Diaspora lashing MoBay deputy mayor for calling migrants 'cowards, unpatriotic'
Yet another first:Jamaican-American mayor of Miramar, Florida, Wayne Messam (left) is congratulated by Miami Consul General Oliver Mair and attorney Ali Smith, the first black woman to head the near 100-year-old Broward County Bar Association, after he was sworn in by a former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, as the first black president of the Florida League of Mayors. Both Messam's parents are Jamaican, hailing from Manchester.

New York, USA — A fast-rising Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor has set off a firestorm of criticism in the Jamaican Diaspora, after he was quoted in a news report as describing Jamaicans who migrated as "cowards and unpatriotic".

"Only cowards run away to go to America because they are seeking out opportunities," The Gleaner newspaper reported Montego Bay Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon as telling a back-to-school fair in the western city last week.

"Opportunities are there overseas, but do not run away and leave your country, especially indefinitely, and you don't want to contribute to the further development of your country. You same one who are saying the country is not going on with anything, what are you doing to develop your own country?" Vernon reportedly said in his August 11 speech.

Among the prominent Jamaican-Americans who lashed Vernon was Ali Smith, who smashed Florida's legal tradition by becoming the first black woman to be elected president of the almost century-old Broward County Bar Association.

VERNON... under fire from Diaspora.

"It is disappointing to read rhetoric suggesting that those of us who live abroad are cowardly and unpatriotic. Most will tell you they left out of necessity and not desire," said an angry Smith.

"Further, we show our patriotism and love for the island by sending money and goods 'home' to our loved ones, having investments in Jamaica, purchasing homes and land, vacationing in Jamaica, promoting and encouraging tourism and, importantly, challenging any negative stereotypes of Jamaicans by excelling and thriving in various industries showcasing our various talents.

"In fact, at a recent event, an American judge expressed to me that it was remarkable what a significant impact Jamaicans have had here in the US given the size of the country. I hope Jamaicans on the island can be proud and supportive of us and that this represents the mindset of the few and not the many," said Smith in a comment to the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

Vernon, who is in his early 30s, ran successfully for the Montego Bay South division in the St James Municipal Corporation on a JLP ticket in September 2020 and was later named deputy mayor. In 2019 he was voted a prime minister youth awardee.

DUNKLEY... Diaspora doesn't suffer fools.

Some members of the leadership of the United States-based Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC) demanded that the deputy mayor clarify his position or issue a complete retraction and apology.

"This type of outburst is insensitive, outrageous, arrogant and shows a lack of education and understanding of the role being played by Jamaicans overseas to help develop their country," Dr Allan Cunningham, of the GJDC for the southern US, struck back.

He said it was unfortunate that any Jamaican shared similar sentiments, but "for it to be coming from somebody who is in a leadership role is disappointing, as there is absolutely no truth in what has been said".

Dr Rupert A Francis, head of the non-profit Jamaican Men of Florida, said he was equally outraged about the deputy mayor's comment, suggesting that "the outburst could not have come at a worse time".

He said the diaspora had been working hard to establish a serious mechanism of engagement to advance its contribution to the development of the country, and pointed to the millions of dollars in remittances which migrants had been contributing to the Jamaican economy over many years.

"People have migrated and continue to migrate for various reasons, many out of sheer necessity," he argued, adding that "it is high time Jamaicans who have left the country are not looked on as abandoning our homeland".

The GJDC's representative for the north-east US, Dr Karren Dunkley said: "The deputy mayor has provided an asinine response to the very complex and critical challenges facing Jamaica. The Global Jamaica Diaspora does not need to defend its extraordinary contributions to our beloved homeland; therefore, we will not dignify these remarks with a cogent response. The diaspora will not suffer fools!"

And a former member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Dwight P Bailey described Vernon's address as "the type of utterance that can only turn off people in the diaspora who have genuinely worked hard to assist the country and continue to do so".

"The idea that Jamaicans who have migrated are living the high life without any struggle is a myth. We work as hard or harder than many back home and most times under severe and adverse conditions," said Bailey.

Florida attorney Calrie Marsh, meanwhile, suggested: "Rather than cowardly, the 'C' word the deputy mayor is looking for is 'courageous' to describe the brave men and women who leave behind a beautiful country (out of necessity) to provide for those they leave behind."

Norman Murray, a telecommunications technician, commented: "When the Jamaican Government can guarantee my safety or provide an easy means of me protecting myself as a returning resident, I'd gladly consider returning to Jamaica to live."

By Harold G Bailey Observer writer

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