This speech was delivered at the TUC Black Workers Conference of 2007.
Comrades and Friends,
Standing in this place, at this time, let me pay homage to the Spirit of our Ascended Ancestors.
To the Spirit of all those who perished during forced transportation in slave ships.
To the Spirit of all those who were hurled alive into the ocean from slave ships.
To the Spirit of all those who died from physical abuse and from disease on the plantations.
To the Spirit of all those enslaved Africans whose courageous and historic struggles led to the undermining of the forced labour system and the eventual abolition of slavery.
To the Spirit of oppressed people everywhere who have given their lives in the struggle for justice and for freedom, and against exploitation and political repression.
I ask the Creator and the Ancestors to guide and bless our deliberations as we reflect upon the relationship between their sojourn on this earth plane and our attempts to take care of the present in order that we might build a better future for our children and for generations yet to come.
25 March 2007 marked the 200th anniversary, the bicentenary of the passing in 1807 of the Act of Parliament that abolished the trade in enslaved Africans. Despite the civic commemoration of this important historical event, however, what most people do not know and many who do know fail to acknowledge is that the institution of slavery itself was not abolished in the British Empire until 1838. What most people also do not know and those who do know still fail to acknowledge is that the trade in enslaved Africans was brought to an end not because of the moral outrage and religious conviction of white abolitionists, but because the enslaved Africans themselves revolted over and over again, risking life and limb to undermine the institution of slavery and make the trade unviable.
I have been reading this book, The Clapham Sect by Margaret Bryant, published by the Clapham Society. The book is described by the publishers as follows:
The Clapham sect tells the story of a group of people whose activities changed the world. Wealthy Clapham businessmen and religious philanthropists, they fought to change the moral climate of their times, and campaigned against the injustices of slavery and the slave trade. Led by William Wilberforce in Parliament, their greatest achievement was the outlawing of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807’.
The book tells the story of abolition from the perspective of Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Henry Thornton, Charles Grant, Zachary Macaulay, James Stephen, John Venn, William Smith, John Shore and other whites in the Abolitionist movement. But, throughout its sixty five pages, it never once mentions the role played by enslaved Africans in their own liberation, not even the historic victory of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines in Haiti and the impact of the Haitian revolution upon the world. The book celebrates the activities and triumphs of the white abolitionist movement and gives a most sympathetic account of the benefits of Christianity and Christian missionaries to the people of Africa and the African Diaspora.
I have called this talk ‘Remembering The Holocaust of Empire: Time for Acknowledgment, Repentance and Restitution’.
In the few minutes I have left, I want to deal briefly with the four themes of holocaust, acknowledgment, repentance and restitution, and end by relating the commemoration of abolition to our condition in Britain today.
The Holocaust of Empire
The transatlantic slave trade constituted nothing but a protracted holocaust on a truly epic scale. We have become accustomed to speaking of the ‘holocaust’ only in relation to the industrial genocide of Jews in Europe during the Second World War. No group of people on earth have done more than Jews themselves to ensure that we will never ever forget that holocaust. There are museums in Auschwitz, in Warsaw, in Prague, in Israel and elsewhere. There are exhibitions such as the Anne Frank touring exhibition and a body of people who devoted their lives, successfully, to tracking down and smoking out former Nazi war criminals wherever in the world they found a hiding place and however old they were.
In contrast, apart from the reading and research I conducted myself over the years, this is the first time in all of my 62 years on this earth that I have seen any nation focus upon the holocaust of Empire, the African holocaust, although no one ever refers to it, officially, as such. Every other crime against humanity, bar none, pales into insignificance. Adolf Hitler and the SS massacred Jews over a period of 4 to 5 years. The African holocaust lasted for 400 years and claimed the lives of an estimated 12 million enslaved Africans, 3 to 4 million of them dying during the transatlantic crossing, many as a result of being thrown alive into the ocean. Others died on the plantations as a result of disease and overwork, while even more were murdered because they dared make a bid for freedom.
Let me quickly try and dispel a few myths.
In a booklet produced by HM Government ‘Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 -2007’ we read the following:
‘The Government wants to ensure that the best possible legacy from the bicentenary is achieved by tackling contemporary slavery, inequality and racism in the UK today; poverty and inequality on the African continent and in the Caribbean’.
