Forty years ago this coming December I met a young Grenadian revolutionary. His name is Leon ‘Bogo’ Cornwall. When I met him he was deep black in complexion, tall, handsome, confident and full of energy. He had a charming, disarming smile.
Cornwall was immensely popular among the Grenadian youth and he had a knack for organizing and was a stickler for details. He was a major in the People’s Revolutionary Army and the junior minister for youth and sport in the revolutionary government which was lead by the charismatic revolutionary PM Maurice Bishop.
We were to develop a lifelong friendship that has endured to this day. He was the leader of the New Jewel Movement’s youth organization and I was then the leader of Vanguard Youth, the youth arm of the Youlou United Liberation Movement (YULIMO). As fate would have it I was the contact person between NJM and the United People’s Movement. This ‘job’ took me to Grenada dozens of times during the revolution and Cornwall and I would meet once he was in Grenada.
In July of 1983, I made my last visit to Grenada before migrating to New York. I met with Cornwall and Ewart ‘Head Ache’ Layne. In conversation they disclosed that the party was engaged in a series of discussion whose outcome will determine whether the revolution survived or die. Apparently, the entire central committee of the NJM concluded that the revolution was so weakened, its cadres so tired and overworked, the pressures and aggression of the US and Britain so unrelenting that if radical solutions were not found and implemented the revolution will collapse within 6 months.
Cornwall, now a Methodist lay preacher, a return to roots of sorts, since he was in the Methodist youth movement in his formative years told an audience at Frenches House last Saturday that that flawed decision planted the seeds of doubts and suspicion among the revolutionaries and ultimately led to the implosion of the revolutionary process, the killing of PM Bishop and many of his ministers including Unison Whiteman and Jackie Creft and ultimately to the American invasion of Grenada in October of 1983. In 2007 I was one of his lawyer during the resentencing hearing that led to his release in 2009.
Cornwall told the mainly Methodist audience that those tragic events which saw him tried and convicted for murder, brought to the doors of the hangman cell, reprieved and eventually released in 2009 amounted to his true baptism of fire and brought him back, full circle to the God he praised and loved as a youth.
Cornwall, who has been working as a counsellor at Richmond Hill prison and integrated into the Methodist church as a lay preacher said he wanted to make clear that his return to the church and his acceptance of Christ as his personal saviour did not save him from the revolution, it saved him from sin. He defended the positive achievements of the revolution, especially those in health, education and infrastructural development, of which the construction of the Maurice Bishop International Airport, is the crown jewel.
Cornwall pointed to many of the revolution’s failures, particularly it tendency to unleash ‘heavy manners’ which resulted in the detention of many persons without trial. Cornwall blamed the strict discipline instilled in all of the revolutionaries; the puritanical and perfectionist notions which they all took as gospel as the seductive ‘drug’ that led them to do things that brought on the revolution’s demise.
Speaking to prisoners at both the Kingstown and Belle Isle prisons Cornwall told inmates that they cannot now be sorry for themselves; they cannot blame others for the errors and wrong doings that landed them in prison. He beseeched them to use their time behind bars to better themselves so that they can made a sharp turn away from whatever caused them to do time in prison. He told the prisoners that the choice was theirs. Using a stone and a tennis ball he dramatically demonstrated to them that they can fall like the stone and stay down or they can live the life of the ball. They can go down and bounce back.
At the Biabou Methodist Church, Cornwall told church goers they must reject the notion that God’s mission is to punish them. God’s true mission as reflected in the work of Jesus Christ was to save them from all sins and problems. He presented the novel view that those who presented the theology that God was a jealous, punishing God inculcated in followers a bad idea because people who wanted to be Christ like, adopted notions as to what they thought God was. He said this is why there is so much confusion in the world even among Christians and religious denominations.
Cornwall, who spoke at Georgetown, South Rivers, Union, Mespo, Belmont and Stubbs, is convinced that the method and style of work of the Methodist Church has to be radically changed if the church is to survive. He called on the church to embrace the youths of the nation and find new and better ways to connect with them and bring the youth back to God.
He expressed the view that for the Methodist church to survive and grow it must come out from the 4 walls of the church and go into the communities, mingle with the people, identify and look after their needs, concerns and insecurities while at the same time carrying forward the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Cornwall, who spent 27 calendar years in jail, says that while he has no interest in politics as a participant, he remains deeply concerned about the plight of the people in Grenada, the Caribbean and the world.
Cornwall, now 65 years old, remains energetic and full of life. He maintains that the gift of garb and connects easily with people. Plain talk is delighted that he was able to tell his story as he continues on his religious journey to redemption and revelation.