A first-time partnership between Medgar Evers College and the U.S. Department of State created a lively, live-streamed panel discussion at the college last Thursday entitled “USA-Caribbean Diaspora: Priorities and Convergence.” The event, which drew students, community leaders and academics, celebrated the Caribbean Diaspora and examined U.S. policy objectives in the Caribbean.
The panel was one of several State Department events around the West Indian Day Parade last week.
“I see the event today as the beginning of a conversation,” said Juan Gonzalez, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central America and the Caribbean in the State Department. Mr. Gonzalez ticked off education, clean energy and citizen security as among the top State Department policy objectives in the Caribbean. The panel, he said, was intended to foster dialogue and forge connections.
Lowell Hawthorne, the President and CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery, and Sheilah Paul, the Acting Dean of the School of Liberal Arts & Education at Medgar Evers College, joined Mr. Gonzalez on the panel. Tony Best, a senior editor at New York Carib News, served as moderator.
Dr. Paul (from Trinidad and Tobago), spoke of her work tackling the wide-spread problem of social exclusion and lack of services for people with disabilities in Caribbean countries. She invited students in the audience to think of careers – as therapists, educators, occupational therapists – to change things. Medgar Evers College has relationships with Caribbean higher education institutions and a record of educating students with disabilities, Dr. Paul noted.
Mr. Hawthorne recounted being a Jamaican immigrant who stayed strong and focused even when he had to rely on public assistance and endured business setbacks. His successful company has forged connections round the world, he said, including relationships with banks in Jamaica.
“We are certainly having a global reach and a global impact,” Mr. Hawthorne said of the relationship between diaspora countries.
Medgar Evers College vividly reflects the Caribbean diaspora. Recent enrollment figures show that over 11 percent of students are from Trinidad and Tobago and almost half come from Jamaica, Haiti or Guyana. According to the latest census, Brooklyn is home to over 370,000 people of Caribbean descent.