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Grand Master Earl!

bajan-in-ny-1Reward for effort, going the extra mile, and leading others often shows up like the proverbial thief in the night. Seldom do trumpets, drums and costume revellers dancing in the streets precede it.

As with gratitude, acknowledgement of honest labour always comes –– even if after the fact.

Recently, Barbadian Earl Phillips, the secretary general of the 40,000-strong Transport Workers Union Local 100 of New York, was as usual going about his daily tasks, responding to changing economic times and developing new strategies in the interest of transit workers. Then Phillips got the news he had been selected as the 2015 Grand Master of the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade.

“Honestly, I was shocked. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be chosen as grand master of a large Caribbean cultural event. It will be an honour to walk the Parkway beside the top brass of New York –– one of the greatest cities of America.

Philips, who is from St George, is the first Bajan Grand Master.

Listen to Bajan pride: “I intend to complete the journey. I will proudly carry the green and blue colours of my union, and also wave the Barbados Flag. I will do whatever it takes to lead the parade. I have a team, water, wet towels, etcetera.

“I am an oldies-goldies person; but for sure, the soca music will keep and lift my spirit up.”

Phillips, reflecting on his success story, believes his leadership qualities began with a desire to help people.

“Mr Terry Blackman, headmaster of St Luke’s Primary School, was very strict. We had to line up for everything. Break the line . . . and you would be rewarded with lashes.

“One day, Michael, the adult who walked me to school every day, asked me to buy sugar cakes from the lady at the school gate. Mr Blackman saw what I was doing and gave me his look. I had disobeyed, and received four lashes.

“Later, when my I told my father, he told me that I must always respect the school rules, but he didn’t think I did anything wrong.

“Let me put my point another way. My parents held my hand as I made my baby steps. My leadership training at Cornell and elsewhere taught me how to have the back of others. That’s my challenge every day at work,” said Phillips.

Phillips, a graduate of St George’s Secondary, confesses that at times he looks into the mirror and reflects on the journey of “a little boy from St George”.

Phillips emigrated to the United States in 1987 and began his American journey stewarding at an auto mechanic shop. He then got a job at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority where
he worked as a maintenance chassis engineer. Then, his concern for people and the need for new safety practices led him to be an activist for safety.

The union leadership rewarded him for his work, appointing him director of safety. Clearly, the position of secretary treasurer of a large union waves a big flag. If Phillips didn’t know it before, he will know it as he walks along Eastern Parkway.

For the trivia readers, if weather predictions hold, the spirit of Arrow’s famous song Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot will be ever present at the parade this weekend; and, who knows, some may silently sing Cool It Down.

And will organizers of the event amend this published tip among others?

Don’t bring your grandmother if she disapproves of scant, sexy costumes. Some people — okay, mostly women, and a lot of women of a certain age — find the sheer amount of bare skin, sexy dancing, shimmying, jiggling and so on to be discomforting. Think twice about bringing your grandma, if she’s the disapproving sort.

Meanwhile, the popular Q In The Community is back in New York for the Labour Day weekend. AJA, one of the coordinators of the event, promises no change to the brand –– except more food and drink stalls
than last year.


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