In a moment, I’ll deal with the issue of what that should mean. Right now I want to say something about the notion of ‘contemporary slavery’. It has become fashionable to equate modern day human trafficking, especially within Europe, and the abduction, detention and exploitation of women as sex slaves, with the transatlantic slave trade. To do so is in my view a distortion of the history of the African holocaust and as such an attempt to make it appear less barbaric than it was. There is no comparison.
Chattel slavery meant just that. Enslaved Africans became commodities, cargo, just like the textiles, guns and wares the slave traders handed over in exchange for them. And, as property, their owners could use them as they wished or murder them if they were too troublesome or too sickly, without fear of prosecution. They were beasts of burden. They were non-persons.
The story of the slave ship Zong illustrates this particularly well. On 6 September 1781, the Zong, owned by one James Gregson and other slave-traders in Liverpool, set sail from the coast of West Africa under the command of Luke Collingwood, carrying many more enslaved Africans than it had room for. One writer recalls that ‘chained two by two, right leg and left leg, right hand and left hand, each slave had less room than a man in a coffin’.
By 29 November 1781, disease and malnutrition had claimed the lives of seven white crew and sixty enslaved Africans. Collingwood decided that all remaining Africans who were sick would be thrown overboard to protect the crew and save the remainder of his human cargo. He gathered the crew and told them if they dumped the sick Africans into the ocean, the ship’s insurers would compensate the owners for the loss of property. If they allowed them to die a natural death on board, they would get nothing.
European law at the time stipulated that slave traders would get nothing if enslaved Africans died of natural causes or took their own lives to put themselves out of their misery. However, if enslaved Africans were killed or thrown overboard in order to put down a rebellion on their part, insurers must compensate the slave traders.
Beginning 29 November 1781, for three days Collingwood and his men hurled 133 Africans into the sea. The owners of the Zong made a claim for insurance for the Africans thrown overboard, but the insurers refused to settle. Collingwood justified throwing the Africans into the ocean because of a shortage of water. But the insurers discovered that when the Zong landed in Jamaica on 22 December 1781, it still carried 420 gallons of water.
The matter became the subject of a famous court case in London in 1783, but the case was not about the murder and manslaughter of 200 enslaved Africans by Collingwood and his crew, but about whether or not the insurance claim based upon the alleged lack of water was fraudulent. The murdered Africans were simply insured property and the property had been lost in part through death from disease and malnutrition, but mainly by being murdered. The case therefore turned on whether or not the loss of property was avoidable.
Enslaved Africans were priests, healers, merchants, farmers, inventors, crafts makers, and fishermen, but they were all considered to be savages without a brain, heathens whose belief systems matched their alleged primitive nature and condition and kept them hinged to the forces of evil. Europeans associated their religious practices with the devil and denigrated their connectedness with the forces of nature and with the cosmos. Not surprisingly, therefore, Christians claimed that slavery was ‘divinely sanctioned’ because it helped bring Africans to Christ. The Africans were actually taught that they and all who went before them were bound for eternal damnation because they did not know Christ. The fact that their civilisations and their traditional religions pre-dated Christianity by many centuries did not seem to matter.
Christian missionaries, emissaries of imperialism and colonialism, succeeded in colonizing the minds of a people with an ancient religion and belief system that had regulated their lives and the organisation of their communities for centuries. The battle for the soul of the African was fought over by Christians with as much ferocity as by Islam. When I studied Theology and researched organised religion across the globe, I was fascinated by a book with the strange title: God, Allah, and Ju Ju. It was as if the God of the Christians was a different God than the God of the Prophet Muhammed and the God of the Ifa tradition among the Yorubas. But note, not God, Allah and Olodumare, but God , Allah and Ju Ju, the latter with all the connotations of ‘black magic’, animism associated with the powers of evil, etc.
But, the holocaust was not confined to the trade in enslaved Africans or to the period up to 1807. It continued and intensified between 1807 and 1838, especially in the West Indies. The frequent uprisings and revolts on the plantations in the West Indies were met with characteristic savagery and barbarism. The British state was always ready and eager to defend its interests at home and in the colonies by despatching battalions on war ships to go and put down those rebellions by any means necessary, including massacre, betrayal and broken promises.
