By Barney Blakeney
As Charleston ramps up efforts to assist in the recovery of the Bahama Islands after their recent devastation by Hurricane Dorian, in a Monday conversation about relief efforts John Wright president of the African American Settlement Communities Historic Commission, Inc. outlined an unprecedented proposal that would move assistance to the Bahamas beyond the provision of bottled water, can goods and generators. Wright proposed economic coalitions between African Americans and their Bahamian cousins.
The Bahamians have severely pressing issues confronting them. At least 60 percent of Grand Bahama Island was left submerged as Dorian moved away on September 3. There was island-wide power outage on Grand Bahama Island. About 300 homes on the island were destroyed or severely damaged. On September 11 the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that 2,500 people were still missing. Damage was estimated at over $7 billion and there were at least 50 deaths in the country.
But despite the tragedy opportunities exist. Economic redevelopment will take place and others will take advantage of them, Wright said. African American business should be participants in those opportunities, he said. The African American Settlement Communities Historic Commission, Inc., a coalition of Black traditional settlement communities east of the Cooper River is among the local organizations leading efforts to provide disaster relief to the Bahamas. But as those efforts are engaged, Wright says conversations about economic redevelopment in the islands also must be engaged.
The Bahamas have been a lucrative commodity since Christopher Columbus first saw them in 1492. Its native population was forced into slavery on the Island of Hispaniola, now called Haiti. The British made the island a colony in 1718. After the American Revolutionary War, British loyalists moved there taking their slaves with them. Blacks continue to arrive in the Bahamas by the shipload today. The Bahamas attracted 5.8 million visitors in 2012. More than 70 percent were cruise visitors. Tourism accounts for about 50 percent of the Bahamian GDP and provides jobs for about half of the country’s workforce. According to one source, of the nearly $400 million in expenditures annually spent in the Bahamian tourism industry, only about one-third is paid to employees.
The decimation brought to the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian means much of the tourism infrastructure must be rebuilt from the ground up. Wright says African American business should be among those rebuilders.
That could be a good thing said Lorna Beck, South Carolina Caribbean Culture and Heritage, Inc. Others invest and control those resources for their benefit, she said. Rhoda Green, Barbados Honorary Consul to the Carolinas President of the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation agrees. She said it would be a great opportunity for African Americans here as well as our counterparts in the Bahamas. The kicker is to find those who can facilitate such an effort. Beck suggests beginning at the Bahamas Consulate General in Miami, Fla. (305) 373-6295.
Some local organizations already exist – the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, local interdenominational ministerial alliance, Wando-Huger Community Development Corporation and the Snowden Community’s local development corporation, not to mention scores of fraternal and sorority groups – are among some of the groups which likely have the capacity to mount such an endeavor.
The Bahamas will be rebuilt. With an economy fueled by tourism and international banking, it’s one of the richest countries in the Americas. The opportunities exist for those who will take advantage of them.