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Jamaican Diaspora in US pays tribute to Jamaica’s National Heroes Day

By: Patrick Beckford

NEW YORK – On Monday, October 20, Jamaica celebrated National Heroes Day. This is a day on which the nation reflects on its values and recognizes those who were instrumental in shaping its identity.

We honor the names of each of these giants: Paul Bogle, Alexander Bustamante, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, George William Gordon, Norman Washington Manley, Nanny, and Sam Sharpe

On Monday, the Consul General of Jamaica in New York and many New York City friends of Jamaica held a Heritage Fest at Bowling Green Park, not far away from Ellis Island which was the main American east coast port of call for many immigrants at the turn of the last century. Among them I suspect was Marcus Garvey who in his lifetime boldly asserted that in a society rife with legal discrimination against people of African descent, that people of the African diaspora should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other individuals in the world. The presence and wellbeing of many Jamaicans in North America today is a testament to that powerful legacy of his. As Garvey ventured, given a chance, we as individuals have volumes to contribute to the development of our communities. To me, Garvey is a Jamaican hero, but he is also a New York hero, an American hero, indeed an international hero.

When I reflect on all of these individuals and their contributions, I am struck by the commonalities between them. They each existed in different eras of Jamaica’s history yet they had much in common:

Nanny and Sam Sharpe were agents in dismantling that oppressive and reprehensible system called chattel slavery;

Paul Bogle and George William Gordon challenged the British colonial administration to implement more humane measures in Jamaican society just emerging from slavery;

Marcus Garvey held aloft the banner of racial pride and dignity; and

Norman Washington Manley and Alexander Bustamante were instrumental in organizing workers to act in their own self interest and in bringing Jamaica into nationhood.

They each embodied certain qualities which translated into their brave acts on behalf of the Jamaican people and the Jamaican nation. They each understood the principal contradictions that they faced as individuals and as a people within their respective eras. They each had a commitment to human rights and egalitarianism. They each acted to challenge the systems that limited the possibilities of their communities. And they each understood that while they may have experienced oppression as individuals, they understood that oppression was not a private matter…that they had to transform what were private troubles into public issues. They understood structural oppression. They acted courageously. They were strategic. And they were unwavering.

Theirs is an enormous legacy. But this legacy also provides us with a tremendous advantage. It provides us with a lens by which we might interrogate policies and practices that organize our lives today. And their success – for which they paid dearly – is evidence that those with courage to act can shift history for a nation, indeed for the world.

As NE USA representative to the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, I will work with Jamaicans in North America to support the needs of Jamaicans at home. Simultaneously, we must make sure that the environment in which we live is holistic and supportive of our growth and wellbeing. Jamaicans are making heroic contributions to our adopted nation. But many of us still languish on the margins – our lives organized by systems that are not always sensitive to our particular needs. How many of us are impacted by inadequate health care, poor education, joblessness, substandard housing, the prison industrial complex, and the foster care system?

As we advance our individual agendas and take care of our families, let us also invest our energies in addressing some of the structures that limit opportunities for our people today. As we celebrate these giants of the Jamaican nation, I challenge all of us to become giants in our lifetime. Let us embrace our rich legacy. Let us take our place — a place of pride and responsibility — on shoulders of these enormous giants.

Patrick Beckford
Advisory Board Member,
NE USA Jamaican Diaspora

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