What Can You Do For Your Community?
January 6, 2002
Editor's Note: On December 14, 2002, Mr. Cleophas S. Pearson served as the installing officer for the All Hearts Association of the United States of America. Full text of Mr. Pearson's speech is published below:
Madam President, Officers and Members of the All Hearts Association, Distinguished President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas [ULAA], Mr. Mohamed Kromah, who is in attendance tonight as my Special Guest, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I must firstly thank you, ladies, for selecting me for this onerous task. I would endeavor to be brief and concise in my disposition. God grant me the wisdom to proceed.
Since I received your invitation, I have toiled with a range of topics for my subject, pondering if I should discuss the virtues of a woman since indeed you are an organization of ladies (gentlemen, please do not take an affront). I also considered venturing into politics because now-a-days politics take center stage given the status quo in our Motherland, Liberia. Albeit, I have resolved to challenge you for what your community expects of you, because I believe it is the way forward. Permit me, if I may, when deemed necessary to sway as the subject allows.
I am reminded of the words of the late American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy when he charged his constituents to "ask not what America can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Indeed, tonight I ask you distinguished ladies: "What can you do for your community, your brothers and sisters, your country?" If I am correct, the basis for the establishment of the All Hearts Association is precisely that! The Apostle Paul, in one of his instructions to Timothy beseeched the early Christians that each one performs according to his/her gift. He reminded them that using their individual gifts worthily would earn them heavenly rewards. Ladies, you have the opportunity to use your gifts, and surely, heavenly rewards await you.
Look around you: smiling faces, glittering attires, flashy cars, hefty bank accounts, stable work environment, and the like. Would you not say that God has been and is good to you? As we say back home, "can't complain". Why not?
Now, let us reverse the coin. The Liberia we knew (correct me if I am wrong) was near perfect: beer was plentiful, good paying jobs, American currency in full usage, and an abundance of life. Men were supportive of their spouses. Liberia became the "haven of rest" in West Africa, and I daresay Africa as freedom fighters from apartheid Southern Africa sought refuge also.
The 1980 military coup d'etat ushered in a new climate, a genesis. We could never adjust to the guns. However, the guns that "liberated" us soon became our taboo. The African "haven of rest" gradually disintegrated. At one stage during the "revolution", we experienced an economic boom - certainly bolstered by American support to the military regime. But the situation continued to degenerate. Men continued to be specific targets; women and children were not the least spared. The situation became a "survival of the fatest". This scenario compelled citizens and residents to flee: massive displacement of an entire nation.
Liberians within the Diaspora are desperately yearning to return, but return to a "haven of rest". To facilitate this, the status quo must change. I need not get into the "nitty gritty" of this, but this change must indeed be democratic and not violent. Remember that violence begets violence. For the sake of our posterity and patrimony, let us engage meaningfully.
Ladies, you may be wondering what this has got to do with you. Everything! During the dark days of despair when the warring factions were recalcitrant and could not reach meaningful resolutions, the Liberian women, in a united front, made overtures. It made a difference. That chapter was closed with a lady assuming the pivotal role.
Again, when the men were being massacred in droves, the women had to assume the mantle of the family: becoming breadwinners of the home. Lest not we forget: women make better managers than men (men, please do not take affront). Women are persistent, striving for that ultimate calling; wanting to be meticulous.
I believe that if women are given the chance, a lot can be achieved for our patrimony. In facilitation thereof, the key is empowerment. Given the tools of empowerment, I assure you that a better day awaits not only the family, but also the community at large.
The tools I am referring to for women empowerment are quite simple: a modest education, financial and material resources. A woman will be at an advantage if she had a degree, but for a displaced population, vocational education would suffice in most cases. One must consider programs that are generally self-sustaining and cost effective. The target, or general objective for such education is to empower the woman wherein she can have economic strength to maintain her family in case the man is indisposed.
Your organization, ladies, is uniquely placed to assist this effort. In fact, the United Nations, and a number of donor countries and philanthropic organizations, having considered the growing need for women empowerment, especially within third world nations, have set aside loans and grants. The emphasis is on women and women organizations, and the background is very simple: a woman has more concern when it comes to the home. I urge you to take advantage of such lofty programs.
This is where your organization can assist. Remember a group of women stood up to the powers that be in Liberia, and by God's grace, that phase of the war was abated. Remember that it took a woman to usher in the incumbent government, however "free and fair" the elections were. The urge to assume power in Liberia by whatever means, legitimate or illegitimate, now has the potential of exacerbating confusion, and probably leave Liberia in total chaos and despair. We've heard the voices and actions of men so far, but to what extent has peace been achieved? Homelessness, hunger, fear, ridicule, and the like are the probable results. A number of well-meaning Liberians are in exile only because they will be at risk to return home. Why should we all not enjoy the fruits of our labor and assist in the development of our patrimony?
It is now time that women add their voices and actions to effect the appropriate change. Politically, it could mean a new direction in the status quo prevailing in Liberia; economically, it would mean empowerment of women to sustain the family and family values. Add your voices and be heard; add your actions and be felt! What better time than now. In unity, strength, being divided, weakness. Even the rights of women, allegedly in democratic Liberia, are being trampled upon. If I am right, Mr. Taylor has taken on a third wife. Good for him! But all along, he has nurtured the philosophy of "Liberia is a country of laws, not men". Taking another wife in the face of a civil marriage, be it as it may, is simply put: bigamy. Bigamy is illegal in Liberia, but if the President upholds bigamy as legitimate, who in Liberia can stand up and say it is wrong? Is this not encouragement for others who intend to treat their spouses the same? Another "Animal Farm" scenario. Women, stand up for your rights!
I urge you to place yourselves in the shoes of Liberian women within and without Liberia who are striving to make ends meet. I am not asking you how it feels because I know that you know. You are mothers, not merely ladies. You are strong, and possess the will to forge ahead. I am asking you to organize programs befitting to the upliftment of womanhood and assist vulnerable Liberians. Liberia needs you. The struggling women of Liberia need your assistance, be it material, educational and/or financial. I urge you to reach out to them and empower them for sustenance. Rest assured that if you need one supporting arm, I stand at your beck and call. It is my vision for a new Liberia: one of hope, love, and brotherhood. I cannot stop the tears from falling until a new horizon falls over our patrimony. Liberia has become so dissected until one could refer to it as a federation of tribes. This is not Liberia. Liberia is God's land, and we shall reside in the tabernacle of His love. But only in unity we will succeed. Ask not what Liberia can do for you, but what you can do for Liberia!
I challenge you tonight to do what it takes to revive the pride of motherhood, and reach out to Liberians worthy of your assistance. God bless you.