National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis) chairman Neil Parsanlal has called on Trinidad and Tobago's fathers to take responsibility for their children and not to hand them over to be raised by people whose interests lie elsewhere.
He spoke at the signing of a memorandum of co-operation (MOC) between Nalis and Roots Foundation TT at the National Library, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain on May 2.
Roots Foundation TT founder and general manager Mtima Solwazi, the US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission Shante Moore and Nalis executive director Paula Greene were present at the event.
The foundation aims to preserve and promote oral traditions while connecting generations and empowering young people to create positive futures for themselves, their families and their communities, its website says. Spoken-word poetry plays a major role in the foundation’s work.
Parsanlal said the recent regional crime symposium highlighted the role the creative arts play in building safer communities.
This was where the work of the foundation became even more necessary, he said.
Quoting Solwazi, he said spoken word could serve as a psycho-educational vehicle for enhancing resilience against gang recruitment, violent extremism and providing alternatives to criminal involvement.
Parsanlal said the impact the arts could have on crime was not missed by President Christine Kangaloo, who, at her inauguration ceremony, spoke about the discipline of panyards.
As a parent, he said, the events of April 28, when at least 55 schools were closed because of a bomb scare, angered and disappointed him.
“It spoke of a person or people who were prepared to use the vulnerability of the nation’s children to further their own agenda.”
He said the apparent success of the 1990 coup attempt was forged by the ability of the late Yasin Abu Bakr to be seen as a surrogate father for 112 young men (the Muslimeen insurgents) who had lost hope in the village to raise them.
“Measuring your manhood by the (number) of children you have fathered is as accurate, unfortunately, as determining the next West Indies cricket victory,” Parsanlal said.
Parsanlal said the Roots Foundation did not throw its hands in the air and did not give up on trying to make a qualitative difference in the lives of TT’s young people, though he said many adults threw their hands in the air on the issue of crime and criminality.
“The evidence of their commitment is found in the approximately 18 unbroken years of service offered to this country building on traditions of Lancelot Layne, the original spoken-word griot,” he said.
The Roots Foundation was instrumental in leading the charge against community violence through the creative use of arts and poetry, he said.
“Through their many interventions the Roots Foundation has been able to more than ably demonstrate that not only are the arts an effective tool in defusing community crime and criminality, but that art is crime prevention.”
Greene said the MOC allowed the foundation and Nalis to continue working together. The two parties worked together before on many projects, but this allowed the foundation to engage Nalis’ publics without seeking permission.
Through the MOC, the foundation also received two buses to continue its outreach work, Solwazi said.
“Now it will be easier for us at Roots Foundation TT, through Nalis, to reach communities far and wide across TT. We also have access to all library facilities, be it at schools, institutions like prisons, or just public libraries on the whole.”
Greene said the authority cannot do everything and that was why its partners were so important.
The foundation has bi-monthly open-mic sessions. Through its MOC with Nalis, it now has a two-day workshop beforehand.
Solwazi said there are plans to collaborate with the Brooklyn Public Library, thanks to relationships with spoken-word groups in New York.
The foundation’s main annual event, Cascadoo, has been held at Nails since its inception in 2013 and this year it will be held in New York and TT in July and August respectively.
Moore called on TT’s youth to be proud of TT and said the country had achieved a lot in its 60 years of independence.
Students from San Juan North Secondary School and Servol were also at the signing.