NAJASO, Jamaicans in the US look to the future
The activities of the umbrella National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organisations (NAJASO) in the United States demonstrate that the role of the diaspora is much more than the remittances that it sends to families and organisations back home.
NAJASO, which concluded its three-day 37th annual conference in the Washington, DC area yesterday, is itself in transition but has, unlike many other organisations, happily embraced the process, as was evident in the seminar and workshop discussions about the transformation of Jamaica's economy and society and the need for modernisation of NAJASO as an organisation.
Over the years since its formation in July 1977, NAJASO has been of substantial benefit to Jamaica, rallying our nationals through their various community organisations in the US, especially at times of great need. As a country we owe a debt of gratitude to the late Senator Alfred Rattray, then Jamaica's ambassador to the US, whose initiative led to the establishment of NAJASO. Its just-concluded conference in Washington, where representatives of Jamaican groups from across the US held their first meeting, shows the organisation has come full circle.
We should also salute other significant individuals, such as the first president, Rev Collin Bennett of Hartford, Connecticut. During his five-year tenure, several projects were implemented, including financing of the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy, better known as JAMAL and now styled Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL); the Adopt-A-School programme, under which many basic schools were built; the 1978 Marcus Garvey Scholarship Fund which finances three Jamaican students attending the University of the West Indies; and the erection of a bust of Mr Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero, located in the Hall of the Americas, Organisation of American States, in Washington in 1980.
Subsequent presidents such as Ms Cathy Tomlinson and Dr Alston Meade carried on the tradition with projects providing relief supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, sending numerous medical teams to various parts of Jamaica, medicines/medical equipment to hospitals and the Ministry of Health and contributions to basic schools. Current President Nick Nugent from Baltimore is rightly emphasising the inclusion of young members to refresh the leadership cadre, as well as the expanded use of modern communications technology.
Bringing younger persons into the leadership of Jamaican community organisations in the US is a major challenge reflecting the changing needs of Jamaicans. In the past, community organisations were essentially focused on providing charity to Jamaicans in need and disseminating information in the days before Internet, giving the Jamaican communities a collective voice.
Modern communications and a shift among the young to a focus on professional career advancement, rather than nation-building, have posed a dilemma. Those most able financially and intellectually to contribute are the least available to give time to community organisations.
It is here that NAJASO, its leadership and members have put their focus and must continue to do so, if they are to maintain their place of prominence among their compatriots who live in the US and those who serve their beloved island home in its greatest hour of need.