In my short 31 years on this earth I have been fortunate enough to introduce a prime minister of Jamaica at a function, have multiple meetings with a sitting prime minister, speak right before the governor general of Jamaica, meet with ambassadors to the USA for Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Panama, speak at the Organisation of American States, speak on Capitol Hill after Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee, be invited to the US State Department twice and the White House three times.
This past week, however, presented an opportunity that dwarfed all of those, a chance to meet and take photos with President Barack Obama. I got word over the weekend and immediately said to my wife, Kathryn, that we need to try and do something more than just take a photo to cherish for ourselves and our six-month-old son Luke. We came up with two ideas; give President Obama a Jamaica 50 pin of pride as a birthday present (he turned 51 on August 4), and create a Jamaica 50 birthday card for him to sign.
Once we settled on the layout we then decided that if we did get it signed we should frame the card and donate it to the Institute of Jamaica so that it can be displayed in a museum for all Jamaicans to see .
We both agreed that while it would be great to have it in our home to show off to people, it really belonged to Jamaicans everywhere and it was the right thing to do.
This was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were escorted backstage after his speech in Orlando, Florida, and after waiting in the short line with others there for photos we made it to the front. When it was our turn they told President Obama our names and he immediately said that he would have to ignore us and focus on Luke, our son (we have now gotten used to this, he tends to steal the show).
President Obama commented on Luke's little tuft of hair and then played with it for a little. Luke then blew some raspberries, eliciting another comment from the Commander In Chief. After an aide handed us tissue to clean up Luke's face for the photo, President Obama let us know that he would be holding Luke for the photo and that we would have to live with it.
The photos were taken and then we told him that we gave his Secret Service detail his Jamaica 50 pin of pride as his birthday present, showing him the one Kathryn was wearing, and then reminded him about the card we sent to be signed. He mentioned that he met our new ambassador and received an invite to Jamaica (he is sending a Presidential Delegation lead by the Honourable General Colin Powell).
Once it was over we received the signed card and were elated because the plan had worked. The feedback so far has been very supportive and many people are surprised we would give away such a precious item.
This Independence Day is a major milestone for Jamaica, the country of our birth (my wife was also born and raised in Jamaica, coming to the USA for college). We felt that more would be gained, especially at this specific time of the year, by sharing this as a gift with all Jamaicans.
I am who I am and where I am today in part because of Jamaica. The seed was planted in Jamaica, was nurtured and watered there by my parents, the society, the culture and the educational system. That educational system made it easy for me to excel when I started college in the USA.
Jamaica has played an integral part in my life and my successes. Each time that I have given back, something greater has come back into my life.
The USA has also helped to shape the person I am today, building on the solid foundation that Jamaica laid. It has given me opportunities I could never have in Jamaica but I never forgot how I got here and who helped me, especially my parents. I was raised to share things, to care for others, to spare time to volunteer and to be thankful for what I have, no matter how little it may seem at times.
I grew up reciting the National Pledge every day in prep school and the most important part to me was always "in the service of my fellow citizens" because it spoke to selflessness and unity.
It reflected our motto "Out of Many, One People". Ironically, this is close to the Seal of the United States which says "E Pluribus Unum" which is Latin for "Out of many, one", making our donation of a Happy 50th Birthday Jamaica card signed by the first Black President of the United States of America that much more important personally, as it bridges both countries which have enjoyed a close relationship for years.
A close friend recently asked me about my company supporting "Brand Jamaica" in the next five to 10 years and part of my answer focused on how Jamaicans overseas doing good things was positive for the country. Too often some Jamaicans left and would then speak badly about the country or do bad things. If those of us doing good were more visible then it could only help Brand Jamaica.
This is my personal way of saying thank you to my parents, my brother Robert, who has been my business partner for more than 10 years and kept me grounded, my wife of five years who has put up with my hectic travel schedule at times; my in-laws who have been unbelievably supportive; Marlon Hill, the Miami-based lawyer who brought me into the Jamaican diaspora and has served as a mentor ever since (he organised the photo opportunity); every teacher at Mona Preparatory School and Campion College who helped me and encouraged me; every individual in my life that has made me smile or comforted me when I was sad, given me a chance to make mistakes and accomplish something special; every footballer I have played with at Real Mona and widened my knowledge about life in Jamaica; every Jamaican that has taken the time to speak to me and share a thought or just a hello; every person who has simply taken a few minutes out of their precious day to read my column. Most of all, this is my way of leaving a legacy for my son, Luke.
To every Jamaican, in this our 50th year of Independence, my wife and I are happy to give you this card signed by President Barack Obama. May it be around in 50 years' time for Jamaicans to look at and remember that we must be united, we must be generous and we must pledge the love and loyalty of our hearts, the wisdom and courage of our minds, the strength and vigour of our bodies, in the service of our fellow citizens if we are to truly achieve the greatness that Jamaica was destined for.
Happy 50th from myself, Kathryn, and Luke.
David Mullings is Chairman and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/davidmullings and Facebook at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue