Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Garth Rattray | Ambassador Bridgewater’s inspirational book, ‘Neutral on Nothing’

Published:Monday | July 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The most lasting, generational legacies are those that inspire us, improve our lot, or otherwise influence our thinking in positive ways. Ambassador Bridgewater-Awkard’s book, Neutral On Nothing ( http://www.shiloholdsite.org/book.html or available at Stewart Motors with Jamie-Lee or Kameica) is about the powerful, positive and inspirational legacy left by her grandfather, Rev Dr B. H. Hester. He was a social activist of no mean order.

Social activists are not necessarily dissidents who “oppose official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state”. They are not violent people who organise and perhaps spearhead disruptive and/or destructive street marches or bring about bloody rebellions. Social activists campaign for constructive social changes without violence or social upheavals. Some work assiduously, passionately and tirelessly to change an unjust system without violence or disruption. Social activists promote social evolution, not social revolution.

They use brain instead of brawn, intelligence and education, instead of ignorance, to effect positive changes while making the oppressors wary but respectful of them. Their legacy is one of instilling an abiding sense of justice and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, and a civic determination to do something to right the wrongs that cause some to be oppressed and abused. Their legacies last for generations and inspire people of all countries and races. Their legacy is self-propagating and multiplies with the passage of time.

Such was the inspiring life of Baptist minister, the Rev Dr B. H. Hester. He pastored the Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA, from 1922 to 1961. His story is told in the book Neutral on Nothing, The Social Activism Of The Rev Dr B. H. Hester, written by one of the primary beneficiaries of his social activism, his grandchild, retired United States (US) Ambassador Pamela Bridgwater-Awkard. She is a former professor of political science who joined the Department of State in 1980 as a Foreign Service Officer.

Bridgewater’s accomplishments

As testament to her exemplary abilities, Ambassador Bridgwater-Awkard has served her country, under several administrations, in assignments across the globe, including being the US ambassador to Jamaica. Her humility belies her remarkable list of international achievements. Ambassador Bridgwater-Awkard holds several honorary doctorate degrees. She retains a deep love for Jamaica. As chief of mission here, she organised many improvements to the US Embassy service and undertook numerous soirées and cultural events aimed at improving interpersonal and international relations.

All this and much more was possible because of the legacy of her grandfather, who was born the son and grandson of slaves. He became very well educated and immediately strove to improve the lives of those in need of upliftment. He pursued social justice. He facilitated the education of fellow African Americans so that they would be able to vote in elections. He wrote scathing letters to the newspapers, demanding that the use of racial epithets be scrapped. He also demanded that negative innuendos about African Americans cease. He singlehandedly launched into unfair city practices that were obviously discriminatory.

Aside from his excellent stewardship of the Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), Rev Dr Hester was an educator, a coach, a school principal, a fundraiser, a strong advocate of suffrage, a church leader, a unifier and a social giant for racial justice and equality who cast a tall shadow in his time. His influence lives on in successive generations.

Although the events within the book occurred in a different place and time, the invaluable lessons are applicable and enduring. Despite extremely humble beginnings, and even in the prevailing circumstance of legalised oppression, prejudice and disenfranchisement, Reverend Hester did not accept an unjust status quo.

We, too, must educate, enhance, uplift ourselves and remain above reproach so that we can demand respect and stand on equal footing in order to effect change through social activism.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.