INFLUENTIAL CARIBBEAN WOMEN, PT. 6

Influential Caribbean Women….. who has impacted our history, culture and society.

HER EXCELLENCY DAME IVY DUMONT, DCMG.

Governor General of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas 2002 – 2005 – November 2001 – 2002 Acting Governor General 

Dame Ivy Leona Dumont was born on October 2nd., 1930 in Roses, Long Island, where she spent her early childhood years. She received her primary education at the Government schools at Roses and Buckleys, and her high school education at Government High School, New Providence. After leaving high school Dame Ivy entered the field of education moving through the system: firstly, as a student teacher, then as a classroom teacher, a Head Teacher, and Education Officer and as Deputy Director of Education. She culminated her career as a public servant at the Ministry of Works and Utilities where she served as Deputy Permanent Secretary for three years from 1975 to 1978.

In 1978 after serving thirty years in the Public Service, Dame Ivy joined NatWest Trust Corporation (Bahamas) Limited, now SG Hambros Bank and Trust (Bahamas) Limited, as a Training Officer. In the thirteen years which she spent with that company, Dame Ivy was promoted to Personnel Manager and then to Group Relations Manager, a position she held until her retirement in 1991.
Dame Ivy Dumont Receives Honorary LLB from UWI.

In 1946 Dame Ivy received the Cambridge Junior Certificate; she gained the Cambridge Senior Certificate in 1947. In 1952 Dame Ivy received a certificate as an Associate of the College of Preceptors, a British Organization, and in 1954 she was awarded a Teacher’s Certificate by the Bahamas Teachers College. She furthered her training in the United States of America on a Fulbright Grant as a participant in the International Teacher Development Programme, in 1962/1963.

From 1968 – 1970 Dame Ivy continued her studies at the University of Miami where she earned a Bachelor of Education degree; and she earned a doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) from Nova University (1976 – 1978). Dame Ivy also participated in a number of in-service workshops and public service courses over the years.

Dame Ivy is an active member of Emmanuel Gospel Chapel where she formerly served as a Sunday School Teacher. She is Past President of the United Sisters Fellowship of the Assemblies of Brethren, a former Awana Team Leader, a founding member and Past President of Women’s Aglow International (Bahamas). She is a Bible Teacher/Speaker at Ladies’ Retreats, Seminars and Workshops.

Dame Ivy was married to Mr. Reginald Deane Dumont (deceased – December 2011) and is the mother of two children; Cheddie Dean Dumont and Edda Dumont Adolph and the grandmother of four; Deidre, Jihan and Cheddi Dumont and Kobé Paul Adolph

Her hobbies include dressmaking and design, upholstery and soft crafts, and the cultivation of roses.

Dame Ivy Dumont Receives Honorary LLB from UWI.

In 1990 Dame Ivy was elected Secretary General of the Free National Movement (FNM). When the FNM became the Government on 19 August 1992, Dame Ivy began a new career. She was appointed as a Senator and Leader of Government business in the Senate and Minister of Health and Environment. From 1995 – 1999 Dame Ivy served as the Minister of Education and as the Minister of Education and Youth until 2001. Upon her retirement, Dame Ivy was appointed Chairman of the Public Service Commission with effect from 1 February, 2001.

In 1995 Dame Ivy was made a Dame Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (DCMG) by Her Majesty The Queen.

On 13 November, 2001 in an impressive ceremony witnessed by thousands of Bahamians, Dame Ivy was appointed to serve as Acting Governor-General of The Bahamas. She was confirmed in the position on 1 January, 2002.

Dame Ivy retired on November 30, 2005.

WENDY MARCELLE FITZWILLIAM, LLB

Wendy Fitzwilliam (born October 4, 1972 in Diego Martin) is a former Miss Trinidad & Tobago Universe, the third woman of African heritage to capture the Miss Universe crown and the second Miss Universe in history from Trinidad and Tobago.

