As Jamaicans reflect after 60 years as an independent nation and think of its cultural achievements, the nation and Jamaicans in the Diaspora should also reminisce on the early Jamaican pioneers who established a pathway for an independent Jamaica.
Jamaica gained independence, on Aug. 6, 1962, through the efforts and work of those brave Jamaicans who knew that the work had just began for a small nation. In its struggles after gaining independence, various changes occurred that made an impact on the world and the homeland. Changes for greatness were evident, its human capital was one of those changes. The changes brought challenges for Jamaica, however, when the annals are written on Jamaica’s ability and capacity for the last 60 years and the next sixty years. The stories chronicled will demonstrate how a small nation with an amicable spirit captivated the attention of the world. Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks in her “Jamaica 60” message to the Jamaican Diaspora, states, “Its significance is strengthened by the many struggles of our forefathers, to take control and direct our own destiny.” The legacy was given the “ball is in the hands of the Jamaicans.”
Since the early 1700s, Jamaica had educational institutions built within it spheres of development plans. The nation watched hundreds of years later as high schools that once were attended by only the rich and accomplished Jamaicans, became high schools for any Jamaican child, who had the ability and wanted to learn. This new era became a period of indignation for what some Jamaicans thought was unjust. The innovative spirit intensified when the educational opportunities opened the way for academic growth in history, sports, science, religion, arts, culture, tourism, entertainment, and diplomacy.
In all these areas of academia the Jamaican human resources have managed to propel and managed more than not, to leave quality impression. The development of the literary arts has grown exceedingly since the 1960’s. Jamaica is now host nation to an annual literary festival “Calabash International Literary Festival” a three-day event of reading and music in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. Colin Channer the renowned Jamaican novelist is organizer for the event.
The 2015 Man Booker Prize winner went to the noted Jamaican novelist, Marlon James. This is a literary prize for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Poet, painter and literary scholar, Lorna Goodison an accomplished writer with excellent skills in arts have magnified the Jamaican culture across the globe through skills. Jody-Ann Maxwell was 12 years old when she became the first non-American, to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion in Washington DC in 1998. Jamaicans in the legal fraternity in the Diaspora have excelled and exemplified themselves new and top appointments for legal positions in both city and state governments have always landed on their shoulders. Jamaicans are always at the forefront advocating for social justice since the days of the Right Hon. Marcus Garvey to this day, where there is now a “seat at the table” for them.
In Jamaica, you can always find a place for entertainment. The Jamaican music remains as one of the most internationally accepted, from the days of the ska, when Milly Small’s song “My Boy Lollipop” hit the chart in both England and the United States. To the rock steady, reggae and most lately the dance hall music all remain magical rhythms that have most people moving within minutes after hearing the melodious sounds. High end night-clubs in Jamaica are on par with the styles of night clubs in New York City and London. These clubs are owned and operated by some of the country’s greatest sports men, Courtney Walsh, Chris Gayle, and Usain Bolt topping this spectrum. There is a vibrant theater movement is the country, since the days of the British writer, Ian Fleming, who wrote scripts for his James Bond series from his house in Oracabessa, Jamaica. There are Jamaican scenes in some of these films.
The annual National Pantomime has made its way into Jamaica theatre since 1941 and productions have been exceptionally great. Jamaicans from all strata of the society demonstrate a willingness to experience the colorful customs and trends the shows offer, since the last 75 years. Making the National Pantomime the longest production taking place at the Ward Theatre, Downtown Kingston. The National Dance Theatre Company’s annual appearances in America has never ceased to gravitate a multicultural audience during its performances. This is a group that represents professionalism and represents the best of Jamaica. There are career actors and actresses who are synonymously part of the Jamaican workforce.
Sports in Jamaica is phenomenal. The Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships, “School Champs” is the popular phrase, is a four-to-five-day event when most high schools in Jamaica send their best runners to compete against other high schools from across the country to the National Stadium in Kingston. This first happened on June 29, 1910, and today there is now a coach in each high school in Jamaica. These achievements are great for a nation as small as Jamaica, which has not stopped winning medals since Jamaica’s first participated in the 1948 Olympics in London, England. The Jamaicans ran in three events. They won two gold medals, and the other medal was a silver. “The rest is history.” Since 1948, Jamaica has not missed returning home after the Olympics without a medal. Jamaica has missed only the 1956 Olympics. To date Jamaica boasts as the best in sports in the world. It is so when one think of the population per capita ratio.
In times, we have seen the rise of legends in the sports, specifically Track and Field. But this is not new to Jamaicans, the pathway was paved with former athletes such a G. C. Foster, Bert Cameron, Deon Hemmings, and Merlene Ottey, who have branded Jamaica as a track and field giant during the seventies, and eighties. Not neglecting the names of all the unsung sports heroes who helped hurdled the Jamaican team to winning final races in the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and the Penn Relays. The trend the ability for excellence is engraved into the minds of the participants in the “School Champ.”
Each child runs for an opportunity to be great. The most decorated and famous athlete, Usain St. Leo Bolt, has undeniablly taken the nation and the Jamaican athletes to a greater stage of Jamaica’s sports development. His fellow sports icons such as Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Frasier-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah and Asafa Powell now have major sponsors or had after decades of arduous work that went by un-noticed, but Usain Bolt has defied the world. At each international sports game Jamaicans are expected to win races. “If we are to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of those efforts from the backbone of our Jamaican society . . . we must be prepared to utilize these positive indicators.” Jamaican Ambassador to US Audrey Marks stated in her independence message to Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
There are multicultural restaurants in City Kingston with fine delicacies and expensive palates prepared and served in high-end restaurants. The Jamaican food is exceptionally tasty, delicious, and mouthwatering. Folks in New York City lined themselves to order some from Jamaican restaurants. In Jamaica, each year at the annual food festivals, . . . Jerk festival, fish festival, breadfruit festival and mango festival. Jamaicans and friends gathered just to eat the tasty food.
Although nursing homes are not new to Jamaica, it is now becoming a thriving business in the parishes of Manchester and Westmoreland. Certainly, if this can be sustained it will serve the clients well especially for the returning home. The cost is less in the Jamaican currency.
The world by now has gotten a good glance on the capacity and capability of the Jamaican people. The beauty of the people or the nation has not been hidden. Since 1962, Jamaica has had five winners in the Ms. World Beauty Pageant, the first in 1963 and the last one in 2019. Its stable and magnificent representations are always eloquent and beautiful young women. The nation has always seen these young women in the top ten in both the Miss. World and the Miss Universe International beauty pageants each year.
Serious and steady work need to be done to eliminate crime and as the former editor of the North American Edition of the Jamaican Gleaner as well as former editor of the Jamaican Record, Virginia Turner notes so sincerely, “Jamaica is paradise…the only serpent is crime.”