JANUARY 12th, 2008
Nadia Bishop speaks of "forgiveness and reconciliation"
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Nadia Bishop

Fellow Grenadians, Happy New Year.  Most of you know me.  My name is Nadia Bishop.  I am the daughter of Angela Bishop, and Maurice Bishop, the late Prime Minister of Grenada.

I am here today on this first day of a new year to invite you to join me in forgiveness and reconciliation.  I invite you to join me in creating a new beginning, as we start this New Year.  

Like all invitations, you are free to decline.  I speak to you today as the daughter of Maurice Bishop, and on behalf of my family.  I do not speak on behalf of the families of those who were killed with my father on October 19, 1983.  

This invitation is not designed to provide a reason to judge those who are not ready to forgive or to reconcile.  It has taken me 24 years to get to this point.  

 

The late PM. Maurice Bishop

Everyone needs the time that they need, and no one should be judged by someone else's time line, especially not the family members of those who died with my father.   I know some of the family members are unhappy with my being here today. I want to state publicly that the intention of my invitation is not to cause any of them pain.  And if my words here today do cause pain, then I hope that they will understand my purpose for being here, and will one day forgive me.

I want to acknowledge Marcelle Belmar and thank her for her willingness to be here today and to share this platform. Marcelle's sister Jemma Belmar was also killed on October 19, 1983, along with my father.    

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge others who died with my Father on October 19th.  I acknowledge and send my love and respect to the families of Unison Whiteman, Norris Bain, Vincent Noel, Evelyn Bullen, Jaqueline Creft, Fitzroy Bain, Keith Hayling, Evelyn Maitland, Nelson Steele, Simon Alexander, Andy Alexander, Eric Dumont, and Allyene Romain.

 

Ex Deputy Bernard Coard

I also wish to acknowledge Kenrick Radix whose spirit died on October 19th, although his body lived for years after.   I also want to acknowledge the deaths of Raphael Mason, Conrad Myers and Dorsett Peters, soldiers who lost their lives on October 19, 1983.  I send my condolences to their families.  And if I missed someone in error, please accept my acknowledgment and respect, and know that I have not intentionally left anyone out.  

And for those of you who fought on behalf of Maurice Bishop these past 24 years - fought to get his remains and give him a proper burial, fought to honour his memory in a variety of ways - I ask you, please, do not feel betrayed by this invitation for forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Your love, your passion, your commitment, and your dedication to my father have not gone unnoticed and have been greatly appreciated by everyone in my family.  Your feelings and your actions were not in vain.  On behalf of my father and my family, thank you.  Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.

I appreciate and love each of you, and I pay special tribute to Peggy Nesfield and Terry Marryshow who have worked tirelessly these past 24 years. There are many others who have worked to keep Daddy's memory alive, and I say thank you to them also. People of Grenada, I am here before you today, full of gratitude, hope and love.  I am deeply grateful that I have lived long enough so that when I die it will be with a heart free of hatred, anger, resentment, bitterness and vengeance.  

Today I am full of hope for Grenada because I am in fact here now.  If I can appear before you today, as much as I loved my father, and as much as I hated the men convicted of his death, then anyone can stand before you with a transformed heart, and a renewed consciousness of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.  

I have hope because I know who I have been for at least 22 of these past 24 years.  I know the hatred, the anger and despair I carried, and if I can let these things go, then I am full of hope that anyone can.  And even better, I am hopeful that we will all drop these burdens at some point in the future.  

 

Ex Minister Strachan

I feel love today because I am absolutely certain that my father sent me here to speak with you, the other members of his family.  I love Maurice Bishop the way that he loved each and every one of you - with a deep and abiding love.  

I have shared with you all many times, the stories of how I was jealous of you as a child.  And when I say "you," I mean each and every Grenadian. There were so many times when it seemed like Daddy loved you all more than he loved me.   There were so many times that we had plans to do something as a family, and some random Grenadian that Daddy had never even met before would come into the yard and start calling, "Brother Bish, Brother Bish you there?  I need some help Brother Bish."  And that was the end of whatever family outing we had scheduled.  Because you all always seemed to come first.  

When my grandfather was killed and my grandmother begged Daddy not to continue in politics, his love for the Grenadian people made him answer "no, I have to serve my people."   When my father was beaten up and his jaw was broken and we moved to Barbados for a time so he could get medical care, my mother and his mother both asked him not to go back to politics, and his love for you, the people of Grenada, made him say "no, I have to serve my people."   Maurice Bishop loved you deeply and I love him deeply.  

I am here today because I am convinced that my father would be very unhappy that 24 years after his death, Grenadians, whom he considered his family, are still divided and fighting each other, while calling the name of Brother Bishop.  