Wendy was born to Juditha and Noel Fitzwilliam, one of two daughters. She grew up in Jade Gardens Diamond Vale, Diego Martin and attended Diego Martin Girls R.C before attending St. Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain. She graduated in 1996 from University of West Indies with a LLB and then from Hugh Wooding Law School. She was admitted to the bar in May 2000.

Wendy modeled for local fashion designer Meiling in her teenage and early years. At age 25, she participated in the 1998 Miss Universe pageant held at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. She beat off challenges from the other semifinalists: Russia, Ireland, South Africa, India, Brazil, Colombia, USA, Puerto Rico and eventual first runner-up Veruska Ramírez of Venezuela, who would prove to be her main competitor.

Fitzwilliam’s regal air and perfect evening gown presentation won her the favor of the judges and made her the favorite to capture the crown that night. However, once the final 3 were announced, her halting final answer led people to suspense, since there was a deadlock between her and Ramirez of Venezuela, who had won the swimsuit competition with the highest score ever seen at the time and gave a straightforward answer. Because there were eight members on the panel of judges and no way to break an eventual tie, the decision promised to be a nail-biter.

In the end, Fitzwilliam prevailed and became the first contestant in history to win wearing a bikini in the swimsuit competition, denying Ramírez that title as well. Her win came 21 years after another Trinidadian, Janelle Commissiong, who also happened to be the first Miss Universe of African heritage, captured in 1977 the crown for her country for the first time. Fitzwilliam is, thus, the second titleholder from Trinidad & Tobago and the third of African heritage, after Commissiong and Chelsi Smith of the USA.

During her reign, she was honored by the United Nations and bestowed the title of UNAIDS and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for her work in HIV/AIDS education and awareness.

Her dedication to the HIV/AIDS cause also led her to found The Hibiscus Foundation (THF) in Trinidad and Tobago on the 6th of September 1998. This organization was established to heighten AIDS awareness in Trinidad and Tobago and to give assistance, financially and otherwise, to children’s homes in Trinidad.

She was the international spokesperson for Clear Essence Skin Care and made several notable television appearances having hosted segments of “Wild On…” for E! Entertainment Television and the Miss Universe Special for the same network.

She made appearances on “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee”, “The Magic Hour”, “Politically Incorrect”, “The O’Reilly Factor”, CNN’s “Talk Back Live”, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival” for BET, “The Johnny Cockran Show” on Court TV, Soca Monarch Finals for Synergy TV with Danny Glover and Chris Tucker, among others.

After her reign, she recorded a jazz demo and continued her education. In 2000, she was admitted into the bar.

Wendy has also acted as a judge and host for many regional and international pageants, such as Miss Guyana, Miss Trinidad & Tobago, and Miss Universe.

Currently, she is the Vice President of Investment Promotion at the Evolving TecKnologies and Enterprise Development Company Limited (E TecK), a state-owned company in Trinidad and Tobago. She is also attached to the Trinidad Guardian’s Guardian in Education: Making a Difference project, a series of motivational school tours that also features former World Champion sprinter Ato Boldon and cyclist Michael Phillips, aiming to promote the development of the country’s diversity.

Her dedication to hard work isn’t just limited to her career, over the years she has lent herself greatly to her passion for human and social development by championing various charitable causes both big and small.

A highlight of her social work came when she became appointed the Red Cross Ambassador of Youth for the Caribbean. This is the first time the Red Cross has appointed anyone to this high honourary office. In this capacity she has been afforded the opportunity to address the World’s Youth globally, most recently as the keynote speaker of the Summit of The Americas V in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Wendy gave birth to her son, Ailan Andrew Panton in June 2006, and separated from his father, David Panton, in 2008. She currently resides in her native Trinidad and Tobago with her 5 year old son, who became muse for her first book, “Letters To Ailan”, an ode to him and about her experience as a mother. She achieved great success with her book and has launched “The Wendy Fitzwilliam Radio Show” 

CHANCELLOR FLOELLA KAREN YUNIES BENJAMIN, OBE., DL.