Acknowledgment, Acceptance and Ownership
This bicentenary of Abolition is a time for acknowledgement, acceptance and ownership:
- An acknowledgement of the quadrillions of pounds sterling the slave trade generated for the British economy and for the ruling elites whose successors, including the Church of England and the British Royal Family, enjoy the wealth generated by that epic holocaust to this day.
- An acknowledgement of what the institution of slavery and its aftermath has done to the organisation of the African family and an end to the pathologizing of the African Caribbean community and to myths about the effects of family breakdown and absent fathers.
- An acknowledgement of the impact of slavery, colonialism and 500 years of racism on the consciousness of a once proud African people with a rootedness in their history and a clear sense of their achievements and of who they were.
- Acceptance of the fact that, as a result, many of us who disown our African heritage and all things African, believe that our history began in a slave ship and was consolidated on a plantation.
- An acknowledgment of the myriad ways in which the same racism that justified the slave trade operates today, especially through the schooling and education system, to deny opportunity to the descendants of enslaved Africans, place them on the margins of the society and have a generation of them living ‘on the edge’ and posing a huge threat to themselves and to others like them.
- An acceptance of the fact that it is an indictment of the society that in some of our urban centres, Manchester included, the life expectancy of the average young black man is 25.
- Understanding by the British state and the British people, white and black, that it is not enough to remember Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce and the white abolitionists.
- It is especially critical for this and coming generations of white and black British to know how the enslaved Africans organized themselves and abolished slavery, and to understand how they were written out of history. People such as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Ottobah Cuguano, Queen Nzinga, William Cufay, Olaudah Equiano, Robert Wedderburn, Sam Sharpe, Nanny of the Maroons, Yaa Asantewa, Paul Bogle, William Gordon and other monumental figures written out of the anti-slavery movement.
- Understanding of how the same process of writing black people out of history is at work today, especially in the schooling and education system and through the media.
- Understanding and taking responsibility for the fact that too little has been done to expunge from the psyche of white Britain the racism on which its identity was constructed, and that the schooling and education system still shows no sign of putting that urgent task on the agenda any time soon. Seventeen years after the 1976 Race Relations Act was passed, Stephen Lawrence was savagely murdered on the streets of South East London. It took that tragic event to focus those in Government on the fact that the 1976 Act was largely ignored by public authorities and that racism was very much alive and kicking in just about every nook and cranny of the society. But even now, seven years after the 1976 Act was amended and a statutory duty placed upon public bodies to promote equality of opportunity, eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good relations between people of different ethnic groups, public bodies are still adopting a minimalist approach to compliance with the requirements of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000.
- Understanding that there can be no healing in this nation while it stubbornly continues to celebrate and iconize the trappings of Empire. Many of us as African people crave those same oppressive trappings, like the Order of the British Empire, Member of the Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, without the understanding that ‘The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ was created by King George V in June 1917 and bears the motto: For God and the Empire. It is one of the British orders of chivalry, created by the King to honour people who had served in the First World War in non-combatant roles. But in the succeeding decades it was used extensively to honour those who, for God and Empire, had savagely put down the rebellions and working class revolts that our forebears waged across the West Indies to put an end to the plantation system and to colonial rule. That is why when Tony Blair nominated me to be appointed CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours, 2000, I politely refused to go and receive that gong from the Queen. Let me say, in passing, that rather than preening ourselves and running to Buckingham Palace and proudly placing MBE/OBE/CBE behind our name, we should all point out to the British state that it is surely about time that they respect our right to take issue with the tag of ‘Empire’ and find a less compromised and less anachronistic way of acknowledging individuals’ contribution to civil society, be they white or black like me.
- Understanding that the future of this society lies in the hands of descendants of enslaved Africans as well as of those who enslaved and traded in them, of industrialists and of factory workers, of lairds and of crofters, of those who have never left upstairs and of those who have only known downstairs.
