- Thu, 02/28/2013 - 22:50
- 0 Comments
I am honored to be with you tonight in Atlanta, GA, the birth place of the United Nimba Citizens Council (UNICCO) which was founded some 34 years ago in December, 1979. Mr. Prince Toweh informed me that Mr. Doaker Mongrue was the organizing chairman of UNICCO-USA. I understand some of the founding members still live here in Georgia while others have passed on.
Today, UNICCO has chapters in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Other states with UNICCO chapters include Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. We salute the founding fathers of UNICCO-USA as well as members of UNICCO-GA for their pivotal role in helping to make UNICCO an important representation of Nimba County in the United States.
Now, on why I am here. Last Saturday I received a call from Mr. Mehleh Duarto, UNICCO-GA President-elect, inviting me to speak at this splendid Inaugural Program. My first instinct, considering family and work schedules coupled with the very short notice, was to turn down the request. However, on second thought, on account of my people, the Nimba people, I accepted your invitation to speak; I set everything else aside to be with you tonight. I thank the President-elect and members of the in-coming administration for the opportunity to speak at this occasion; it is indeed a privilege and honor.
Tonight, my remarks will focus on the opportunities that America presents us as Liberians in the Diaspora. As a result, I will speak on the theme: "Development Transfer to the Homeland, through the Acquisition of Education, Technology and Skills"
Opportunities in the United States
Recently President Barrack Obama advised young Americans. In that advice, he underscored the importance of education as a vehicle for social mobility and economic development. He said, “I stand here as President of the United States because of the education I received.” The President further said that we live in a new world where competition for jobs will be global and not just limited to Americans, but more so competition among youths from China and India.
He described young people from China and India as “hungry” and hardworking and went on to encourage American youths “to come to terms with this reality”. President Obama emphasized the importance of education not only in terms of getting a job, but also in terms of providing other essential skills such as critical thinking, discipline and, on the whole, being a better person. “Education made all the difference in my life,” he said.
On that note; Nimba Citizens need the requisite education and skills to give back to Nimba County and Liberia. In fact, we, Nimbaians, need more than education and skills; we need discipline; we need to work together in order to be able to give back to Nimba County and Liberia.
I believe we all agree; opportunities abound in America; however we must be prepared to walk through those doors. Most people do not recognize opportunities because they are usually disguised as hard work. It is said that one must not wait for the ship to come by; rather one must swim out to meet it. The great philosopher Flip Wilson once said before you can hit the jackpot, you have to put a coin in the machine.
Every day, thousands of people immigrate to the USA in search of opportunities. That has been the story of America from its very inception. Indeed, history tells us that the first set of European colonists to set foot on American soil, James Town colonists of Virginia, came here in search of Gold and Silver to improve their lives and return to England. Are you following the footsteps of the James Town colonists? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities in America to improve yourself and to contribute to the development of Nimba County and Liberia?
Even those who did not come here voluntarily; who came under the worst and most degrading of circumstances have, once given the chance, seized on the great opportunities this land has to offer. Take, for example, the Africans who were chained and brought as slaves to work on the plantations of America. They had no rights, and were considered three fifths of a human being. Despite their plight, some of them transcended the prevailing conditions.
Fredrick Douglas, largely self-educated run-away slave, became a towering figure in the intellectual and political life of America. Booker T. Washington, after whom the Booker T. Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Liberia is named, was born into slavery. But by sheer determination, including walking miles in the wilderness to seek education in Virginia, he would rise far above his humble beginnings, founding the Tuskegee University and becoming advisor to two American Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
The life stories of these two African American Giants give true meaning to the words of a former First Lady of the United States of America, Eleanor Roosevelt, when she said: “Education and literacy are necessities in a world devoid of certainty, but abundant with opportunity. Lives can be transformed—lifted over time from poverty and chaos to dignity and independence. Education offers a ladder on which to climb and a foundation upon which to stand.” Indeed taking advantage of educational opportunities can result in being able to have better choices, for example, having a rewarding work environment.
A good education benefits the individual and society on many different levels. Increased and improved schooling means lower crime rates. It is a fact that the vast majority of offenders have a poor track record in education. Increased education means better health and better health awareness; more people being able to help themselves as well as society. Education is important because it empowers people to take more control over their lives. At a personal level it means that it is easier for people to have the self-confidence necessary to make their opinions heard.
At a community level, it means that we are able to defend and protect ourselves. Learning also brings many benefits that cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents. Education also makes you a far more capable person, ready to play a full and informed role in society. Some of us take the path of least resistance; do the minimum to get by. We are only hurting ourselves. We should begin to realize that education is not a system out to trap us, but to free and empower the people we want to be. We should make our schools and education our number one priority. We will be able to judge how well we have succeeded by our happiness and above all the people we will become. Put simply a good education gives us options.
A key option education provides us is that of contributing in meaningful ways to the development of our beloved Liberia—a country that, more than ever, needs the contributions of all of its sons and daughters. Indeed, Liberia is currently at a crossroad. What we as a country do over the next few years will determine whether we go down the path of fulfilling our noble destiny as a shiny example of our ability to rule ourselves and build a stable, prosperous, and democratic society, or we revert to the destructive path of war, conflict and resultant mind numbing poverty of our most recent past.
