Let’s look again at the meaning of Black History Month
During February, while the black world celebrated the annual tradition of Black History Month, there was a virtual silence in Jamaica despite its overwhelming black population.
Unbelievably, neither the media nor our institutions of education seized the opportunity to inculcate the achievements of black Jamaicans and their contributions to western civilisation.
As our National Hero Marcus Garvey informs us, a nation that is ignorant of its past is like a tree without roots. Our children would have been better served had they been reminded of the contribution of our freedom fighters — from Nanny of the Maroons to Sam Sharpe — to the rights and privileges they enjoy today.
Black History Month also provides the opportunity to celebrate our athletes who have contributed to Jamaica being a sprinting superpower. What could be more inspiring to our inner-city youth than the story of O’Neil Gordon “Collie” Smith, the boy from Denham Town whose integrity, ability and Christian values made him a sports legend at Boy’s Town and Kingston College, and who went on to lift Jamaican and West Indies cricket before his tragic death in 1959 at 26 years of age?
At this time, when much of what passes for entertainment and popular culture contributes to crime and anti-social behaviour, what better time to remind our people of the international acclaim of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, the National Dance Theatre Company, and Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett. How many of our students remember Jodi-Ann Maxwell’s exploits as the first non-American winner of the Scripp’s Howard Award in the United States?
Do we know enough about John Brown Russwurm, the young boy from Port Antonio, who was born into slavery and went on to become one of the first coloured graduates from an American college; who, after his graduation from Bowdoin College in 1826, joined Sam Cornish in establishing Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper in the United States?
Do we remember Mary Seacole (1805-1881), whose care of the British soldiers in the Crimean War and for Jamaican migrants in Central America made her a legend? There is a bust of her at The University of the West Indies in the Hall of Residence that bears her name. The question is: How many of the students who live in the hall know anything about Mary Seacole?
While the life and work of Marcus Garvey, our National Hero and celebrated pan-Africanist are well documented, the present generation knows little of another great Pan-Africanist, Dudley Thompson, and the contribution he made to Kenya’s fight for freedom.
I do hope that we will not allow Black History Month to pass another year without the media and our educational institutions using the opportunity to inform Jamaicans about our tradition of greatness, which will inevitably enhance our self-respect and self-confidence.
Let us always remember Garvey’s exhortation: “Without self-confidence, you are twice defeated in the race of life”.
Kenneth Churchill Neita is a veteran attorney-at-law and former Kingston College Manning Cup football star forward.