The Bahamas: 'To Sir Sidney With Love' – A Celebration of Sir Sidney Poitier

By Daniel Levine,

The Bahamas are gearing up to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country's independence in 2013. To kick off the celebration, Prime Minister Perry Christie decided to honor a man who is arguably the most famous Bahamanian of all time, the legendary actor Sir Sidney Poitier. Christie held a ceremony Friday morning at one of the bridges connecting Paradise Island to Nassau and unveiling a plaque renaming the bridge Sir Sidney Causeway.

It was a truly moving and beautiful ceremony, with school children from around Nassau and Cat Island, where Poitier grew up, in attendance. Dignitaries, including Christie, were there as well, welcoming Poitier and his family. Music from a marching band was playing constantly prior to the ceremony and when Poitier finally arrived, the crowd roared.

Christie welcomed everyone, noting that he “can't think of a finer way” to kick off the 40th anniversary celebrations. He called Poitier a “creative genius of acting” who not only stood against stereotypes, but broke them down and became a trailblazer for others in his field. The Prime Minister told the children to learn from Poitier's success and added that he hopes there were “many Sidney Poitiers” in the crowd.

Poitier gave a short speech. A portrait and the plaque with his name were both unveiled. Despite being 85, Poitier's sense of humor is still with him, telling the crowd “I never looked that good,” when the portrait was shown.

Later in the day, Christie and Poitier talked about the future of the Bahamas and Poitier looked back on what gave him the drive to become an actor. Poitier stressed that it is “essential” that the Bahamas begins to groom its own filmmakers and not have to send from abroad to tell the country's stories.

The In The Heat of the Night actor discussed his difficult childhood before he settled in New York. He became a dishwasher and told the story of how he went to an audition and was told he would only ever be a dishwasher. Since he never told the person that he was a dishwasher, Poitier decided to break the stereotype. “That pissed me off,” he said. “I then decided to be an actor. To show him he was wrong.”

Poitier also agreed that the morning's ceremony was “overwhelming” and he was touched by the children who attended. He noted that education is a must for them. Poitier was also asked how he felt when he heard the news 40 years ago that the Bahamas was now independent. “Thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” he said.

The day of celebration was capped off by a moving concert and fireworks spectacular. Bebe Winans gave an emotional performance and several other Bahamanian artists sang tributes to Poitier. Christie also spoke, getting into an extended speech that may have lasted too long. However, it was clearly from the heart and the energy in the area never waned. When Poitier came out to speak again, the crowd really went wild. The fireworks spectacular was stunning. At one point, the fireworks fell from the bridge, as more exploded overhead.

But there was more. On Saturday night, Jennifer Hudson performed before Poitier and a crowd that included Oprah Winfrey. Before her show, a video that featured Quincy Jones, Morgan Freeman, Lionel Richie and others talking about the influence Poitier has had on their lives. The audience was also treated to clips from his best films.

Hudson is an amazing performer and her talent shined perfectly on the stage, as she sang her hits, a medley of Whitney Houston songs and “To Sir With Love” to end the night. It was a perfect end to the weekend.

The Bahamanian people certainly know how to pay tribute to their heroes. As Christie said, Poitier is the most famous Bahamanian in the world and the celebration certainly made that clear.

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