Accordingly, as we make individual strides to educate and uplift ourselves in our adopted homeland, we should always bear in mind that we generally are acquiring skills and abilities, that if properly used can transform our County of Nimba and our Country, Liberia. Our continuous engagement with development activities on the ground can only help to strengthen our stance as responsible citizens. Moreover, there is a new frontier of US-Liberia relations that fosters mutual understanding, goodwill, and bilateral benefits.
It is no longer the old dogma of traditional friendship that represented a lone step-child founded as a homeland for freed slaves from the United States in 1847. Our relationship with the United States has evolved to a greater and more meaningful bilateral cooperation. We are now held to a higher accountability, where the citizens are expected to exhibit a certain maturity; a discipline that is directed at finding solutions for Liberia’s problems.
There can be no better organization to take the lead in setting the example of how Liberians can with the right mind set work to solve problems that afflict us as a people and a nation than the United Nimba Citizen Council (UNICCO). The very history of UNICCO speaks eloquently to the invaluable role it can play in this regard. UNICCO was organized to promote the culture of the People of Nimba County, to assist its members in achieving their educational endeavors, to serve as a forum for the dissemination of information affecting our people, and to encourage intelligent discourse and exchanges of ideas that can benefit Nimba and Liberia at large. UNICCO is the power corridor of the Nimba People.
UNICCO is the essential link for the citizens of Nimba in the Diaspora, a common thread binding us together. It is by any measure a great social insurance policy, providing comfort, solace and a sense of community in times of crisis, death and sickness in our families, or whenever disaster strikes. Through UNICCO we will continue to forge new friendships and reinforce old ones. Chief Oren Lyons of Nigeria once said “Although we are in different boats, you in your yacht, and we in our canoe we share the same river of life. In a nutshell, whether you are Gio, Bassa, Mano, Kpelleh, Krahn, or Mandingo, we have one thing in common and that thing is Nimba County.
Indeed the old sayings that there is strength in numbers and that the sum is greater than the individual parts are true. When we come together, we not only get more things done, we also get them done better; we do things more creatively and, on top of that, we, as individuals, derive benefits in different ways. Those who work together are happier, more productive and more motivated; they are more successful. When UNICCO comes together, mountains move and extraordinary results happen at great speed.
The unmistakable take-away from the building of the Pyramids and just about every other great human achievement is that we are at our best when we work together, drawing on the talents and abilities of each other. Down through the centuries, great civilizations have arisen out of the combined efforts of individuals working together.
The moon landing and every space adventure would never have been possible were it not for teams finding solutions to major obstacles and problems. In fact, working together not only ensures we get more done, it provides the strength in numbers necessary to tackle obstacles that no one individual can surmount. Some jobs, of course, seem to be done by one individual. It is said that a writer may write a book alone, but in the acknowledgement page you will see how many others have helped him or her along the way.
Encourage Tolerance for Dissenting Views
It has been established that the power of technology has a profound impact on group cohesion. The sharing of information technology broadens the access to information that would otherwise not be available. The Nimba community in the United States has a lot to gain by seizing the many opportunities that technology offers. However, in order to harness these opportunities, we as a collective body must learn to amicably coexist on social media. It is clear that certain ground rules governing our community list-serve need to be adhered to. Unfortunately, our list-serves are used as a tool to assault its enrollees sometimes for mere difference of opinion. Our list-serves should not be used to promote hatred amongst ourselves.
Diversity is the essence of humanity. It is said that difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. A Nobel Peace Prize winner called John Hume once said “Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another's beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.”
To the newly elected officers, you already know that your leadership comes with the authority prescribed by the Constitution of UNICCO-GA. However, as you leave here today, I admonish you to recognize that your leadership also comes with another authority, one that is not prescribed by the Constitution, that is, moral authority—the real source of legitimacy.
Education, fellow Nimbaians, is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for leadership. So, do not go around claiming to be a leader because you have a bachelor’s, masters or doctorate degree. Beyond the degree, let your character, care and concern for your own family and community, and willingness to lift others instead of tear them down do the talking. Let your ideas and ability to work with people you do not agree with do the talking.
I encourage you to listen, build consensus, delegate responsibilities, use the knowledge and skills of the community to achieve shared goals. Set ambitious goals and work to accomplish them. Work with your people to develop short-, medium and long-range plans of action. Without a plan of action, the organization will only exist in name. A plan of action is to an organization as oxygen is to life. Also, you can quickly pull your organization apart if there is no one who can guide and harness its energies. You are to provide that direction. You will not always be right, but you must have the courage to admit to your mistakes, take ownership and fix them.
Finally, as we do all of the things about which we have spoken today—getting a quality education, making UNICCO a better organization, contributing to the development of Nimba in particular and Liberia in general—let us remember that our ultimate objective is ensuring the success of our country called Liberia: Our country is small but richly blessed and endowed.
Let us therefore rise to the challenge; let us strive to ensure that Liberia will not fail; that we as Nimbaians will be in the forefront and with the combined efforts of all Liberians; make Liberia what it should and ought to be: a truly sweet, prosperous land of liberty and justice for all its people.