Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. (Image courtesy The UWI)

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For his work in uplifting his brothers and sisters within the African diaspora, the United States-based National Action Network (NAN) has awarded the University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles with the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Global Award for 2021.

Afro-Americans celebrated Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day yesterday; a holiday in the US to commemorate the birthday of the renown civil rights activist. Every year, NAN’s Washington DC Bureau celebrates with breakfast in King’s honour. But with COVID-19 restricting mass gatherings and travel, the bureau bestowed the awards virtually.

Beckles, a Barbadian, was among other honourees, including Black Voters Matter founder, Latosha Brown; League of United Latin American Citizens CEO, Sindy Benavides; Cool and Dope founder, Cavanaugh Bell; National Black Nurses Association director, Dr Mellicent Gotham and New York Times bestselling author and political leader Stacey Abrams.

Civil right activist Rev Al Sharpton explained that every year, NAN looks for someone whose life and work personifies the global fight for human rights and dignity, particularly in the African diaspora. Sharpton said there was no doubt Beckles was that person. He said among the activists in the African diaspora, Beckles was unmatched.

“Anyone familiar with academia. Anyone who is a serious student of activism in the academic world and the global struggle. Anyone who has a serious tendency to study the struggles, and the interconnecting of the struggles around the world, knows of Sir Beckles and his work. Anyone who knows anything about cricket knows about him too. He covers many areas, and it is our honour that he would accept this award this year and allow us to honour him and through him, honour the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and what he meant to the world,” Sharpton said.

In accepting the award, Beckles hailed King for the legacy he left so that others could continue to fight for the upliftment of people of African lineage. Recalling that he grew up with his grandmother after his parents migrated to England in the 1950s to work in a factory, Beckles said the only two picture in their homes was that of Jesus Christ and King.

“I grew up under the ministry of Pastor King and Dr King so I received a double dose of ministerial upbringing in the search for justice, looking out for the interest of the poor, committing my professional life to the development of the oppressed people and knowing that our people were placed in a deep hole by westerners. All of us who had the blessings of the capacity to do research, to write and to speak, our task has been to dig our people out of that hole and put them on a level playing field where they can pursue their God-given talents as a race, as an ethnicity,” Beckles said.

Beckles is an historian, academic, a United Nations committee official and global public activist on social justice and minority empowerment. He serves as the eight Vice-Chancellor of the UWI and chairman of the Caricom Reparations Commission. In 2001, he led the Barbados delegation to the World Conference against Racism.

He lectured in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. He, published over 100 peer-reviewed essays and scholarly journals and over 13 books on subjects ranging from the Atlantic and Caribbean history, gender relations in the Caribbean, sports development and popular culture.

In 2007, he received a knighthood: Commander Knight of St. Andrew (KA), the highest national honour in Barbados.