BARONESS BENJAMIN

Floella Benjamin was born Floella Benjamiyn in Point-a-Pierre,Trinidad in 1949. She has three brothers and two sisters. Her father, a policeman and a talented jazz musician, decided to migrate to England to play jazz saxophone.  Her parents left the children in the care of family friends and travelled to Britain, settling in Beckenham, South London.
It was 1960 when her parents sent for all the children and they travelled via ship to be reunited as a family in a new environment. Benjamin had a harsh introduction to London when she first experienced discrimination based on colour. Benjamin was an outstanding athlete but she was prohibited from taking the running trophy home because of her colour. She recalls her mother’s advice to focus on her education, as it was the passport to success in England. Benjamin remembers realising that she had to double her work rate and had to be dully accomplished to succeed in England. Her ambition was to be a teacher but her parents could not afford the educational fees to keep her on at school beyond her sixteenth year. She studied A levels at evening classes with the ambition of becoming the first black bank manager. However, frustration at achieving her dream set in and in 1973 she successfully auditioned for a part in the musicalHair. It was on tour that she met her future husband Keith Taylor. Benjamin was to have several more stage and film roles including The Black Mikado (1975), and Black Joy (1977) – also starring were Norman Beaton and Paul Medford.
She debuted on television in 1974 in an episode of Love Thy Neighbor. Her true acting opening occurred when she played in six episodes of prison drama Within These Walls (1974 – 1975). She also acted in the situation comedy Mixed Blessings (1978) and the drama serial Send in the Girls(1978). She changed the spelling of her name to Benjamin and she joined the children’s programme Play School as a presenter in 1976 and remained there for 14 years. Benjamin was the first person in Britain to wear beads in her hair in the 1970’s – it was to become her trademark look. She was also the first woman to be allowed to appear fully pregnant on television.
 With her husband, Keith Taylor, she started a production company in 1987 – Floella Benjamin Productions Ltd. The company has made hundreds of programs in different areas e.g., children’s programmes, documentaries, cookery series programs and have been successful in winning several award for their productions that have been sold and viewed worldwide. Some of the titles of production that have been achieved are TreehouseHullabalooPlayawayCaribbean KitchenJamboree, and Coming to England.
Ever conscious of the links from the Caribbean to Britain Benjamin works hard to promote the Commonwealth and was a member of the Caribbean Strategy Advisor Committee reporting to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1998 and 2002. As an author she has written over twenty books for children and adults including her autobiography: Coming to England (1994),Exploring Caribbean Food in Britain (1988) and Handa’s Surprise (2005).
Benjamin has held a number of statutory and voluntary positions and she has been a member and patron of several committees including numerous children’s charities. She was Chairman of BAFTA from 1997 through to 2000. In 2001 she became a governor of Dulwich College; the same institution her mother worked in as a laundry supervisor in 1963 and where her son attended for 11 years. In 2001 Floella Benjamin was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting and charity.
In 2004 Benjamin was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Peckham, South London and the Floella Benjamin Productions Company received a RTS education award for the production ofComing to England – based on Benjamin’s autobiographical book of the same name. Benjamin also won a Children’s BAFTA special lifetime award in 2004 for her outstanding contribution to children’s film and television. As her charity work continued Benjamin was elected to be a Vice–President of the charity Barnardo’s in 2004.
Her Excellency Dr. Jean Ramjohn-Richards First Lady of  The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago receives Lady Floella Benjamin, Baroness of Beckenham
In 2005 she was inducted into the NSPCC’s Hall of Fame for her work as a campaigner on behalf of children’s issues and she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her services to broadcasting from Garavi Gurjarat (GG2) Diversity and Leadership awards. Benjamin was awarded the IVCA Clarion Champion Award in 2005 for her major contribution to most sectors of the media industry. Also recognised were her creativity, passion and dedication to a range of important causes. The IVCA awards are the world’s only communication awards and they highlight social inclusion, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainable development and ethical debate.Benjamin was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) from Exeter University in 2005 in recognition of the influence she has had on British society.
In 2010 Benjamin was nominated by the Liberal Democratic party as a life peer and subsequently introduced to the House of Lords with the title of Baroness Benjamin, of Beckenham in the County of Kent.
Herb-Gordon-Renwick

MARYSE CONDé

Maryse Condé (born 1937) is a Guadeloupean, French language author of historical fiction, best known for her novel Segu (1984–1985). Maryse Condé was born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the youngest of eight children. In 1953, her parents sent her to study at Lycée Fénelon and Sorbonne in Paris, where she majored in English. In 1959, she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean actor. After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal. In 1981, she divorced, but the following year married Richard Philcox, English language translator of most of her novels.

