I’m a born Jamaican
Today I celebrate 48 years of being alive on this planet, and I am grateful.
I am grateful to be born in Jamaica, schooled in Jamaica, and for the opportunities God has given me to serve Jamaica for most of my life. What’s more, 30 years ago I graced the Miss World stage labelled as a Jamaican and won, giving me the chance to travel and see the world.
I am Jamaican first; every time and all the time. I am blessed with a feisty courageous spirit, a fierce character imbued with acts of mobilisation with an assertive and unapologetic resolve — defiant in the face of overpowering opposition that no one should ever bludgeon into surrender my hopes to improve my life and the lives of others.
However, I am not unique in this regard; we all have this within us. It’s in our DNA and should be stamped in our passports as a part of our biodata page. Truthfully, you can’t mistake a Jamaican for any other nationality. We always stand out from the crowd.
But lately, something sinister in Jamaica is shifting our instincts of personal activism, which caused us to want the best for ourselves and other Jamaicans. You just have to listen, watch or read the local daily news to understand what I mean.
Things are abnormal and out of control. We seem to have departed from confidence and courtesy to barbaric inflictions towards each other. The new order appears to be about covert operations of hurtful revenge thrusted upon anyone who ‘wronged’ us.
Seeing how we treat our Jamaican brothers and sisters is dangerously stressful. I don’t remember growing up with this kind of ‘barbarism on steroids’ in our country. Acts of slashing the throats of children and other relatives, raping and murdering young girls, and burning down and burning out people in communities are what govern our land today.
Last week when I went for my annual medical, for the first time my doctor said my blood pressure was high, and he had never seen that before. My blood pressure never returned to normal until the following day, and I realised that environmental factors triggered the increase. I was stressed from the violence and seeing the hate we continued to spew towards each other daily. I was sickened by the physical slaughtering. I was distressed, agitated, and anxious from feeling that the country and people I love so profoundly were disappearing and I feel helpless. And, if I am feeling this way, I can’t imagine how thousands of others are coping. Because if anyone should be able to trigger change it should be those who sit in the Houses of Parliament.
This is why I must ask: What is our generation’s leadership and governance mission?
If there is anything that I have learned over my lifetime, life happens fast — faster today than when I was young. The world isn’t waiting on anyone to make up their minds; there are always others more intelligent, hungrier, and more resilient.
Jamaica is, no doubt, behind international standards of economic development. Over the years, we have not improved the per capita income of our people, nor have we initialised Jamaican industries for global competition. Yet, even with the known underdevelopment, gore, and mayhem, the world still calls our name with reverence, respect, and love. Because, for many people across the globe, “Jamaica is their feel-good feeling,” synonymous with great people, impressive athletes, beautiful moments, flavourful food, and inspiring music.
As leaders, we need to harness the courage to think and act differently now and take conscious risks to step out of our programmed comfort zones and follow our humane instincts — not our political go-to playbook — and do the things that truly matter for our people that will allow them to prevail, give them peace of mind and solid opportunities.
As leaders, we must lead by example, both personally and professionally. Vitriolic attacks on one another do not count as courageous behaviour and can no longer pass as a political disagreement or campaign bluster. It’s time to come together and press the reset button for the fate of our nation.
This cannot be business as usual. Yet, as leaders, we seem to be walking backward into the future with our eyes wide shut, as so many Jamaicans fret daily, remain invisible, or are perishing at the hands of other Jamaicans.
Sixty-one years later, Jamaica finds itself at another historical crossroads. Every day, every Jamaican faces choosing between what’s right and what’s convenient. Short-term Band-Aids cannot remain our go-to response to building our country and people; this strategy has got us nowhere locally, globally, or even regionally.
Our reality necessitates us being urgently honest with ourselves. If we choose not to, we will continue sleepwalking in a society in which aggressive, violent behaviour and threats congeal into everything.
Therefore, no more blockbuster speeches and visits to homes after the fact. The many travels to and from seem like tokenism and picture ops, as individual and community safety continues to evade us like Tom chasing Jerry. And then we wonder why people don’t want to vote.
We are at a critical crossroads for resetting and repositioning who we are and what we want — moments to rekindle our souls and the soul of our beloved country. Now is the moment to give people connected hope for a better future to feel calm about their activism yet encouraged to fight for causes greater than themselves as they eschew the hypocrisy that says, “I can’t.”
We must now see this moment as a call to action when we start listening again, demonstrating that courage begins with us and we are ready to do what’s right versus what’s expedient, even if it means we should stand alone on our principles. Because courage must pave new roads, especially for the generations coming behind us — so that when we are gone, they can say: “They were ahead of their time.”
Therefore, as a born Jamaican, I don’t want to feel helpless. I want to live the rest of my life feeling safe and happy here, knowing all Jamaicans will have that experience too.