Geneive Brown Metzger’s philanthropy
Geneive Brown

FIFTY-FOUR years ago, in 1968, 15-year-old Geneive Brown left Jamaica with her family, and like many Jamaicans who arrive in the United States, she had the idea that she’d be there for a while and then return home. And as she grew up, she thought it would be good to give back, connect, and make a difference.

Later, in 2008, when Geneive Brown Metzger did her tenure as Jamaica’s eighth consul general in New York, she saw the posting as pivotal in her desire to improve US-Caribbean ties, as it opened her circle of relationships in the Caribbean, both diplomatically and commercially. That experience also had her realising the critical role of the maritime industry in the Caribbean.

She finished in 2012, took a year off, then founded the American Caribbean Maritime Foundation (ACMF) in 2015 to help young people, support the growth of the maritime industry in the region, and to radically increase the number of Caribbean crew on vessels entering Caribbean ports. She serves as president and executive director.

“I put my connections together and we went out, and it’s been blessed by God,” she said of the impact and success of the foundation. “People ask me: How do you raise this amount of money? And I tell them it’s the Lord. I feel that I’m very much in the centre of His will, in terms of what I’m doing to give back. I don’t care about the accolades, the national honours, I really just wanted to find a way that I could make a difference and change a life, and I feel that we’ve been doing that in the foundation.”

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The American Caribbean Maritime Foundation has as its mission alleviating poverty and transforming lives in the Caribbean through maritime education and community development, on the tenet that the maritime industry has a critical and unique role to play in reducing poverty, addressing gender inequality issues, and spurring economic growth in the Caribbean.

Beneficiaries are students from all over the Caribbean attending the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), University of Trinidad and Tobago, LJM Maritime Academy (Bahamas), and MatPal Marine Institute (Guyana). The foundation funds scholarships, grants, equipment for maritime training and education in the Caribbean, and also funds equipment, facilities, and infrastructure, including classrooms.

Its mission is informed by two game-changing realities in the Caribbean — the critical need for jobs as a basis for economic growth and to reduce poverty, and the potential of the maritime industry to significantly address the first.

“People tell us that we’ve been changing lives,” Brown Metzger told All Woman.

She highlighted two students whose stories have personally impacted her — a young man who was homeless and went to CMU and did extremely well after benefiting from a foundation scholarship, and a young woman who managed to take the steps to education in an effort to end generational poverty.

The young man completed his bachelors, in the process becoming the first in his immediate family to achieve this goal.

“With your help and commitment I was able to rise above the fact that I was a homeless individual at the Marie Atkins Night Shelter. No doubt this journey has really brought me to a place that I had to learn to appreciate everything in life (good or bad). I sincerely hope with all my heart that my story and ACMF will continue being a light for students like myself,” the young man wrote to the foundation.

In 2021, the foundation was able to double the number of recipients despite COVID-19, giving 20 scholarships, with the same expected this year.

A cultural connection to Jamaica, a desire to support aspiring maritime professionals, and the penchant for service didn’t happen by chance — Brown Metzger’s parents were early influences, also making sacrifices that impacted their children’s lives, and for the greater good.

Her dad slaved to buy a violin for lessons while she went to boarding school in Jamaica, and above all, preached the value of a sound education, wanting to raise independent children.

“My father always said, ‘If you don’t handle life, life will surely handle you,’ ” Brown Metzger said. “What I take away from that is that firstly, family is everything... and faith. But, in terms of our earthly influences, you have to take decisions about your life and try to take them early. My father wanted to raise independent girls; dad appreciated the value of education.”

And so the girl who boarded at St Hugh’s and was among the blessed few who took tennis and violin lessons, completed her education with a bachelors in political science from City University of New York as well as a masters from Columbia University.

Also a US-Caribbean foreign relations expert and social entrepreneur, Brown Metzger’s second job right out of graduate school was with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund, on the cusp of the 25th anniversary of the pivotal Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which reversed ‘separate but equal’ and began to dismantle segregation in the United States. Her first was at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she fuelled her activism in the same place as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, having grown up in Brooklyn, New York, during the peak of the civil rights movement in the 1970s.

One of Brown Metzger’s most challenging areas working as consul general was dealing with the issue of deportees, and she said she was inspired by Carmeta Albirus Lindo, a Jamaican criminal psychologist who did transformational work with deportees.

Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana receive the bulk of deportees from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, and Lindo has called on receiving countries, including Jamaica, to utilise the intellect of deportees from North America and Europe, many of whom are returning as qualified professionals.

Brown Metzger also cited one of her most rewarding work experiences with King’s House, which was the governor general’s I Believe Initiative (IBI) — Monroe College James and Manuela Goren Scholarship. She introduced the IBI to both the Gorens and Monroe College, leading to their co-sponsorship of the scholarship. The IBI has facilitated tertiary education for a number of bright but financially strapped students, and the partnership forged with the Gorens resulted in a four-year bachelor’s degree programme tenable at the New Rochelle Campus of Monroe College, New York, for the recipient.

For her part, Brown Metzger says she remains bullish on US-Caribbean relations and wants to broaden the perception of the Caribbean as not only a tourist destination, but a place to live, work, and invest, and at the same time, support aspiring maritime professionals.

“My mind is always working, it’s always on,” she said. “It’s always on, trying to figure out how to make the foundation reach more people. Work for me is not work, it’s a pleasure and a privilege. Someone once said that the fee for life is giving back.”

She added: “I left Jamaica as a 15-year-old, and what reverberated in my mind was myself as a young woman growing up in the 60s where things were very different, opportunity was not as ubiquitous as it is now, not for little black girls that looked like me,” she said. “I had to reflect on the little girls that looked like me who didn’t really have the solid family background, and I always tried to figure out how I was going to help.”

PETULIA CLARKELAWRENCE

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