In addition to her writings, Condé had a distinguished academic career. In 2004 she retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She had previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre.

Condé’s novels explore racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales, including the Salem witch trials in I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1992) and the 19th century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu (1987). Her novels trace the relationships between African peoples and the diaspora, especially the Caribbean. She has taken considerable distance from most Caribbean literary movements, such as Negritude and Creolité, and has often focused on topics with strong feminist concerns. Her recent writings have become increasingly autobiographical, such as Memories of My Childhood and Victoire, a biography of her grandmother. Who Slashed Celinaire’s Throat also shows traces of her paternal great-grandmother.

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PEARL PRIMUS, Ph.D. 

Pearl Primus (November 29, 1919, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – October 29, 1994) was a dancer, choreographer and anthropologist. Primus played an important role in the presentation of African dance to American audiences. Early in her career she saw the needs to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. Primus’ work was a reaction to myths of savagery and the lack of knowledge about African people. It was an effort to guide the Western world to view African dance as an important and dignified statement about another way of life. Additionally, her work provided a knowledge and meaning for dances that had been plagued by distortion of movement and excessive hip shaking of the backside.

Primus was born in Trinidad in 1919 to Edward and Emily (Jackson) Primus. Among her relations were drummers and initiates into the Shango/Spiritual Baptist faith. Her maternal grandfather, in particular, was an Ashanti musician from Ghana. When Pearl Primus was two years old she, with her two brothers were brought to New York City where they were reared. Although her parents did not exhibit theatrical tendencies, Primus’ mother had learned the social dances of Trinidad from her grandfather. Primus also had a colorful aunt who sympathized with her decision to embrace dance. When that came, this aunt who dressed in unusually colorful clothing, exclaimed that she would have been shocked had Primus not become an entertainer.

Primus did not set out to be a dancer. When she finished Hunter College High School, she entered Hunter College as a pre-medical student majoring in biology. There she was an outstanding athlete in track and field and could run at an award winning pace. Upon graduating in 1940, Primus entered graduate school at New York University. While there, in pursuit of work to finance her studies, Primus found herself in the employ of National Youth Administration. Although she was looking for another type of work, she was fortuitously assigned to the NYA dance group as an understudy. She then studied at the New Dance Group. Her natural abilities made her an excellent dancer and her instructors, who were among the leading modern dance pioneers of that era, recognized her talents and encouraged her to develop them.

Primus’ dance orientation, then, began with experimental choreography in dances that expressed social protest and explored ethnic material. As her interest in dance grew, Primus also studied with the major modern dance pioneers: Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm and Louis Horst.

During this period, Primus combined studies in educational sociology and anthropology with her dance training (not unlike Katherine Dunham a decade before her) and performances with the choreographers listed above. Among some of her most significant performances was that with Beryl McBurnie in Antilliana. From McBurnie, Primus learned Afro-Caribbean dance and the folk dances of the Caribbean. Her dancing ability and dramatic presence was noticed during one of these performances when McBurnie had her dancing a minute part in a Caribbean market scene. Primus obviously performed the piece above and beyond McBunie’s expectations because she was so provocative that she stole the show. Primus, however, was unaware of the audience’s reaction and quietly left after the piece to go to work on her part time job as a riveter.

Primus began to research African dance, “consulting books, articles, and pictures and visiting museums’. After six months, she had completed her first composition, African Ceremonial. It was presented along with Strange FruitRock Daniel, and Hard Time Blues at her debut performance on February 14, 1943 at the 92nd Street YMHA. Her performance was so outstanding that John Martin of the New York Times states that “she was entitled to a company of her own.”