 

Maurice's Mom Alimenta Bishop

He would not have wanted this.  He would not have wanted his family fighting and hating each other for any reason, but certainly not in his name.   So I am here today to honour the love my Father had for Grenada and Grenadians.  I am here to hopefully be an example of forgiveness and reconciliation so that we can come together again as a family, as a nation.  I know this is what Daddy would have wanted and that he himself would have worked to create this if he were alive today.

On Monday, December 31, 2007, I met with Bernard Coard, Selwyn Strachan, John Ventour, also known as Chalkie, Liam James, also known as Oh-u-su, Leon Cornwall, also known as Bogo, Dave Bartholomew, Callistus Bernard, also known as Abdullah, Kamau Mc Barnette, and Ewart Layne, also known as Headache.

It was the first time I spoke with these men since the death of my father, and their subsequent incarceration in connection with his death and the events of October 19th. The meeting went better than I could have hoped.  We were together for about 3 hours.  

In my mind I had never imagined that the word joy would have ever applied to a meeting with these men.  But I honestly tell you that I felt joy talking with them, and that we mutually freed each other from the bond of negativity that has existed between us these past 24 years.


The best word to describe what happened yesterday was grace.  God's grace was in that room and we all felt it, and we were all blessed by its presence.  I also had the chance to speak with Hudson Austin, and with Lester Redhead, who was recently released.  

In preparation for today, I had conversations with many people who expressed a desire that if forgiveness is offered, it must be conditional.  The conditions were: First, that the men mentioned above accept responsibility for what happened on October 19, 1983; and second, that they ask for forgiveness.

Please understand, I cannot extend conditional forgiveness. What I invite you to join in is unconditional forgiveness that is not dependent upon anyone admitting responsibility for anything, nor a request that forgiveness be granted to them.

I believe that if we start to place conditions on forgiveness, there will always be more conditions added, we will never be satisfied, and forgiveness and reconciliation will never occur.   Having said that, each man yesterday expressed his regret for the events of October 19th and extended a very sincere and heartfelt apology to me and my family, and to the families of all of those who suffered losses on October 19th.

I accepted their apologies on behalf of myself and my family.  I cannot accept their apologies on anyone else's behalf, but I can at least convey them. And each man, after 24 years of reflection, is aware of his role and responsibility in the events of October 19th.

I realise of course that many people disagree with unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation. I understand this position and there is no judgment from me because it was my position for many years. However, that position no longer serves me and I have released it.
I want to acknowledge the work that each of these men has done to get past their bitterness, anger and hatred.  I commend them for the work they have done helping to educate their fellow inmates and to improve themselves through further study and education. They could have done otherwise.  

Today, I want forgiveness to be a full circle. I am not only offering forgiveness, but I ask for forgiveness as well. On behalf of my father, Maurice Bishop, I apologise to all those who felt harmed by the Revolution and by my Father.  

I apologise to the daughter of Hyacinth Brizan.  She was only 8 years old when her father was killed on March 13, 1979, Day One of the Revolution.  The loss of her father at 8 years old was just as important, and equally as tragic, as the loss of my father at 14 years of age.  

Pysadee was also killed on March 13, 1979.  I offer condolences and an apology to his family for their loss. For all those who were detained or felt that they were otherwise wronged during the Revolution, and held my father personally responsible for their detention, I apologise on his behalf.  

In particular, I apologise to Lloyd Noel, Teddy Victor, Leroy Neckles, Winston Courtney, Derek Knight, Leslie Pierre, George Houston, to the families of Strachan Philips and Ralph Thompson, who are no longer with us, and to any other person detained during the Revolution of whom I am unaware.

As I am willing to offer forgiveness to those who harmed me and my family, I hope that the forgiveness I seek on behalf of my father will also be granted to me.    I know that forgiveness is not easy, and I am aware that it is a journey and not an instant destination. And even when you tell yourself that you have forgiven, you may take several steps forward, but then take a step back.  

Please know that is normal, and that there will be inconsistencies in the beginning as we try to find our way past 24 years of barriers, of distrust, of resentment and of bitterness.   Those barriers will not all be overcome in a day. We will have to work daily to make them go away. The key is to keep trying and never give up.  

I have been consciously working on forgiveness for about two years. In November 2006, I had an experience where I felt a release and I said to myself, "I have forgiven them."  And I thought that I had.   In fact, when I came home last February I intended to meet with Bernard, Hudson and the others in prison, but I did not. When I came back last February re-sentencing was the focus and I got pulled back into the story, and I became angry again. I no longer felt like forgiving.  In fact, I did not want any of them to be free.

I left Grenada in February without completing my goal of meeting with Bernard and others to extend forgiveness. What I realise is that you cannot force something before it is ready, especially not something like this.  So I continued to live my life and notwithstanding my response in February, I continued to work on forgiveness.  