- Understanding that, contrary to what the irresponsible Mr Tony Blair would have us believe, murders of black men by black men is an indictment of this society no less than murders of white men, or school children, by other white men. Whether the victims be black or white, therefore, is the business of the entire nation and not just ‘the black community’
- If 2007, 200 years after 1807, means anything, it must mean acting upon that understanding in a manner that clearly demonstrates repentance, humility and restitution, rather than jingoism and a celebration of Empire.
In the same Government document I quoted earlier, Prime Minister Blair writes:
‘The bicentenary ….offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was…but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today’.
I would argue that it offers a unique chance to do much more than that. I argue for restitution because I believe that this nation has the power, the means and above all a moral obligation, to fix what has gone wrong cumulatively over generations.
- Restitution because of the £22million that was paid to British slave owners and slave merchants after 1807 in compensation for loss of property and of future income;
- On top of that, the enslaved Africans themselves received nothing and had to buy their ‘freedom’;
- Restitution because that £22million of 1807 is worth some £3 billion today; that £22million plus the trillions generated by the exploitation of enslaved Africans is what has made Britain one of the richest and most developed countries in the world and what enables it to continue to exploit the God-given resources of the African continent and the former colonies and contribute to their underdevelopment to this day.
- Restitution is therefore an urgent and obvious moral necessity, never mind a legal duty.
- Restitution will be an acknowledgment that the descendants of enslaved Africans have never benefited from the wealth created by the sacrifice of their ancestors. On the contrary, the continent of Africa and the countries of the Caribbean are still having their mineral resources exploited by companies from Britain and Europe whose economic capacity is a direct legacy of the trade in enslaved Africans.
- Restitution because there is absolutely no point in remembering the abolition of slavery, or weeping over the fact that such barbarism was visited upon God’s people for all of three centuries if, 200 years later, something sensible and urgent is not done to put an end to its disturbing legacy in our communities.
- Ironically, in the first 3 months of this bicentenary year of the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act, 10 African males below the age of 20 have lost their lives at the hands of other African heritage males like themselves. The Government’s only solution appears to be more and more laws and draconian measures to draw an even greater number of them into the criminal justice system, including jailing them for belonging to a gang. There are already 3 times as many of them in the ‘the secure estate’ than there are in universities, and yet the community is even more insecure, fearful and bewildered than ever before.
- So, why not, for example, schools of a difference in our communities, designed, structured and managed to meet the needs of black children.
- Academies for black children, managed by black communities, led by black principals and run by re-trained black and white teachers. ‘Re-trained’ because my experience both as a Chief Education Officer and as a Professor of Education tells me that the training and teacher education teachers receive in this country, be they white or black, does not equip them with the competences and skills necessary to teach African heritage children and understand the background from which they come into our schools. Consequently, much of the understanding teachers have is what they gain from the British media and that is surely a sad state of affairs. It should not surprise us, therefore, that official and unofficial statistics suggest that African Caribbean children are up to 7 times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts.
- Restitution calls for schools in which every single child could receive their educational entitlement, irrespective of their presenting behaviour.
- Opportunities for the rehabilitation of our damaged children in our communities and not in young offender institutions.
- Opportunities to work with convicted gunmen and gang members while in ‘the secure estate’ and link them to meaningful employment and positive networks in our communities so they could reconstitute themselves and not fall into a cycle of re-offending.
- Resources for former gang members and development workers to work with current gang members and develop appropriate methods of conflict resolution and meaningful alternatives for accessing the advantages the gang gives them.
- Opportunities to build a critical mass of young people who gain kudos and street credibility, power, status and ‘worth’ by legitimate means that restore self esteem and enable them to sleep with both eyes closed.
- Resources for the black community to develop tertiary Centres of Excellence for developing leaders, managers and entrepreneurs in our communities and for rapidly increasing the number of those ‘role models’ that we keep being told we do not have enough of.
- Government funds for us to establish our equivalent of Morehouse College, Spelman College and Howard University and name them: Claudia Jones University, CLR James University, John La Rose University, Pearl Connor-Mogotsi Academy of Arts.
- And in the context of the Caribbean, I want to see a massive investment in the Caribbean countries to put an end to ignorance and illiteracy; to tackle unemployment and hopelessness among the young; to make potable water and functional sewerage systems a reality and not just a pipe dream; to rescue our people from the scourge of aids and the orgy of gun violence; to grow technical expertise; to use their natural resources for sustainable development and to underpin their economies such that their populations don’t see a future for their country only in being a playground for tourists.
