On the occasion of the death last week in Los Angeles of Ernest “Simona” Simon, earlier this week we published a photograph of the beginning of the UBAD march of September 10 morning in 1969.
It so happened that in that same month, half of the UBAD leadership went away, all to the United States, except in the case of Odinga Lumumba, who returned to his home in London. So it was then, that in my 22-year-old mind, I sought an alliance with the People’s Action Committee (PAC), led by Assad Shoman and Said Musa. This alliance began that October, but UBAD then lost the support of many of those who had fuelled the organization’s surge between May/June and September of that first year.
The seminal cultural phase of UBAD was a time of purity and innocence in our generation of young Belizean black people. I don’t remember who suggested we have an “African chief” in our parade, or who suggested Simona, but he quickly agreed when we approached him. I don’t remember who designed and sewed his attire. Remember now, Simona was not an officer of UBAD, and I don’t think he was even a member. He must have felt the consciousness, however, because how else can you explain a man, with nothing to gain, marching publicly with a young organization in broad daylight through the streets of the old capital? This was the level of purity and innocence in that first phase of UBAD.
In looking back, I believe that the UBAD leader who best represented the group’s purity and innocence at the time, and indeed throughout the rest of his life, was the late Edgar X Richardson. Edgar was one of those who left Belize that September month. His first marriage was a casualty of his UBAD commitment. He flew to Los Angeles, and did not return to Belize for many years. In L.A., however, the flame of the original UBAD burned in him, and he was a mentor to the BREDAA group which was formed in California in the late 1970’s. That group included Nuri Akbar and Bilal Morris, and they were also taught by Ismail Omar Shabazz, who was in California at that time.
The UBAD march of 1969 took place after UBAD had written the ruling PUP and the Opposition NIP to urge that the parties unite for the Tenth of September (National Day) march. These letters, again, were evidence of our youthful purity and innocence. I don’t remember if any of the political parties responded, but it is safe to say that, essentially, they ignored us. In frustration and sincerity, then, the UBAD leadership decided we ourselves had to march.
Shortly after the photograph you see here was taken, as we headed towards Regent Street, the late Very Reverend Eldon A. Sylvestre, a tall and physically imposing black Anglican priest, came out of St. John’s Cathedral in order to bless the UBAD parade. This was a sensational move on his part, because it was a total surprise, and no one will ever know why he did it. Unbeknownst to us in the UBAD leadership, the security forces were on full alert because of the UBAD march. Apparently, they expected some kind of trouble, which was the furthest thing from our minds. They expected trouble, I suppose, because the crowds at UBAD public meetings had been gigantic all summer long, and because some of our rostrum rhetoric was militant. In addition, UBAD had gotten into a public altercation with the CIVIC group a few weeks before at the old Harley’s Open Lot on Regent Street.
As we consider the massive change in mood and behavior which has taken place in the old capital, and all the fratricidal violence of the last three decades, we elders can see the great contrast between 1969 and 2011. You know that in the New Testament, when John the Baptist first appeared amongst the Jewish people, they asked him if he was the Christ, if he was the Messiah, the Promised One. No, replied John, I baptize you with water. After me, there will come One who will baptize you with fire. On a couple occasions on the UBAD rostrum, I referred to the words of John the Baptist in an attempt to prepare the people for more serious things which were to come. I could not have foreseen what we have been experiencing since the late 1980’s, all the hatred and violence our young warriors have been visiting upon each other, but I knew that the problems of 1969 needed to be addressed, and that we had to begin with a knowledge of self and kind.
One of the brothers you see on that September 1969 picture was Wilford Tucker. Tucker was low profile, but he was a very, very important part of the UBAD experience, because he played the music for most UBAD events during that first summer of peace and love. Tucker had an electronics shop on King Street near Euphrates Avenue. He was one of those who drew away from us after the PAC alliance. Wilford, his wife, and their children all migrated to the United States in the 1970’s.
That summer of ’69 was a special time for those of us who lived it. We will never forget it, and we will always appreciate the love. Simona was a cool and beautiful brother, the personification of peace and love. Deep within the souls of our people, that groove remains. But we have been overcome by toxins beyond our power to control. Something went terribly wrong. As urgent as the situation appeared to be in 1969, it is for sure that, by comparison, 2011 is a form of Armageddon. All we can do is trod on, trod on. The struggle continues ...