Column: “Be Inspired By Their Example”

February 8, 2016

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

True Leaders are hardly known, next after them are those leaders who are known and admired, when the works done right, with no fuss or boasting, crdinary people say, ‘Oh we did it.’ - Quote from Lao Tzu – 6th century B.C.]

On February 8, 1959 some fifteen ‘hardly known’ residents gathered for the first meeting of the Progressive Group [PG], in Flatts. These people were committed to transform their Island. They took up the baton, from previous generations and galvanized a movement ending segregation.

What can we learn from the success of this effort in 1959 that might inform us today?

Otto Sharmer of MIT, who began researching societal transformation by examining the removal of the ‘Wall’ in Germany and apartheid in South Africa, concludes that societies evolve when people undergo an internal shift. To quote Ghandi: – be the change. [Otto is paraphrased below]

“This internal shift, from fighting the old to nurturing an emerging future possibility, provides the core. It requires us to shift from caring about ourselves alone, to a caring for all. As a consequence of this shift, we are driven by a concern for the well-being of the whole”.

At that first Sunday meeting, at Edouard and Roslyn Williams’ home, it was evident that many of those attending were driven by a concern for the well-being of the whole.

They were industrious, mostly married with the responsibilities of young families – two women were pregnant; but most maintained a big picture perspective; a ‘caring for all’.

Roslyn Williams, pictured below on left

Roslyn Williams on left Bermuda Feb 7 2016

The chairman, Stanley Ratteray, had invited men and women in equal measure. Women’s voices were affirmed – modeling the future possibility they sought – in a society that tended to marginalize women.

The Group’s decision to maintain anonymity was genius. This empowered them individually, and reinforced a culture of humility.

The Group’s goal was to avoid becoming mired in ‘fighting the old’ and instead engaged in imagining what their Island could be. They focused on ‘future possibilities’ and members volunteered to research and present visions on how a New Bermuda might look; regarding – education, social systems, health, etc.

They were so engaged in this visioning that they had forgotten -until Rudi Commissiong reminded them – their earlier decision to stage a Theatre Boycott. It was in that ‘zone’ that they quickly set June 15th as the start-date.

Bermuda had been inspired by the significant challenges overcome by the U.S. Civil Rights movement. The bold invitation from PG galvanized the Island. By negotiating pitfalls, a peaceful conclusion of the Boycott was achieved within two short weeks. Formal racial barriers were removed.

Following that success many members of the Progressive Group continued efforts. Roslyn Williams who along with her husband Eduoard had been hosting those PG meetings, restarted Sunday afternoon discussions with friends, in the Fall of 1959.

They focused on Voting Rights and initially involved PG member Florence Maxwell and friend Edwena Smith with other PG members and various friends – including Roosevelt ‘Paulo’ Brown – eventually joining.

As a result, the Committee for Universal Suffrage was formed with Roosevelt as Chairman; implementing a successful campaign leading to Voting Rights.

Glenn Fubler 160207

Stanley Ratteray, Group-founder, who was the only former member to pursue political office, joined the United Bermuda Party; eventually served as Minister of Education. Eugene Woods served as the Chairman of the Progressive Labour Party in the early ‘60’s and also served as the Secretary of the Bermuda Industrial Union in the mid-60’s.

Clifford Maxwell who had served as the ‘quarterback’ for the Boycott, went on to serve as the President of the Bermuda Union of Teachers a year after that success. Other members of PG went on to serve their Island in a variety of ways.

What does this legacy offer current generations, facing local and global challenges, with Bermuda at a crossroads in 2016 ? By avoiding ‘fighting the old’, those pioneers accessed a ‘zone’ which galvanized the community, helping the emergence of a better Bermuda.

It is evident that most of these pioneers had a simple personal philosophy; summed up: caring for all…concern for the whole.

Many of them modeled that generous spirit –never boasting – beyond the Boycott, in a variety of ways: – the Williams’ mentoring scores of young people in St. George’s; Clifford Maxwell tutoring Math across the Island; others going the extra mile as educators and serving the community in various ways.

Perhaps it is their spirit of generosity which is their greatest legacy to us; and we might be inspired by their example, to employ our own sense of abundance in addressing those current shared-challenges that we all face today.

- Glenn Fubler


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Comments (5)

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  1. Curious says:

    This is timely article about Bermudian’s creating systemic change initially through privately gatherings and determining how best to focus their desire for equal rights.

    When you look at the invitations to gather at the Cabinet Building tomorrow around our legal institution of marriage, I hope tomorrow’s activity will positively shift our ability to hear, understand and respect each other.

    Is tomorrow’s gathering leading to a Theatre Boycott moment that will eventually welcome sexual orientation into our diverse Bermuda family?

    • Onion juice says:

      We thank those that paved the way before against the evil of RACISM.
      Those that opposed them had the same mindset of Swing Voter, Kangoocar, widget, hmmm, aceboy and the rest of them.
      Same S!@+, different day !!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • hmmm says:

        What nonsense are you spewing now?

        If you believe a race to be inferior or superior to another race then you are a racist. I am most certainly not a racist.

        what are you?

  2. San George says:

    Segregation and economic sabotage are no longer overt, they are now covert. Democracy and capitalism cannot coexist in an unequal society. Their covert actions have led to a polarized society.

    Quo Fata Ferunt

    • Terry says:

      Now that’s ironic.
      San George and Quo Fata Ferunt.

      Well, it all started on a Dark and Stormy nite in San George………