- I want to see Britain fighting in their corner more robustly on matters of fair trade and environmental protection.
- Colleges and universities across Britain are in the market for overseas students and make their financial forecasts, not so much on the basis of ‘top up fees’ but by projecting earnings from overseas students’ fees, fee levels that are set by the Government itself. The fees charged are prohibitive except for the wealthy. So, two contradictory programmes are running here.
- Those universities and colleges are pursuing an agenda set by the British Government to widen participation and improve access for domestic students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Those institutions are in constant dispute with Government about the amount of money available to them to do that. Conversely, they market themselves overseas and go to great lengths to attract foreign students who are required to pay handsomely for the opportunity to gain qualifications from those British institutions. No widening participation here. The fees paid by those who are rich enough to send their children to our colleges and universities are invariably more than most families in those countries have to live on for an entire year; in some countries for more than 5 years.
- Why, then, should the British state and corporate Britain not fund up to 100 places per Caribbean country per year to enable suitably qualified students to attend university in the UK? And when I say ‘fund’ I mean pay the cost of travel, fees, accommodation, books, laptop, food, leisure pursuits, travel home and back once a year throughout their stay here, the whole lot.
- Stipulate that the programme’s principal focus must be on building capacity and technical expertise in particular by all means. Make it a requirement that those gaining qualifications through that route must return and work for their country for a minimum of 3 years by all means. But, enable those countries to pay them appropriately such that they have an incentive to stay and build the country, improving the quality of life for all its citizens, rather than taking their expertise elsewhere.
- This is but one pretty obvious way in which restitution could begin. I am sure the people and governments of the Caribbean could think of many more, just as we can here.
Finally, what is the relevance of all this for us?
We need to remember that we carry the spirit of our Ancestors and have a duty to understand the traditions of which they were a part if we are to understand ourselves and our spirituality. If we deny our connectedness with our African past and convince ourselves that Christianity has totally erased that past, we end up denying our very essence. Some of us who are part of the African Diaspora have huge difficulty in owning our African identity and seeing it as integral to our Caribbean identity. To own the latter and deny the contribution of the former in an essential way is to believe that our history did indeed begin in a slave ship.
We, all of us, operate within organisations and are made to collude with institutional structures and practices that are inherently racist. What is more, we often allow ourselves to be used as agents of racism in order to heap oppression upon one another. In 1987, a black woman had cause to complain about the treatment she was receiving at the hands of her line managers in the Home Office. Her complaint was bounced back and forth for years. In 2001, I was commissioned to carry out a forensic examination of her complaint and the way the Home Office had handled it and to make recommendations as to how it should be resolved. Before I commenced my work, she was made to sign a binding agreement that she would abide by my findings and recommendations. The Home Office also signed on to that.
After some months I concluded my investigation of those fourteen years of strife and produced my findings and recommendations. Because the outcome was not what the Home Office had anticipated, they reneged on their written agreement and the matter dragged on for a further six years. Even before my investigation ended, the complainant was sent home on ‘gardening leave’, there to remain on full pay for all of those six years. The matter was finally resolved through arbitration earlier this year, a full twenty years after her initial complaint. While in 2001, my recommendation was that she be given the promotion she had been denied, given a sabbatical and professional development for three months and compensation of £45K, all of which the Home Office resisted, despite their undertaking to be bound by my findings and recommendations, they ended up having to pay her a quarter of a million pounds, having already kept her at home on full pay for all of six years.
No amount of money could compensate for the stress and humiliation that woman endured during those twenty years. I am told that while her career as a civil servant was being steadily ruined by the Home Office’s failure to deal equitably with her, those who had been named in my report as being culpable in their treatment of her and the denial of opportunity she suffered were all promoted and put in charge of even more people, many of them black.
Just before I started my investigation, the black staff network, simply called The Network was formed, encompassing black workers from across the various departments of the Home Office. The complainant was a founding member of it. Each year they have a glittering conference that is a showcase of Home Office diversity. Yet, that Network proved totally powerless to do anything about that black woman’s case.
