Saturday, May 9, 2015

Changing the World with Ideas

Changing the World with Ideas
By Kieran Khan (twitter@kierancan) Sunday, March 8 2015,208014.html
We’re short on time as Dr Kris Rampersad and I meet at Normandie Hotel to chat. After a quick photo shoot with Elise Romany, we have just 45 minutes before she is due at the National Museum to open an exhibition by LeRoy Clarke, ‘Eye Hayti …Cries…Everywhere.’ That’s far too short a time to chat with someone whose CV in media, cultural heritage and development work weighs some 50 pages heavy as a writer, researcher, media strategist, lecturer, journalist, founder, publisher, sustainable development, advocate and more.
Despite the time frame, Dr. Rampersad is as cool as they come. She orders a cup of tea, Earl Grey, black with no sugar as I cling to my third cup of coffee for the day and she starts, “Tea, is an ancient ritual in all our cultures, you know? It is my pick me up. I get less than four hours sleep, you see.”Then she moves straight to the subject at hand: “Do you know that I was one of the founding journalists of Newsday?” It’s a fact that I did know once but forgot. She doesn’t mince words: “Many of the new journalists forget or do not know, like much of our society has little interest in heritage. Newsday started in a social climate not unlike what we have today: tremendous negativity in the news. Then, it was driven by public outcry for more balance, with more positives even with rising crime.Today that outcry seems to have died and we just accept and relish and even revel in the blood and gore. We are losing our social conscience because we have done little to try to protect or retain it. Newsday came on the scene as ‘the good news paper’ and I was titled ‘the good news reporter’,” she reminisced, laughing.

“Our first cover story, which I wrote in September 1993, was ‘5000 Lives Saved’ (by the local suicide hotline). Think about it – a headline for such a story would normally read ‘5000 Attempted Suicide.’ My journalism was already taking on that character to impact the social conscience; that news and media should know its social responsibility to proactively shape the national character, not just report or react to it and that was the thinking that drove the founders of Newsday. But it didn’t last long. A few months in, the paper ran a crime story and its readership jumped beyond what its good news was attracting. The executives reversed the paper’s direction to what Newsday now is,” she says.“If we are lamenting the deterioration of our social conscience today, we are only reaping the whirlwind for not having invested in what it would have taken to change public orientation and outlook, not just react to it.”As negative as it all sounds, Dr Rampersad exudes energy, optimism and hope.“Social change doesn’t happen overnight, and it is not unattainable. That belief drives everything I do. But it is a collective responsibility. Positive change requires investments, risk-taking and resources.”That conscience about the long term, that we are only here for a short time as custodians not just as consumers, she notes, is what is missing from our society today.

Though she prefers not to be labelled an academic, much of her time is spent in intensive research, not just behind a desk, but interacting, collecting oral stories of peoples and cultures, visiting museums and piecing together stories couched within artefacts and she has accumulated and documented audiovisual materials and interviews from over two hundred cities in more than fifty countries across the world, and supplementing and comparing this with other materials.

“This means very little to most, but I have the only full length intimate video interview with Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, but who’s interested, eh? No one ever took the time to try to find what made a woman who was giving so much to our society tick. Whatever interest there was in her horrendous death has just moved on to the next unsolved murder statistic.”She is also active on the range of social media as well: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her own blog. “As much as there are negatives, the new technologies place the world at our fingertips. It’s a tool, to be used, negatively or positively, and for a child consumed with curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, who grew up barely able to afford books, for me it makes everyday Christmas,” she laughs. “It allows me to piece together connections about us; about our place here in the region, in the Americas, in the world that no one knows!”

Dr Rampersad was recently appointed chair of the National Museum and Art Gallery, a position that she says, was thrust on her for articulating the need to transform “such core national institutions which now exist only as shells of what they should be, pawns of power play and bureaucratic wrangling.”She explains, “It’s a sad indictment on all of us that our museum should be in the state that it is when a museum is the pulse and soul of a nation’s character and identity. We need to ask ourselves where our focus really is as a nation. I get shocked looks when I say that the same kind of dedicated attention and investments it took for us to develop our oil industry is needed for the cultural heritage sector, there’s no two ways about it; so when the oil dries up – and we are told we have, what, less than two decades – we would have a developed parallel economy in the heritage and its satellite sectors. Look at the developed world, this has been at the social and economic centre of those societies since time immemorial. It is not about what’s left or falls out of national and corporate and education budgets,” she says. “It requires proactive and conscience intervention.”

Speaking of heritage, she delivers a radical thought-provoking notion as we chat. “Look at our ancestry – we are not children of slaves. We are not children of indentured labourers. We are children of societies with magnificent cultures and traditions that have travelled across the seas to build this new and magnificent society,” she leans forward, emphatically, “which I firmly believe is second to none in the world: and I have seen plenty, eh!”She adds, “You want a good sound bite? We should also remove the word ‘Tolerance’ from our national watchwords; just as we need to redesign our National Coat of Arms. It contains elements that have nothing to do with us. We as a people are not about tolerance – the way we function as a society, the way we celebrate together; how we party, according to David Rudder. It should be dropped. And then we can try to start dealing with politics,” she laughs harder.

No doubt much of this global thinking comes from actually being a global thought-leader. Her work has transformed the globe in no small way. A working proposal from her computer and her networking skills to celebrate “Women as Agents of Change” has been used not only by our Government, but moved through the Commonwealth and OAS and onto large swathes of the world as well.

The model of engaging people to activate plans for change she developed in her hands-on work with communities across the Caribbean through inter-American institutions, UNESCO, the Commonwealth and others, is being used across the spectrum to get bureaucracies and decision-makers to understand that their plans and actions should be about people. That brings no monetary rewards, but, “it is about legacy,” she says.

To read the continuing story about Dr Rampersad and hear her viewpoints on what she has to say about the challenges facing our first female Prime Minister as well as the upcoming general election and our nation’s way forward, log on to our website or check us out at Newsday Womans Weekly on Facebook.

Follow Dr. Rampersad online on Facebook where you can also check out ‘LiTTscapes’ or via Twitter (@krisramp) and through her blog Demokrissy ( 

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