Major Leon ‘Bogo’ Cornwall, in his own words a ‘prodigal son’, was born as a Methodist. He would later become disillusioned with the church for ‘failing to be relevant to the issues of young people’, and in the early seventies, would be attracted to the Black Power Movement and later on to Marxist / Leninist ideals which offered him a new vision for the world and his country.
Speaking at the Cordoba Seminars organised by The Cordoba Foundation in East London on February the 1st, 2010, Major Cornwall explained how justice, peace and equality was what he was after, where the vulnerable would have a significant place in society. In 1979, Major Cornwall would leave his family and join the People’s Revolutionary Army, which overthrew the government and established what was essentially a socialist government and which would work towards ‘Grenada being a better, more prosperous and cultured nation’.
However the Revolution was short-lived as Cornwall admits, ‘the internal struggles between members and the failure to grasp the totality of the situation’, meant that disputes arose. By 1983, the leader of the Revolution (and president of Grenada) was himself overthrown and executed by his colleagues, prompting an invasion by the US army. Major Cornwall and sixteen other colleagues were caught and imprisoned. Though they were sentenced to death, the sentences were changed to life imprisonment and Major Cornwall spent some 27 years in prison before being released in September 2009.
Today, Leon Cornwall is a changed man. Having rediscovered God and religion in prison, he says that ‘my vision for a world has not changed, but my philosophy of how to go about it has’. He now professes non-violence and education as a movement of social change. So transformed is he, that everywhere he goes, he acknowledges his mistake for the Revolution and asks for forgiveness: ‘I am deeply sorry for the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the chaos, the confusion that was brought to Grenada through our impulsive, thoughtless actions’ he remarked at the seminar.
From his own life story, it is evident Major Cornwall believes that part of the problem associated with the demise of the Revolution was that the revolutionaries had turned away from God and therefore lacked a spiritual base. “The Revolution gave men and women power, with the gun as the source of that power. Many were accountable only unto themselves and few dared question the doings of the leaders. For many of the players, the Revolution was a god. This left us in deep trouble, unable to appreciate human weaknesses and unable to make sound spiritual decisions when they truly mattered”, reflected Major Cornwall.
Major Leon Cornwall’s story is incredibly moving and inspiring. It is not about social recognition or acceptance but it is about leadership taking responsibility for their actions on their people and for any catastrophe that may have been caused by their actions. In today’s climate, as world leaders are being challenged to take responsibility for their actions, they would do well to learn from Major Cornwall’s humility in acknowledging his mistakes.
The full speech by Major Leon Cornwall at the Cordoba Seminars is published here