The challenge facing us as we operate institutional structures within these institutions that, 200 years after the Abolition of Slavery Act, have not come to terms with the racist legacy of Empire, and therefore with the meaning and significance of our presence among them, is this. How as black workers can we act with moral purpose and ensure that our blackness means something, that it actually makes a difference to global majority people that we are black, that our blackness is not co-incidental to the things we are expected to do?
Incidentally, I use the term ‘global majority’ because I and a growing number of my colleagues believe it is a more accurate and less negatively loaded designation than ethnic minority or BME.
Again and again, we learn of situations where African heritage Chairs of Governors of schools collude with the racism of headteachers and their practice of humiliating senior black managers in public. Where the Local Authority colludes with those same racist headteachers and sends African heritage personnel officers to guide the headteachers as they harass the black managers with trumped up disciplinary charges. And all of that in full view of the black children in the school, who could see, daily, the effect the stress of that situation is having on the black staff. Children who are very conscious of the fact that a major reason for the harassment of those black managers is their insistence that the children be given the quality education they deserve, insistence that the children be assisted in overcoming their barriers to learning rather than being excluded from school.
These are just a couple of examples of how we collude with the oppression that institutionally racist systems and individual racist managers heap upon our black brothers and sisters. So, therefore, rather than acquiescing in our own exploitation, how can we as black workers, 200 years after the Abolition of Slavery Act, organise ourselves and our trade unions to insist that these institutions deal with the racism that runs through every sinew of the system and stop heaping oppression upon us.
That is why I applaud the National Union of Teachers for empowering black students, parents and teachers to produce this Charter on Raising the Achievement of Black Boys. It is a challenge to schools and teachers, to students themselves and to parents. It articulates their entitlements as well as their responsibilities. But, for me and in the context of this discussion, its greatest value lies in the fact that it empowers students and parents to use the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and hold schools and their governing bodies to account, especially those who operate a two stage admissions policy. The first stage is where they determine who they will admit. The second stage is where, having admitted them, they decide who to keep and who to throw out, typically into the arms of the criminal justice system or into street culture and various forms of hedonistic behaviour.
Invariably, those of us who operate public services are both providers and consumers of those services, especially Children’s Services. Whether you are parents, aunts or uncles, I commend this Charter to you and to all those whom you know to have a stake in the schooling system.
Up and down the land, our communities are imploding upon themselves with deadly consequences. To parody Marvin Gaye, and that’s an irony in itself, there are too many mothers crying and too many brothers dying. And the Prime Minister’s only response is to put more of our boys and young men behind bars, and to insult us by telling us that we are not only burying our children, but burying our heads in the sand, and that those murders are essentially our problem. Presumably, therefore, it is nothing to do with the condition of being young and black in Britain today, nothing to do with the state of Britain, nothing to do with the historical marginalisation of black men in this society.
But then, we should not be surprised.
Rather, we should make the link between the crisis of black masculinity in our communities and the modest agenda I set out above for restitution. Far be it from me to be so presumptuous as to set an agenda for you, but if there is one thing this conference in this symbolic year, 2007, must do, is to call upon the TUC and all your constituent unions and staff networks to demand restitution/reparation from the British state and corporate Britain.
It is nothing short of scandalous that in a country that was made one of the richest in the world by the sacrifice of millions of our ancestors, the descendants of those ancestors are abandoning hope and dying with their aspirations, to the extent that they now live more in fear of one another than of white racists and fascists.
That is the challenge we face. We must find it within ourselves and within our communities to rise to that challenge, mobilising ourselves in the same huge numbers that keep turning out to funerals, ritualistically, every time yet another of our boys is murdered. When Jessie James was murdered in Manchester last year, 1,800 people turned up at his funeral. In the meetings we have had in Moss Side since to forge a community response to gun crime, we were lucky to get 100 people turning up.
Given what our ancestors endured and resisted to win the freedoms and the political space we enjoy in this generation, future generations would have a right to judge us harshly if we fail to demonstrate by our activism and our actions that we will not let our communities put back on the shackles and ankle chains our forebears gave their lives to shake off.
I hope we can all leave this conference with this determination.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you and share those thoughts with you today.