Michael Zephyrine Mark, popularly known as M.Z. (the Z is pronounced zed) Mark was born in Mamma Cannes, Saint Andrew’s, Grenada on December 9th 1905. This Brilliant Grenadian was a philosopher, educator, motivational speaker dedicated husband, public lecturer and more. He had such a positive influence on people in Grenada and elsewhere that is our duty to remember him and lift his name high so the world would know about his accomplishments.
Once I asked a well- known Grenadian politician if he was familiar with the name M.Z. Mark. He looked puzzled and then told me it was the first time he heard that name. Right then, I knew it was just a matter of time before I write a piece on this special Grenadian. We religiously read about the good that people do in various countries so we must not let those who have lived exemplary lives among us fall into the historical dustbin. We must lift them up high. I will therefore resurrect a few pertinent details regarding the life of M.Z. Mark. You can read more if you get your hands on his inspiring autobiography “The Struggle to Construct and Disseminate a Philosophy of Life.” I urge you to try and get a copy.
The gifted man, endowed with wisdom, the teacher, the orator was known for organizing mass meetings all over Grenada in a persistent effort to educate the people. The term “University of the Masses” was coined and those words appropriately describe his efforts to enlighten and uplift the people. He began in the various villages but his talent propelled him to lecturing halls in Trinidad, England, and the United States. He spoke at Howard University, the Chaote School in Connecticut and Springfield College in Massachusetts. He was often the keynote speaker at many Grenadian and West Indian Organizations in New York. He once uttered the profound words, “Life is an adventure, and sometimes the adventure turns out to be great or outstanding.” Mister Mark’s adventure surpassed outstanding. He credited “persistent preparation, strong faith, hard practice and unyielding dedication” for his success. This emanated from a man who had to get up early in the morning and walk miles to look after animals and the garden then make it to school before the morning bell sounded.
At the age of eighteen, M.Z. mark became the youngest headmaster at the Munich Catholic School. The year was 1923. He served as principal at various other schools including Grand Roy Government School in the parish of Saint John as well as Dover Model School in Carriacou. He was the inspector of schools in 1956 and he acted as Education Officer on various occasions between 1958 and 1960. But it was his motivational and lecturing career, his involvement in the debating societies and tea room meetings that were popular in Grenada at that time that sealed his name in the hearts of so many Grenadians. Even at the age of eighteen he was able to organize a literary and debating club in Sauteurs. He journeyed to Trinidad and lectured to groups and civic clubs in Port of Spain, Arima, San Fernando and other places. He also gave an address over Radio Trinidad.
On February 16th 1938, there was a huge public debating session held in Gouyave, Saint John. The St John‘s Literary League and the Birchgrove Literary League opened the session. A large crowd was in attendance. It was chaired by Mister G.A. Glean, a resident of Gouyave who played a key role in the Civic and cultural life in Gouyave during that time.
Not everyone was pleased with the lectures M.Z Mark was giving in the churches, schools, streets, estate boucans and market places in Grenada. There were individuals who were not delighted with his addresses to the Mother’s Union, the Y.W.C.A. and the Sisters of the Convent. They did not all appreciate the influences he was wielding and the large crowds he was attracting. The government of Grenada placed a ban on him in 1957.The education officer it was alleged, prevailed on the Administrator Mister J.M. Lloyd to put a stop to his public lectures. He was not even allowed to speak in a Sunday school class. A ban was placed on a man who was telling young men to stop their laziness, support their children, respect their elders, become good citizens and to put “butter before rum.” Mister Mark noted, “Unfortunately, neither the educational officer of Grenada nor the Administrator seemed to see anything good or wholesome about my public lectures.” He stressed, “How quickly did those supposedly powerful officials cower and succumb when a certain political leader took the challenge in the name of truth and Justice.” The political leader was Eric M. Gairy who attacked the ban at a meeting held in the Market Square. Others including Barrister George Clyne spoke out against the action until the Administrator lifted the ban. A few days later, M.Z. Mark was in the Market Square speaking to a large crowd on the topic “Am I my Brother’s keeper.” The river Sallee Choir sang ‘Faith of our Fathers” and Mister Jerome Mc Barnette sang the song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The Government band was there to play also.
M.Z. Mark appreciated his friendship with the famed (and often feared) headmaster J.W. Fletcher and he often recollected the occasion he walked ten miles from the country to Saint George’s with Mister Fletcher and how he picked Mister Fletcher’s brain to gain information regarding geography. When they parted on Church Street he was a brighter man. He spoke also of his close relation with “Uncle Joe Gibbs” the father of Dr. Hilda Bynoe who became Governor of Grenada. He loved to recall the inspiration he gained from a man called John Harbin who was once an inspector of schools. He was fond of pointing to an incident that took place in Victoria.
He was scheduled to address a crowd in Victoria around the pre carnival season in 1955, a very hot year and the year Hurricane Janet devastated Grenada. There were stones already placed along the roadside, a clear indication that the customary stone throwing was looming. “Year after year bloody battles were fought at carnival” in Victoria. Disregarding the pessimist who advised him to postpone his lecture, he went to Victoria and spoke on the topic “The stones of Victoria”. Among the crowd was Father A.M. Bowring, parish priest of Birchgrove and Mister L.C.J. Thomas (in those days everyone had three or more names in Grenada) who was a member of the legislative for Saint John. He drew reference to the Biblical passages to point out that the stones they pelted could be put to good and better use. He eloquently stated, “Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to have another look at the structures and designs formed by the stones of Grand Pauvre. His stirring speech moved the people so much that not a stone was thrown in Victoria during the carnival that year.
Mister M.Z. Mark retired from the education department in 1961 and he migrated to the United States. He is no longer with us. While he lived, he often referred to the people who remembered the tea party debates and public lectures in the Deluxe Theatre and other places where he spoke on topics as “ Rum before butter”, “come and make yourself a cross bearer” and inspiring words such as “ Where there is no vision the people perish.”
I read Mister Mark’s book and I will end this piece with a quotation:
“Why is this disinclination on the part of our young people of today for hard work? I have never known hard work to hurt anyone. My father at eighty-nine , who lives in Saint David still works in his garden and produces the finest yams and eddoes in his district, to the shame of the youngsters around who prefer to idle their time in aimless gossip on the bridges or in the vicinity of the liquor shops. I have never known in all my life any substitution for hard work.”
© 2015 Anthony Wendell DeRiggs
Anthony Wendell DeRiggs is a Grenadian writer living in Brooklyn, USA. He is the author of three books, Recollections of an Island Man, Island Reminiscences and Other Selections, and Reflections and Ole Talk. Emerging from a long family tradition of writers, storytellers, and folklorists, Mr. DeRiggs holds a BA in History from Brooklyn College.