Black History Event Highlights Caribbean Nationals’ Contribution To Detroit
The Caribbean Community Service Center’s (CCSC) held its Second Annual Black History Event, on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at the Detroit Public Library’s Skillman Branch. CCSC’s Executive Director Sophia Chue served as emcee at the event which was keynoted by Dr. Kathryn Beard, who wrote her doctoral thesis about the unique role that the Caribbean played in Detroit’s history.
Dr. Beard pointed out that “a lot of the late 19th and early 20th century leaders in Detroit were actually of West Indian heritage.” This was because many of the Caribbean migrants in Detroit were highly educated, thus enabling them to assume leadership roles in the community. She noted that the black community in Detroit has never been “monolithic,” with distinctions among people being made by “region, class mixed race, with the inclusion of Caribbean migrants.” She concluded that “whereas ethnic distinctions were emphasized and used divisibly, ultimately, race trumps class and ethnicity.”
Following the keynote, a panel discussion was led by State Senator Erica Geiss (Panama), with panelists including Dr. Eleanor Walker, Director, Breast Radiation Oncology, Henry Ford Hospital, (Grenada), Kirk Mayes, CEO, Forgotten Harvest (Jamaican-American), and Ian Ferguson, Councilperson, Lathrup Village (Jamaica).
The panelists emphasized the importance of remaining connected to Caribbean culture. Kirk Mayes said that the “Caribbean is the bridge between African culture and the problems that come with what we have.in America.” The panelists noted that even today, it is not apparent that many leaders in the city are of Caribbean descent. Dr. Walker stated that “if we are not exposing our kids to all of those people in prominent positions, who are doing things in Detroit, then the Caribbean contribution will remain unknown.”