The Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (ESCTT) is celebrating 30 years of advocacy, resilience, determination, transformation and its re-emergence out of the covid19 pandemic.
ESCTT was founded by Lidj Yasu Omowale and Khafra Kambon in 1992 to strengthen TT's emancipation celebrations.
Its director Zakiya Uzoma-Wadada said this year’s celebration will reflect the gains and losses of the committee.
For Emancipation Day 2022, ESCTT will pay tribute to iconic performers Singing Sandra (Sandra DesVignes-Millington) and Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) who both died in 2021.
“This is the first year we are having this festival without them,” Uzoma-Wadada said during an interview with Sunday Newsday at her Maraval office on July 21.
As part of the 30-year commemorative celebration, the public was asked to pay a $30 contribution to enter night events for activities leading up to this year’s Emancipation Day.
In 2020, Emancipation celebrations moved online as the country battled to contain the spread of covid19.
Over the past two years ESCTT instead hosted a series of virtual events. A virtual jazz and pan concert, trade exhibition and youth reggae concert, virtual drum calls along with a virtual flambeau procession and display of images of past street processions and a virtual calypso concert were among the events.
Uzoma-Wadada said she was excited to plan the physical return of Jazz at Sunset, Pan at Moonlight, Kambule street procession and the Aruba Village expo.
After going 28 years strong, Uzoma-Wadada admitted, the existence of the organisation was threatened by restrictions of the pandemic.
Following two years of challenges, ESCTT owes its survival to the commitment and sacrifices of committee members.
“We had problems keeping staff on full-time, clearing monthly expenses especially after most of the organisation’s sponsors had to pull their support.
“It was a difficult time. Contributions that helped significantly were gone and the fundraiser events we could not host because of the restrictions. It is still difficult for us; our sponsors are still emerging and even government institutions.”
In 2020 and 2021 the organisation hosted 16 virtual events to keep the festival alive but it wasn’t enough to sustain its operations.
Uzoma-Wadada said the pandemic has exposed and revealed inefficiencies of ESCTT and now the committee is working to use the lessons from the pandemic to ensure further events don’t threaten its lifeline.
She said, “Because resources, both human and financial, have always been limited...ESCTT has depended on that spirit of revolution, that spirit of fight, that spirit of making it happen and our resilience to manage all the different challenges that come our way and not ever give up. And therefore, we would have taken that same energy into covid19."
She said covid19 restriction have benefited the organisation in introducing and incorporating technology.
"Managing online productions also requires certain skills that we did not have. In the first year we were pleased to work with personnel from the University of the West Indies to assist us in creating and putting together those online production. Now in 2022 we were able to manage that on our own."
“We have to remain resilient; we have to overcome those challenges as we continue to transform our society, that’s the mission. When we transform the minds we have a better appreciation of being African in the world at this time and understating the beauty of being African in TT.”
Now that the organisation has emerged out of the pandemic – fragile but functioning – Uzoma-Wadada said the committee can slowly restart its work.
By mid-August, the first order of business is to continue advocating for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue on the corner of Independence Square and Duncan Street and the renaming of Oxford Street to Kwame Ture Street.
Ture, a political activist formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, was born on Oxford Street, Trinidad in 1941 and grew up in America. He was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the US and is associated with the Black Power movement.
She said the unveiling of the Emancipation Monument in 2020, in front of the Treasury Building in Port of Spain where the annual Emancipation Day commemorative procession usually commences, is a major accomplishment for the organisation.
“Covid19 was an excuse for the authorities not to get something done. If we were able to rename an entire street China Town, then the renaming of Oxford Street is doable. We will continue discussions with the Port of Spain mayor (Joel Martinez) and we think it will happen in this decade.
“It's a very significant year for us emerging out of the ashes of covid19, our 30th anniversary. It's also the 184 anniversary of the Emancipation of Africans. And of course, it is also the eighth year of the decade for people of African descent.”
Even with a significantly reduced budget, she promises an Emancipation Day celebration to not only mark the 37 years since the government declared Emancipation Day a national holiday on August 1, but also to celebrate the survival of the country’s oldest emancipation advocate group.
"We are really excited. It's quite a challenge because after two years, things have changed, costs went up but we really determined and we continue with that resilience that has brought us safe to our 30 years."
The following is the schedule of events to be facilitated by the Emancipation Support Committee TT on August 1:
4 am: Massy All Stars panyard, East Dry River from where a procession will head to the Yoruba Village Monument (the band stand near Besson Street) and then to the Arise Monument in front of the Treasury Building (on Independence Square, Port of Spain).
8 am: Yedaase: A Tribute to Our Ancestors will take place in front of the Treasury Building .
9 am: Kambule Procession through the streets of Port of Spain. From the Treasury Building, to end at the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village, Queen's Park Savannah.
3 pm: Emancipation Village, the final session of Rhythm and Voices of Africa.
7 pm: Flambeau Procession at Massy All Stars panyard.