"WE must canonise our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honour black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history."
As the National Heroes' Day celebrations take centre stage, and our heroes are brought to the fore, I thought this a fitting time as any to explain why for me, Marcus Garvey is as relevant today as he was 80 years ago, albeit in a different time and social context.
And I'm not suggesting that the achievements and contributions of our other heroes and heroine are less significant, because undoubtedly each, in his/her own right, has done much for our development as a people and a country.
And no, I'm not a racist, nor do I believe in emigrating to Africa. In fact, I see past colour and I do try to judge each person on the content of his/her character. I am a Jamaican and the world is my oyster. But Garvey stands out, because many of the dreams he wanted for the black race in the 1900s, I want for Jamaica today.
"The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself, but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity."
Born in St Ann, in 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey is celebrated as the first black man to lead and develop a mass movement of people. He was the first man, on a mass scale, to give millions of blacks a sense of dignity and destiny. He was a visionary, whose teachings and philosophies are as relevant today as they were a century ago, especially for a country with a 90 per cent population of black people, though in a totally different time. Among the main tenets of his teachings were: a sense of pride in self, as a black race; respect for each other and the idea of black enterprise and entrepreneurship. If we would get these right, then Jamaica and the conceptual framework referred to as Brand Jamaica would be unstoppable.
Garvey taught self-belief, positive self-esteem and self-respect to black people at a time when the black race was considered less than second-class citizens. Such a concept was revolutionary then, and in some ways still revolutionary now. He emphasised education, and an awareness and appreciation of our rich African heritage, as avenues to locate a deep sense of self-identity, which engenders personal and national growth. To achieve greatness, Garvey believed that a people needed to believe in themselves, understand history and arm themselves with the knowledge of how to move forward co-operatively.
"The black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness."
It is therefore surprising that, more than 70 years after Marcus Garvey's death, we are still struggling with issues of love for our black self, so much so that skin-bleaching is a near epidemic. As Jamaicans, we need to draw pride from somewhere; pride in ourselves, pride in our country, pride in our achievements. Thus my strong belief is that Garveyism should be taught in schools from the primary level. Too many of our youth have little sense of identity, no idea of their past, and no interest in their future.
Understanding that the theoretical construct of national identity is about collectivity and connectivity, Garvey's teaching will help to provide that cognitive, moral, and emotional connection, which must be made between an individual and his/her broader community or category. With this in place, we would have created a system of meaning which allows people to feel a sense of oneness, security, inclusion, and belonging. Collective identity guides individual action, provides a moral compass and emotional connection with other people who share similar interests and ideologies in a broader community. Self-belief affects self-image, which affects nation development. A people who love themselves don't deface their skin. A people who love their nation don't deface national symbols, throw garbage on roads or in gullies, or urinate at every street corner or display blatant disregard for law and order. Pride in self must overflow to respect for each other. A people working together for the development of self and nation have no time to annihilate the brother working beside him.
"The Negro will have to build his own government, industry, art, science, literature and culture, before the world will stop to consider him."
Garvey also believed in economic self-sufficiency and financial independence, seeing this as the black race's only protection against discrimination. Once this economic foundation was created, they could then move on to social and political pursuits. Still, 50 years after Independence, Jamaica has neither economic self-sufficiency nor financial independence. Sadly, we have not been able to curb spending, while our taste for everything foreign continues to drive us deeper into debt. Last year the food import bill alone stood at US$959 million. Despite the Government's campaign to 'Eat what we grow; Grow what we eat' there has been little overall traction in encouraging demand for locally produced products or injecting enthusiasm in local manufacturing. But, this is where we need to look if we are to experience any economic success as a nation. Garvey truly got it right.
So, as the great visionary Marcus Garvey said: "We Are arbiters of our own destiny. God and nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own creative genius we make ourselves what we want to be." So, I guess the question is what do we want to be?
"Intelligence rules the world, ignorance carries the burden."
Melody Cammock-Gayle is the director — business development and marketing at Communications & Business Solutions (CBS) Limited. email@example.com