In October last year I made the definitive decision to forgive.  Even that decision was not straightforward. When I made the initial decision I envisioned meeting only with the men who had been recently released.  However, I started thinking about it and realised that would not be sufficient.  

It took me another two weeks before I embraced the idea of going to the prison.  I was resistant to meeting with Bernard Coard and Abdullah in particular.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I could not come home and do this in a half hearted fashion.  Once I accepted that I needed to go to the prison, I embraced the decision fully.  

This process will be a dance.  Stepping forward sometimes and stepping back other times.  I discussed with my Mum the idea that forgiveness should be a complete circle and that I would like to apologise on behalf of Daddy, to those who were incarcerated during the Revolution.  

She got a little defensive and said, "well there were reasons they were incarcerated you know."  I know there were reasons.  We all have reasons and justifications for our stories.  Just as I could stay in hatred and anger for the rest of my life based on the story I could tell about what happened to my father, so too Hyacinth Brizan's daughter (who lost her father on March 13, 1979), could stay in hatred and anger based on her story of losing her father.

Moreover, the families of Derek Knight, George Houston, Lloyd Noel, or others detained during the Revolution, could remain embittered with my Father and the revolution, because of the stories they could tell about their detention.

I am sure there are supporters of Eric Gairy who have stories to tell that would keep them firmly positioned in resentment, anger and blame based on being displaced after the Revolution.  No one is exempt. We all have stories that justify us staying in pain and anger, but our individual stories are not the only ones that exist.

And more importantly, pain does not justify staying in pain. I don't mean to imply that our individual stories are invalid, or that we should diminish our personal experience, but we have focused on our stories of loss for so long that we must let them go if we are truly to embrace reconciliation.  

I believe we can release our individual and collective stories together. Let us from this day forward tell a new story about our people. Let us tell a story of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of renewed purpose, of renewed faith, of renewed hope.   Let us tell a story of success and triumph over adversity, and the transformation of the individual and collective pain in our lives into a new purpose for our lives, and for our country.  

We are too small a nation to continue this way.  Consider this, two nights ago I was at the home of a Gairyite writing this statement that I am presenting now. The Revolution led by my Father replaced Eric Gairy's government, so you would not expect a Bishop and a Gairy to be friends.  

Yesterday, I was driven to the prison by an Austin. Hudson Austin is currently in prison related to the death of my Father, so you would not expect a Bishop and an Austin to be friends.   And, one of the people who accompanied me to the prison is a Neckles, the wife of Leroy Neckles, one of the people detained by my Father's government. You would not expect a Bishop and a Neckles to be friends.  

But I am friends with a Gairy, an Austin and a Neckles.  We Grenadians are very interconnected.  There are too many points at which our families overlap for us to be divided. And, our nation is too small for all of this. Let us reconcile with each other now.   We are a Christian nation. We have all grown up hearing "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but how many of us practice this? How many of us practice forgiveness, even once, much less forgiving 70 times 7?  I am as guilty as anyone.  It is much easier to preach than to practice.   

We have focused for the past 24 years on our differences.  Let us focus on the similarities at the core of our humanity.  We are similar, at the very least, in that none of us ever wants justice when we act wrongly.  We all want understanding, a second chance, and forgiveness.  Perhaps we can consider, in this New Year, giving to others what we want for ourselves.  

We all say we want world peace.  We see so clearly that Israelis and Palestinians must come together in order to achieve peace and stability.  We see so clearly what needs to be done in Darfur with warring factions, but do we see the need to speak with a Coardite if we are a Bishop supporter? Do we see the need to speak with a Bishop supporter if we are a former detainee?

I suggest that it is time that we see the need.  We must reach out to each other.  Let us be examples of peace in the world.  If we can't find common ground with our brothers and sisters here in our own country, why do we expect peace to exist anywhere else in the world?   Let each of us individually this year BE the change that we want to see in the world.  

Today, my father is here with me and his love surrounds and embraces all of us. Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today. I send each of you my love and my gratitude for bringing so much joy to my Father. His life was at its best, and his joy was most complete when he was serving you.

Thank you for allowing him to live his life's purpose and to serve you, and to be your leader for the period of time that he was. I know without a doubt that he did not feel he died in vain, because he died in the service of his people.   

We should all be so lucky as to live our life's purpose and die in the service of it.  Happy New Year family.  Thank you for joining me in forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Editor's Note: Derek Knight was never detained by the Revolutionary Forces that overthrew the Eric Gairy government on March 13, 1979 by use of armed force. Mr. Knight, a then Minister without Portfolio, managed to escape the Armed Forces of the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA).

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