By Farrah Turenne
As the Bahamas approaches the 40th anniversary of its independence, a massive campaign is underway to celebrate the historic event and make sure that the islands continue to remain the number one Caribbean destination for the African-American consumer market for years to come.
The Bahamas became a sovereign nation on July 10, 1973 after 325 years of British rule of the hundreds of islands and cays that make up the country.
The independence festivities kicked off before Christmas, when one of the bridges connecting Paradise Island to Nassau was renamed “The Sidney Poitier Bridge” in a star-studded ceremony complete with marching bands and presided over by Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie. Oprah Winfrey was there.
Sir Sidney Poitier is perhaps the world’s most famous Bahamian. School children from Cat Island, where he grew up, were in attendance. “To Sir, With Love” was definitely the theme of the event for the man we know in the states as being an African-American actor who broke down barriers and set standards for all actors, and an outspoken life-long activist.
This bridge dedication couldn’t have been more fitting for one who has helped the human race cross many bridges for the purpose of bettering humanity.
Prime Minister Christie noted that he couldn’t “think of a finer way” to kick off the 40th anniversary celebrations. “Re-naming the Paradise Island Bridge the Sidney Poitier Bridge is a token of the great pride we all feel for the magnificent accomplishments that Sir Sidney has achieved on the world stage over the past 60 years,” Christie said.
“He has done so much, for so long, to reflect great credit not only upon himself as one of the greatest actors in the world, but upon all of us as Bahamians. He is one of us. He is family to us. He is a Bahamian. And he is, to be sure, one of our greatest sons.”
Humbled by the festivities in his honor, Sir Sidney, who is now 85 years old, spoke of his humble beginnings. He explained how, when his mother was seven months pregnant with him, his Bahamian parents set off for the United States.
They were tomato farmers in search of a better life and ended up in Miami, where Sir Sidney was born. They eventually returned to the Bahamas with their U.S. born Bahamian son, but still finding life to be difficult, Sir Sidney’s father placed him on boat with five dollars and said to take care of himself – that is exactly how Sir Sidney explained that memory.
Sir Sidney found work in a restaurant. A man he auditioned for in the beginning of his acting career didn’t cast him in a role, calling him a dish washer, but Poitier said he didn’t allow that label to stick and once he had achieved acting acclaim, he eventually hired that same man to be in one of his films!
Sir Sidney has dual citizenships in the U.S. and the Bahamas. Since 1997, he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama, and he continues to be a humanitarian with the unreported good deeds that he does throughout the world.
Keeping the celebration going on Sir Sidney’s weekend were Chicago’s own Jennifer Hudson, Bebe and CeCe Winans, and Cody Simpson, who performed concerts at the renovated, fabled Atlantis Resort.
It has everything that is paradise and entertainment for all ages. On top of all the water activities, there is a fully operational casino (natives cannot gamble, but the Bahamian people are looking to change that law), a nightclub for teenagers, and a kids club for younger children. The Atlantis Resort, modeled after the lost city, is most definitely one of the best vacation spots for tourists in the Caribbean.
The island has much to offer now and in the near future for travelers. The Baha Mar, the largest hotel and casino in the Caribbean, is slated to open in Nassau in 2014. Planned amenities at the 1,000-acre, $3.5 billion resort, gaming and entertainment complex include four hotels with 2,200 rooms, 307 private residences, a 100,000-square foot casino, and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
There is also the new U.S. departure lounge at Lynden Pindling International Airport; delicious authentic Bahamian cuisine; world-class beaches; exciting water sports; and the ever-popular Junkanoo parade.
The Bahamian culture is rich and the love you feel, along with the beauty, is definitely recognized as you go about on the island. I had a truly breath taking experience in the Bahamas, where the ambiance is second to none.