The Cuffy250 Committee © 2013 is an organization that is dedicated to encouraging socio-economic and cultural revitalization within marginalized and disadvantaged African Guyanese communities and to the fostering of ethnic and racial equality in Guyana.
Evidence, which supports the feeling of marginalization of African Guyanese, is recorded in a 2008 United Nations report, of the independent expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall. It states:
“Afro-Guyanese with whom the independent expert met described feeling excluded from having a full voice and stake in the national polity and equal enjoyment of rights in many fields of life including employment and economic participation. They reported stigmatization of young Afro-Guyanese males and entire African communities. Derogatory stereotypes of criminality colour wider societal perceptions of Afro-Guyanese individuals and communities. Particular challenges affect women from minority communities, including a scarcity of employment opportunities for women from Afro-Guyanese communities, the extremely heavy burden of care shouldered by single mothers, and a disturbing culture of domestic violence, often fuelled by poverty and unemployment in their communities. Women feel that domestic violence cases are not treated seriously by the criminal justice system.” (McDougall, 2009)
The Committee began on two premises; firstly, that there are serious problems within the African Guyanese community that need urgent attention by African Guyanese themselves. While African Guyanese are part of the larger nation, given the fragility of the national political community, it is a mistake to ignore intra-group concerns and aspirations. Secondly, the Guyanese nation will go nowhere if it is not grounded in ethnic and racial equality, especially at the political and economic levels, and mutual respect at the cultural level. We are dedicated to the reversal of ethnic domination of all kinds and from all quarters. Hence, part of our mission is to encourage self-empowerment and self-respect among African Guyanese as a prerequisite for respecting all races and as a defence against domination.
Cuffy 250 is made up of a group of Guyanese in Guyana and the USA who came together in 2013 to observe the 250th anniversary of the Berbice Revolt, led by Cuffy, against the system of enslavement. We wanted to celebrate and draw inspiration from our foreparents who resisted enslavement. We wanted people to remember that although enslaved against their will, they did not sit down and do nothing. They did not accept that they were born to be slaves. They resisted and fought back. But more than that, we wanted to draw attention to the deteriorating economic, political, social and cultural condition in the African Guyanese community today and to say to African Guyanese, that just as our foreparents struggled to change their situation, we can do so today.
The group held a forum in Georgetown in August 2013, where over 400 people were in attendance. We learned that things were not that good in the African Guyanese community. Education is in shambles; our children are not performing as they should. We learned that the economic situation is equally bad – high unemployment and not enough resources to start businesses. We learned that the social situation is the same. Our young people are the subject of police violence. Drugs and crime are taking over our community. Violence against women and children is on the rise. We learned that our people are not sufficiently conscious of their African heritage – their history and culture. In short, the African Guyanese community is in serious trouble.
There and then we decided that something must be done to turn back this situation. We were cognizant of the fact that it is always very difficult to form new organizations. Additionally, many African Guyanese organizations were already doing valuable work and the political party representatives were also trying their best; but we felt this work of checking the drift in our communities needed more hands.
We decided that we would do two things. First, we embarked on an education programme intended to make people more aware of our great contributions to humanity in general and to Guyana in particular. Towards this end, we held forums every two weeks in Georgetown, Guyana. We started a weekly television programme-African Drums, on HBTV Channel 9, every Sunday 8-9 pm. Secondly, we started to go into communities and work with them to use their own energies to correct their situation. We call it Self Activity and Self Reliance for Self Emancipation. In other words, we are saying, people in their communities can use what they have to begin the process of revitalization. We went to Linden, to Dartmouth and to West Bank Demerara – Sisters-Good Intent, Stanleytown and Bagotville. We encouraged people to form groups and to begin to organize for change in their communities.
Particularly, we wanted to do something about education, the economy and violence in the communities. We wanted to come up with a collective plan on how to get our children to begin to do well in school again. We thought about what a difference it would make if we could have a Cuffy 250 Community Education Programme in every village on the west side, where our children can benefit from our best teachers and tutors. If we could get them to do better in the area of education, we will change a lot-decrease crime, secure better jobs, and help them to become more conscious of their heritage.
Part of the conversation focused on how to get more African Guyanese into the business sector – start heir own small businesses. A big part of our poor condition is that as a community we are not making enough collective money. We are not producing on a large scale. We are not feeding ourselves. We do not have enough businesses in our community. We are not economically self-reliant. We are relying on others to feed us and employ us. We also spoke about how to deal with police brutality and how to stop the violence against women and children in our communities. Too much precious blood is being foolishly shed in our communities. There are too many fatherless and motherless children resulting from violence in our communities.
From that time until now, the Cuffy 250 Committee has expanded its membership as well as its reach. With on average seventeen (17) community networks in villages across Guyana and the realization of an Education Department, the Committee is continuously working to improve the lives of Guyanese through programmes which no longer only benefit African Guyanese but also a ‘selfhood’ programme which has been piloted in the Tucville Primary school and will be expanded to various schools and communities across Guyana among other signature programmes listed below:
- The annual ‘State of the African Guyanese Forum’, held August of each year
- Voter Education programmes for General & Local Elections
- Emancipation Campus
- Cuffy 250 Homework centres
- African Drums-our weekly television programme which airs Sundays at 8pm on HBTV Channel 9
Many people have asked us – “What can I do to make things better?” Our answer is simple: Be apart of what Dr. Martin Luther King called the beloved community of change; ‘han wash han, mek han come clean.’ Now is the time for us to be the change we want and need. Now is the time to show that we are the descendants of Cuffy. Let us all – teachers, youth, farmers, elders, nurses, women, men, students –work towards the collective improvement of our situation. When we win this fight to better our conditions, Guyana will be a better place.
Significant information extracted from an article by Dr David Hinds-Founding Member of Cuffy 250 Committee
Edited & Compiled by Elsie Harry- Public Relations Officer Cuffy 250 Committee