Friday, February 23, 2018

From The Canefield to Connecticut - Stephen's Journey

...never stop dreaming


Donstan Bonn


Stephen Balkaran

Donstan Bonn

YOU often hear those motivational speakers challenging us with the statement "your present circumstance should not determine your final destination".

Before discarding this as unattainable rhetoric, consider the life of Stephen Balkaran.

Here is a man who spent his early childhood days helping parents cut sugarcane for a living in central Trinidad. Education elevated him.

So that at the age of 38, he is now an instructor in Political Science at Quinnipiac University School of Law in the United States.

He has authored two books and over 35 articles. And now lives in Hartford, Connecticut. His writings center around racism in the Americas. One of his recent articles, "The browning of America. Will Latinos truly influence the 2012 elections?" caused quite a stir during the US elections last year. His two books are "Retracing the civil rights movement and the continuing significance

of race" and "An American Dilemma."

A third book soon to be released is entitled, " Broken Promises, Broken Dreams, Disparities and Disappointments:Civil Rights in the 21st Century."

Before his academic career, Balkaran worked for the African National Congress - Nelson Mandela's ruling party in South Africa. He was also a research associate for the United Nations in New York.

Balkaran left this country at the age of 18 to attend the University of Connecticut. His first job as a student abroad was that of a custodian at the university. The first of four children is also the first person in his family to attend university.

He recalled his early days in Couva.

" I was born and raised in small sugar cane town called Balmain Village, Couva, which has played an important role in my life. My parents like many of the folks that come from those small sugar cane villages all worked on the canefields, including myself, assisting at times when the plantations were close to our home."

Balkaran attended what was then called the Couva Government Secondary School before going to Presentation College, Chaguanas.

He said, "I got involved in social change when I encountered the first set of racism at Presentation College. When the poor Indians students were treated awful by the rich kids that went there, that made me want to be a champion of the poor and under represented, as I have done for the African American and Hispanic community in America, carrying the philosophy of Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi."

He said, "While I studied Politics and Law at the University of Connecticut, I became quite aware of the racism that was perpetrated against blacks in America and wanted to make a difference. In the 21st century that same hatred in now directed toward the recent immigrants, Hispanics. My civil rights project in the only one of a kind in the US, and gave me the opportunity to connect the present generation with that of the 1960s and the struggle for equality in America. Racism and hatred can be a deadly disease if you ever experience it."

Balkaran thanked his past local teachers for helping him, including Denise Hernandez, Amikra Deokie, Brother Benedict Michael Taylor, and Brother Anthony Saehan, whom he said, "played an immense role of the development of my career".

He said, " Brother Benedict Taylor continues to be an important person in my life and I am constantly in contact with him with regard to many of my publications."

Couva will always be home, said Balkaran.

"I definitely miss the warm weather in times of our winter in Connecticut, the overall friendship of my family and friends, the Carnival, but more so the great culture and diversity that our country represents. I still call Trinidad home".

Balkaran plans to visit Trinidad shortly, since several secondary schools have asked him to give graduation speeches.

Balkaran plans to return to his homeland in a few years and is hoping to be involved in the tertiary level sector or Foreign Affairs Ministry. His ultimate goal is to be an Ambassador of Goodwill for the country.

His advice to others "follow your dreams, whether home or abroad, at the end of the school year, I leave all my students at the university these words by Langston Hughes, ' Hold unto your dreams, for if dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird, that cannot fly. Hold fast to your dreams' ".