6 August 2012
Today is the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. That means a great deal to me because Jamaica is a country I long ago adopted as one my favorite places on earth. I lived there from 1984-1989 — in the capital city of Kingston.
There were many reasons why I originally went to Jamaica. The first time I visited, I knew it was a place I wanted to live. I couldn’t resist the attraction of such incredibly beautiful topography and the profound spirituality of the people. Circumstances made it possible for me to uproot myself from Chicago and go to the land of my dreams. I experienced so many wonderful things in Jamaica that will forever live in my heart.
As a genealogist, it was a compelling idea to leave the United States and trace my way in reverse back to Africa. The Caribbean islands were the first ports of call for slavers and pirates alike. Jamaica is where it is said the “most difficult passengers” on the trawlers of the Middle Passage were disembarked. When one reads the history of Queen Nanny, the “old Obeah woman” who initiated a 100 year war with the British and WON and visits the Maroon community of Accompong, one cannot help but burst with pride. (Nanny freed more than 800 people from slavery and settled them in “the land of look behind” where British dare not tread.)
And then, there was Marcus Garvey, who had the unmitigated gall to extol African people to stand proud in their heritage and support Mother Africa. (While in Jamaica, I produced a commemorative publication about his work for the Jamaica Information Service.)
It was in Jamaica that I learned the true meaning of survival when an historic hurricane (Gilbert – 1989) roared across the land and almost killed us all. In its aftermath, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” sat upon my ravaged doorstep, advising me that “every likkle ting gwan be ahright.”
And then… and then… There are SO MANY stories I could tell, but I won’t lest emotion overcomes me.
Today, the news for Jamaica is the 2012 Olympics where fifty-one athletes are competing in four categories and Usain Bolt has already captured some gold.
When I returned to America in 1989, it was with deep sadness. It took me a month of wandering about before I could bring myself to get on a plane.
I cannot tell you how inspired I am by the call of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller for Britain to pay reparations for slavery. That call seems so relevant on this day most of all.
Today, what I celebrate is not Jamaica’s independence from British rule. That is such a small part of the story. It is the incredible fortitude of African people, throughout the diaspora, who survived and thrived against ALL odds.