Jamaica 55 — Time to get it right

Al Miller

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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Another Independence Day has come and gone. It should be a time for revisiting and renewal of the vision of the founding fathers: Jamaica — a place where true respect for all is taught and lived, where patriotism, compassion, justice, and truth reign as natural character traits of individual citizens, our culture and our national ethos. It should be a time of recommitment to transforming the vision into reality.

We have come a long way and we have achieved much. We have overcome much, but we have also destroyed much. There is much that has to be reclaimed and restored in order to maximise the gains of the past. We must learn to build upon these gains in order to move into the dimensions that we have the capacity to attain. It's time to get it right.

We are championship material

The current International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships are a strong reminder of our capacity — who we really are. Despite the disappointments in some instances, our athletes have demonstrated the inner fortitude and attitude to rise above the setbacks, encourage each other, and press on.

Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson are doing that well. Omar McLeod set himself to win, and persisted despite the disappointments of the previous days. Ristananna Tracey displayed heart and earned another bronze for the tally. We are proud of them.

That is a reflection of the true Jamaican spirit or what I'd like us to call the “Jamaican gene”. It is that ability and potential to do anything to which we put our minds. Being an authentic Jamaican is being “tallawah” — resilient, hard-working, driven, and confident. We “tun wi han' and mek fashion”. We are creative, productive, innovative, resourceful and passionate. We are kind-hearted, warm and friendly; fun-loving and caring; happy and easy-going. We are peace-loving. We are God-fearing, law-abiding, and disciplined. We are nation builders and defenders. We are go-getters. We go hard and done. We are world-class and first-class!

We must now take that 'Jamaican gene', harness it, and direct it towards nation building in two ways:

1. strengthening the positive gains; and

2. overcoming negative losses.

Let us not, because of embarrassment, hide from problems or failure, but rather, let us identify and confront them and establish plans and strategies to overcome.

The PM has the right words

I share many of the sentiments that Prime Minister Andrew Holness so eloquently captured in his Independence Day message. He said: “We are a tough and courageous, purposeful and determined people… equal to any task once we put our collective minds to it. There are some challenges, but I have no doubt that we can successfully defeat them.”

He went on to say, “We are a self-respecting nation; proud, free, and quite capable to be masters of our own destiny. We have many things to give to the world. We seek no special favours. There is no reason for us to be poor; with our creative human capital and fortitude in tackling our economic challenges there is no problem we can't defeat.”

That kind of attitude, mindset and language is what I expect from a new-era prime minister. It gives me hope for the future that we can make it. That spirit and approach excites something in me, as Michael Manley did in my youth. Unfortunately, as I have said before, Prime Minister Michael Manley milked the cow and then kicked over the can of the milk, causing great disappointment. I pray that this new-era prime minister will not do the same, but will instead keep faith in God, stay focused, humble, open, and committed to be bold and courageous, step out of the box and be willing to take on the challenges that are eating away at our foundations.

He has to be willing to go where others have not gone, and do what has not been done to break down barriers. He must build bridges, dismantle negative configurations, remove systems and structures that have inhibited and hindered real growth and development. He has to be strong enough to say “no” to the power brokers who are content to maintain the status quo of keeping economic power and wealth in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many. He must say “no” to the old-style, tribal politics; “no” to the oppression and injustice meted out daily to the poor by agents of the State. He must have a readiness to completely transform the police force and create a new culture, mindset and approach, and say “no” to the maintenance of garrisons and the donmanship culture itself — a source of added oppression and injustice on the poor. These are entrenched issues that have been with us for a long time. But we can defeat them.

Window of opportunity

This is our 55th year of Independence and the fifth year since our jubilee. Jubilee, in biblical understanding, was given by God to the Jews to be celebrated after seven cycles of seven years. The jubilee year was year 50.

Everything was counted as against the 50-year cycle. After the jubilee they started counting again at one. They were to cancel all debts, free the slaves, and restore all lands taken. It was to be a time of liberty, restoration, and a fresh start. Jubilee brought social and economic freedom for everyone in the country.

Against that measure, it was a season that we did not make the most of. Now, five years later (since biblically, five is the number of grace — God's kindness and favour), it is high time to initiate action to deal with these specific challenges. If not tackled, they will continue to hamper and derail the gains that are being made. A dedicated task force is needed to aggressively examine these entrenched issues and provide solutions.

A wicked reminder

The senseless, brutal slaying of another of our fine inner-city youngsters full of potential and promise — Mickolle Moulton, a 17- year-old student of Meadowbrook High School and resident of Arnett Gardens — is a stark reminder of some of what has gone fundamentally wrong with our society. After 55 years, isn't it now way past time to put an end to the scourge of garrison culture? How long shall we continue with this depravity going unchecked? Will we mature sufficiently to say, “No more!”?

The slaying of Mickolle reminds us that political tribalism, garrisonisation, and the donmanship culture have produced zones of exclusion where social maladies abound: the deliberate provision of guns to youth who are unfit mentally and emotionally to be gun owners; out-of-control crime and violence, proliferation of guns and ammunition; a subculture where even children appear to be fair targets in local wars.

Whether Mickolle was killed for rejecting sexual advances or whether the shooting was the result of gang warfare, as alleged by some, it is abhorrent. We should be outraged, whatever the reason. Why should the lives of our children be so expendable that anyone could walk up to a window at night and shoot two girls as they slept?

Let us make no bones about it. The exploitation of young girls has been and continues to be one of the scourges of the garrison culture. It may or may not be the reason for this particular killing, but it is certainly a common practice. As a society we cannot be content to allow this kind of oppression to continue.

Tackle, don't just talk

These issues are only talked about instead of being tackled as priority in meaningful, transformative ways. We cannot afford to forget that the evil garrison culture is oppressive and is destroying our youth. No young girl should have to face the indignity of being ordered to “bathe and come” to satisfy the lustful desires of so-called dons. Neither should our young men be pressured to smoke weed and take up guns to “defend” the community. Our young people are faced daily with pressure to show support for the garrison system; otherwise they will be alienated or punished by the gang culture. The education system does not adequately prepare them to enter the job market, nor does it give them a solid moral base to enable them to resist the cultural pressure to conform to the garrison ethos.

The persistent feelings of emptiness and hopelessness that afflict our inner-city youth must be brought to an end. It is unjust to keep ignoring their degradation. A new era must offer new hopes of justice, peace and prosperity. It is time for true independence to become a reality for all our citizens. We can no longer be content to leave large segments of our society enslaved to the culture that pervades urban garrisons and deprived rural areas.

Mindset and behaviour

Fundamentally, mindset change is what the country needs. This is not limited to the culture of the garrison and the deprived rural areas; the entire Jamaican society must change its mindset. We have been content to ignore the problems in the deprived areas as long as those problems are contained within those special zones. We have exhibited a dangerous lack of empathy for our fellow citizens which reinforces the sense of exclusion and isolation that is engendered by the garrison culture. We must change the 'we and dem' culture and truly embrace our motto “Out of many, one people”.

Those of us who are able must shoulder the added responsibility to advocate for change, bring pressure to bear on the political leadership, and serve the communities. We must take responsibility for our national destiny and apply ourselves with diligence to work to create the change within our sphere of influence.

We need our leaders to remove and dismantle the negative systems and structures, and replace them with systems and structures that can fulfil our hopes and dreams and aspirations. It can be done. It must be done. Come, Mr New-Era Prime Minister, lead us into it and let's do it!

Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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