Her next performances began in April 1943, as an entertainer at the famous night club, Cafe Society Downtown, for ten months.

In June 1943, Primus performed at the Negro Freedom Rally at Madison Square Garden before an audience of 20,000 people.

Primus also choreographed a work to Langston Hughes’s famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, which was performed at her Broadway debut on October 4, 1944 at the Bealson Theater.

She then began to study more intensively at the New Dance Group and became one of their instructors. In the summer of 1944, Primus visited the Deep South to research the culture and dances of Southern blacks. She visited over seventy churches and picked cotton with the sharecroppers. In December 1943, Primus appeared as a guest artist in Asadata Dafora’s African Dance Festival at Carnegie Hall.

Pearl Primus performing “Fanga”

In December 1944, Primus, who was primarily a solo artist recruited other dancers and performed in concerts at the Roxy Theater. African Ceremonial was re-choreographed for a group performance. At this time, Primus’ African choreography could be termed interpretive, based on research and her imagining of the way in which a piece of African sculpture would move.

In 1946, Primus was invited to appear in the revival of the Broadway production Showboat choreographed by Helen Tamiris. Then, she was asked to choreograph a Broadway production called Calypso whose title became Caribbean Carnival. She also appeared at the Chicago Theater in the 1947 revival of the Emperor Jones in the ‘’’Witch Doctor’’’ role that Hemsley Winfield made famous.

Following this show and many subsequent recitals, Primus toured the nation with a company she formed. While on the university and college circuit, Primus performed at Fisk Universityin 1948, where Dr. Charles S. Johnson, a member of Rosenwald Foundation board, was president. He was so impressed with the power of her interpretive African dances that he asked her when she had last visited Africa. She replied that she had never done so. She then received the last and largest ($4000) of the major Rosenwald Fellowships for an eighteen month research and study tour of the Gold Coast, Angola, Cameroons, Liberia, Senegal and the Belgian Congo.

Primus in “Folk Dance”, October 1945

Primus was so well accepted in the communities in her study tour that she was told that the ancestral spirit of an African dancer had manifested in her. The Oni and people of Ife, Nigeria, felt that she was so much a part of their community that they initiated her into their commonwealth and affectionately conferred on her the title Omowale– the child who has returned home.

Pearl Primus focused on matters such as oppression, racial prejudice, and violence. Her efforts were also subsidized by the United States government who encouraged African-American artistic endeavors. In 1944, she interpreted Langston Hughes The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1944), and in 1945 she created Strange Fruit (1945), based on the poem by Lewis Allan about a lynching. Hard Time Blues (1945) is based on a song about sharecroppers by folksinger Josh White.

A former Pearl Primus student @ Legacy Performance: Celebrating Pearl Primus, April 29/2011 

Primus married the dancer and choreographer Percival Borde in 1954, and began a collaboration that ended only with his death in 1979. In 1959, the year Primus received an M.A. in education from New York University, she traveled to Liberia, where she worked with the National Dance Company there to create Fanga, an interpretation of a traditional Liberian invocation to the earth and sky. In 1978, Primus received a Ph.D. in Dance Education from New York University. The following year she created Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore(1979), about the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing. From 1984 to 1990 Primus served as a professor of ethnic studies, and artist in residence at the Five Colleges consortium in Massachusetts. Her original dance company eventually grew into the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute, where her method of blending African-American, Caribbean, and African influences with modern dance and ballet techniques is taught. Primus has received numerous awards. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush honored Primus with the National Medal of Arts.

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2 thoughts on “INFLUENTIAL CARIBBEAN WOMEN, PT. 6

Add yours

    1. Maxine – Did you move to Florida from Silver Spring, MD? Did you attend The People’s Community Baptist Church? If so, I know you and you should be a part of this publication because you definitely fit the profile of an influential caribbean women! Please email me solomona@mail.nih.gov. Phone number 301-496-8737. I’d love to hear from you and catch up!

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