Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand

I spent the last two weeks in Exuma, Bahamas.  Walking the beach. Thinking, reflecting.

Reflecting on what it means to leave a mark.  I left footprints as I walked;

but then, the ocean waves would wash them away.  It was as if I hadn’t walked at all.

And, then, of course, I had to think about life.  Are our lives like footprints, visible for a moment, and then washed away?  I was reminded of this disappearing act when we found a 2000 pound log lodged in the sand.  A log for some; a piece of art for others.  And so, for the one who saw it as art, we had to remove it.  It required a truck, ropes, chain saw, and shovels.  After two hours, and several failed attempts, we finally pulled the log out.

See the video of the log being pulled by the Honda Truck!

Father and daughter working together
Log on Pretty Molly Bay

And one day, that will be an amazing sculpture.  But, the ocean washed away any evidence of the log.  It was as if the log was never there.  You could only barely see a slight and subtle imprint.

Imprint left behind from the log

Just like the log, it feels like lives are washed away when our loved ones – family, friends, heroes, sheroes, pass.  They are just gone, sometimes, like a vapor – a whisper in the wind.  We can’t get them back. Like footprints in the sand, they have vanished.

And then, we who are left behind, are left to find their footprints. To deal with that they have left behind.  Sometimes it is their things…many things…Clothes, papers, furniture, trinkets, social media sites.  They treasured their things, as we all do, but now they are gone and who treasures another person’s treasures? What of our treasures becomes garbage?

Garbage dump on Stocking Island; tourist joy creates environmental reality

Footprints in the sand.  How do we leave a mark?  I was able to see the power of one man’s footprints.  For four years, he fought against a seemingly unconquerable obstacle.  Beach access.  Public beach access.  30 ft public beach access, public right of way.

Last year, I shared about the challenges in a post called, “On Privilege, Power, and Persistence.”

And, this year, I went back. To see where things stood. To see if the public beach access, passed down years ago when slavery ended, had been secured.

Access to a beach that the community of Little Exuma had played on, had picnics, celebrated seasons, and where kids were thrown off the rocks to learn to swim.   A beach that had their footprints.  Pretty Molly Bay.


A beach that I walk when I visit, to see the sunrise, to see rainbows, and to be reminded of the peace that is possible.

Sunrise at Pretty Molly Bay
Rainbow at Pretty Molly Bay

And, then 8 years ago, a slow movement of power and wealth.  Foreign investors, built a large mansion with a tennis court and gazebo, blocking the original beach access.  No one in the community felt empowered to speak and to fight.

Mansion on Beach
Mansion on Beach

And so, the power continued, to buy more land, and to block another public beach access.   But this time, there was one man.  Just one man.  Who for three years, wrote letters, gathered evidence, found original maps, found documented evidence of the beach access, and gathered petitions and signatures from residence courageous enough to raise their voice. 

Map of Beach Access from
Bahamas Government

And still, denial and confusion.  Destruction of the government land markers.  Going to court, going to the administrator, going back to court.  Going to Nassau, going to Georgetown. Small seeming victories, and then bigger defeats.

Sometimes, the only hope was in God. Trusting in the power of God to stand on the side of the injustice:  Proverbs 23:10-11:  “Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.”  

Ancient landmark of beach access showing 30 foot right of way

For enslaved people, descendants of enslaved people, Bahamians carry a legacy of oppression in their DNA.  Like Black Americans, it is scar and a wound.  A permanent imprint of degradation, powerlessness, humiliation.  Like the neck shackle that hangs in our yard in Exuma, there are permanent reminders all over the island, like a psychic and spiritual energy – swirling, encapsulating – blowing in the winds, in the palm trees, and in the coconut trees.    

See video explaining the history of the neck shackle in our yard.

The shackle is a reminder of Pompey, the escaped slave who “never fell in line” who said, “you can enslaved my body, but never my mind.”  He led an escape, with the master’s salt boat, with 77 others to Nassau from Exuma.  Though eventually captured, he was whipped 39 times.  But, he left a mark.  A statute, a legacy, a reminder to fight…even as one.  For the world needs courageous leaders – one person.

Pompey history and history of slavery
Slave Prison in Exuma Bahamas — Steventon
Legacy of slavery in the Bahamas

I realize our fights for justice require persistence and a tenacity.  They are never knockdowns, quick and easy battles.  For power never yields and surrenders without a fight.  And, they, must start with one person.  Someone, must be courageous, even crazy as others see them, to step out, to walk out on faith that believes that justice will prevail and God will move the mountains. 

And that was Obadiah. 

But, this Christmas, the beach access victory was won.  The gates came down!

Illegally erected gates barring beach access removed!

Crashing down.  Signs went up.

30 foot beach access reclaimed!
Government Sign and Emmanuel’s sign

 And the beach was open to the public, to tourists, and most importantly, to the local people, the residence, for them to imprint their footprints in the sand.  Who was this man?

Obadiah Clarke. 

Obadiah Clarke

The man I married 27 years ago.  The man who told me in Nashville, Tennessee when we met that one day he had to go back to Exuma, to Forbes Hill, to the community that raised him.  That he had to go back, because when the Bahamas got their independence from England in 1973, they raised a generation with the motto, “my country needs me.”   And instilled a responsibility in his generation to return, to serve, to give back, to help future generations. I had to honor that responsibility. And he has been going back, to teach, to spend time, to raise our children there. And, in 2016, he went back….to fight.

When we think of footprints left behind, we often think of our legacy of children, if we have children, for they are, in fact, printed from our own DNA.  And, I think of my children, who are beginning to leave their marks.  My son has started to pursue his dream of making murals and art around the world, beginning in the corner of his homeland – Exuma.

Big Bay mural on abandoned church by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke
West Palm Beach sign by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke
Crab mural on shipping container by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke
Tropic of Cancer Beach Sign by Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke

And, my daughter, Raebekkah, spreads pure joy wherever she goes.   She is starting her career in sports management as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager for Alliance Sports Management Company in Dover, Delaware.  She is excited to start making her mark in the world.

Raebekkah Pratt-Clarke, joy of finishing a 5 mile hike on the rocks.
Raebekkah Pratt-Clarke dancing on the beach
Raebekkah Pratt-Clarke showing her Michigan loyalty!

And, so, as one decade ends and another begins, I wonder what footprints did we leave in the last decade?   What footprints will we leave in the new decade? 

Even if our some of our marks are temporary, destined to be washed away by the sea of life, let us dedicate our lives to creating marks of justice, equity, fairness, love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

And, in the meantime, this trip was a reminder to cherish time with family and friends.

I am also grateful for meaningful work.  I am grateful that I work at Virginia Tech with amazing colleagues who are committed to the cause of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Looking forward to a new decade

3 thoughts on “Footprints in the Sand”

  1. Happy New Year! This is simply beautiful! I love your story and I love a great storyteller. We must continue to fight and do to preserve our footprints,. As you stated above, “……dedicate our lives to creating marks of justice, equity, fairness, love, grace mercy and forgiveness.” I’m in!

    Keep giving and instilling value in others. I am grateful for you, Dr. Pratt-Clarke! I look forward to the new decade and time spent giving my best in all that I do!

    Your post reminds me of this quote – “The progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give.”
    – Mary McLeod Bethune

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