Garvey's words come to passTuesday, August 17, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
THE Black Lives Matter movement in the United States may be the catalyst which revives a level of consciousness and the ideals of National Hero Marcus Garvey in popular culture, particularly our music. That is the thinking of noted Garvey scholar Professor Rupert Lewis.
Today marks the 134th birthday of Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero.
Lewis — professor emeritus in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus — likened the current social turmoil in the US to the 1970s when there was a renaissance of consciousness inspired by the Black Power Movement. Then, young people in Jamaica and the Caribbean affirmed their blackness. This, he said, led to the Grenada Revolution of March 13 1979 led by Maurice Bishop. It ousted Prime Minister Eric Gairy in a coup organised by the New Jewel Movement, a Marxist–Leninist party which sought to prioritise socio-economic development, education, and black liberation. Bishop was installed as prime minister of the newly established People's Revolutionary Government.
Lewis further credits the reggae revolutionaries of the time, such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, for helping to spread this consciousness which fuelled the liberation movement in southern Africa. This, he said, is evidenced in then-Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's invitation to Bob Marley to be special guest performer at Zimbabwe's Independence celebrations on April 18, 1980. Since then there has been a disconnect.
“Jamaica and much of the world have fallen to the neo-liberal movement and the ideas which are considered radical are now in abeyance. What we are witnessing is the dominance of market forces and artistes are basically speaking about money. This has eclipsed consciousness,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
The academic noted that there is a glimmer of hope through Black Lives Matter.
“What you saw in those recent protests (against the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd) was the red, black, and green, and there has been a resurgence of Garvey and his teachings. This is having some impact here and should spill over into the work of the creatives. It can be seen in a strong cadre of young artistes who are driven by Rastafari,” he said.
If there was one guiding philosophy of Garvey that the youth and creatives should cling to, Lewis advises it should be the need to seek out information.
“They must develop their mind and cultivate a level of intelligence. Garvey showed this in his leadership. Reading is essential to increase their grasp of the world and understand reality. It is essential that our artistes are thinkers who hold up that mirror to society,” said Lewis.
Garvey, like Marley, hailed from St Ann. His teachings and philosophies are integral to members of the Rastafari community, as well as the Nation of Islam, and Black Power Movement.
He was the founder and first president-general of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL, commonly known as UNIA).
Founder of the pan-African movement, he died in London in 1940 at age 52.