By Makeida Antonio
Government officials and dignitaries joined the masses who paid tribute to the late Ambassador Franklyn ‘Frank-I’ Francis who died at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre yesterday.
More popularly known as King Frank-I, the deceased, who was said to be in his 70s, made significant contributions to education, sports, culture, media and religion in the twin island state. Many remember him as being instrumental to the Rastafari movement in the country as well as his banter on radio as a sports and social commentator.
He was also Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to Ethiopia.
In a statement yesterday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne recalled his friendship with King Frank-I during his youth. Browne said he ran errands and cleaned utensils in a restaurant owned by Frank-I and his business partner Lumba where he received sauce and “dread bread” as his payment.
Prime Minister Browne also highlighted that Frank-I played an important role in the decriminalisation of possessing small amounts of marijuana and granting permission for residents to cultivate four marijuana trees in their backyards. The ambassador also lobbied for the legalisation of medical cannabis in Antigua and Barbuda.
“Upon the assumption of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to office in 2014, several steps were taken to give recognition to the Rastafarian faith.
“King Frank-I was appointed Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to Ethiopia. He was dispatched to Washington DC to address the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Permanent Council,” the statement read.
“Embracing the apology of Prime Minister Browne for the discrimination and violence visited upon the Rastafari in years prior, Ambassador Frank-I spoke passionately about the new role for the Rastafari faithful in Antigua and Barbuda, and other Latin American and Caribbean states.
“He was very well received,” the statement said, adding condolences to the Francis family.
United Progressive Party (UPP) leader and King Frank-I’s former attorney, Harold Lovell, said that their relationship began in 1996 when the deceased was detained at St John’s Police Station for possession of marijuana.
“We decided, with the help of Lord Anthony Gifford QC, to challenge the law by filing a constitutional motion under the Freedom of Religion section of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda,” Lovell recounted.
“It was an interesting landmark case, establishing for the first time in the Caribbean and in the world that Rastafari is a religion entitled to protection under the law. In fact, the case of Franklyn Francis vs the Attorney General cleared the way for reform in schools, in the prison and the wider society.”
Lovell remembered Frank-I as an intellectual who lived a simple life, away from the temptations of a materialistic world.
“King Frank-I was a deep thinker with a deep gravelly voice. He was an intellectual with a clear understanding of the global political economy who brought an uncompromising Rastafari perspective to the life we live.
“Though he lived in the system, he was not of the system. He rejected materialism and turned his back on the consumer society. Indeed, he was comfortable within the castle of his skin.”
Commissioner of Sports and media practitioner Colin James indicated that Frank-I had one of the most recognisable voices on many topics, ranging from sports to politics.
“King Frank-I was easily the most recognisable and most distinguished voices ever to have reported, commented and/or expressed his views on life, sports, culture, politics (or poli-tricks as he would say), economics and social issues in Antigua and Barbuda,” James said.
“Africa, Africanism and the diaspora were the wider parts of his kingdom. He spoke glowingly and proudly about his African brothers and sisters; those living in the diaspora were always in his thoughts.”
James added that the passing of King Frank-I was a blow to local journalism as his expertise was invaluable to the media fraternity in Antigua and Barbuda.
“His commentary and insight — from the ZDK sports microphone or the commentary box or through his articles and reports — were always of a high calibre.
“His usual injunction and admonishing “Jah guide, keep fit and be a good sport” will go down in the annals of sports and Antiguan and Caribbean folklore. His passing will be the poorer for the media fraternity, especially those who will be seeking a career in the profession,” he said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs EP Chet Greene said that Francis was instrumental to national development and represented Antigua and Barbuda well in African countries other than Ethiopia, to include Ghana, on behalf of Rastafari.
“He will be deeply missed as a friend and colleague for the many lives he affected. He will also be remembered and cherished by many sports enthusiasts, players and athletes for his contributions to sports promotion. His work and character have established a sound legacy that will be venerated for years to come,” Greene shared.
The UPP’s candidate for St John’s City West and historian Alister Thomas gave his thoughts on Frank-I’s contributions to the Afrocentric sentiments in the Caribbean.
“He was a pioneer of the Rastafari movement which spoke a lot about looking to Africa and the relation of the citizens of the Caribbean and their historic roots … he played almost an unparalleled role in raising the consciousness besides the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the Leader of the Nyabinghi tribe of Antigua and Barbuda, King Osagyefo, spoke fondly of Frank-I on Observer’s Connecting with Dave Lester Payne show yesterday, and stated that his passing has plunged the Rastafari community into mourning.
“You know, he’s an international man, a man of the Caribbean, a man of the nation. His contributions and the passing of the king at this time in life, Jah, you know what is going on. He contributed guidance; he is a man I looked up to and he will be greatly missed,” he said.
King Osagyefo added, “nobody can be Frank-I but Frank-I”.