now, but be set up in such a way that there is a level of sustainability where it helps to impact generations to come,” he said.

Programme advisor in the Office of Reparations and Economic Enfranchisement Rodney Grant, who commended USPG for its effort, said a wider conversation must be held with the public on the topic of reparations.

He said the public must be educated on what reparations would mean to individuals, families and communities.

“People do not like to have these conversations because it is still a very sensitive topic…but there needs to be a discussion on what reparations mean to a mother sending to school her child, and how we got to where we are as a society with families not looking after each other. All of these things require context,” he said.

Highlighting the economic and social challenges black communities continue to grapple with almost 200 years post-Emancipation, Grant added: “When we look at the debt challenges that we have as a country and as a region…we started after slavery with zero and had to build up our economy from nothing, and these are important conversations to have. How can you build a society with zero? How can you build good educational institutions, good healthcare facilities with no money?

“And, therefore, this is where we want to get to in terms of helping our people understand that it is not just about money to put in your pocket to just spend wildly because if we do it that way, we are just back to square one.”

Grant further stressed that the reparations journey is a process that involves a systematic roll-out of several engagements across several entities and several countries “in order to get to where we want to get to”.

“It cannot just be government-led, as this is a fight that will require every single significant soldier,” he contended.

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