Welcome to King’s House! It is good that you are here to share in the awards ceremony of the Jamaica Information Service’s National Heritage Essay Competition.
Firstly let me congratulate the Jamaica Information Service on the excellent way in which you have involved students in the commemoration of our golden jubilee. You have piqued a lot of interest with your provocative essay question: “50 Years later… Do we Still Need National Heroes?”
Through this heritage essay competition, you have done a service to the communications profession and to Jamaica. You have focused young minds on their country’s history and heritage, which helps them to reflect on the relevance of that heritage. This is important as it is at the primary or prep school level that we have to start engaging minds, to build a sense of loyalty and patriotism in our children.
You at the JIS, have challenged young minds to think critically and analytically about the reasons for the selection of our seven National Heroes. They would therefore have been obliged to consider the characteristics required of a hero. They would also have had to consider our achievements in the fifty years of Independence; review today’s realities and determine whether or not we still need heroic leadership and role models for such a time as this.
It would be interesting to know the consensus of all participants on the qualities which National Heroes must display. If there were to be but one area of agreement, I believe it would be that the Hero must have acted on behalf of his or her people without regard to personal sacrifice, recognition or reward. Heroes leave lasting impressions on the past and influence the present and future. Too often, regrettably, it is long after their death that the value of their contribution is even understood.
I dare say we as adults would also do well to ponder these issues and to look back at our history, for too many of us have a jaundiced view of that history. Too many of us have a short-range perspective and too narrow a prism through which we view present-day events. We need historical perspective. This is why an essay competition like this is so important. In our Fiftieth year of Independence, it is appropriate that we contemplate the contribution of our National Heroes and see in them role models for the legacy we would also like to leave for future generations.
A study of our National Heroes and their struggles shows a continuum. You can see the path which led inexorably from the 1831 Christmas Rebellion, through the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, the civil rights and black empowerment activism of the Rt. Excellent Marcus Garvey, to the self-government and Independence movement under the leadership of our Founding Fathers. Nanny of the Maroons was a symbol of strength and unity for our people.
Each National Hero exemplified self-sacrifice and devotion to country over self, giving of their very best to this country in their respective period of our history. Therefore we honour them and affirm their role in our development. Their torch lights the path for future generations in their quest to build our nation and leave their own legacy.
It is the responsibility of each generation to ensure that children understand and appreciate their history and their heritage, which are really what undergird our national identity. As the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey stated, “A people without the knowledge of their past, history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.” They are in great risk of becoming disconnected from that knowledge if it is not reinforced by projects such as this conducted by the JIS.
Today’s children are exposed to other cultures and social practices, especially through the entertainment world and via the Internet. It is important that they understand their own heritage and appreciate the value systems derived from that heritage. That is one of the reasons I am pleased that Civics will be restored to the school curriculum. We want our students to be proud of their roots, of who we are as a people, how we are governed, and to believe in the capacity of our people to excel. We want all our young people to be inspired to realize their full potential in the security of caring communities.
And so the adults among us this morning, I say let us infuse in our children that spirit of community; that spirit which elevates communal interest over purely personal and selfish interests; that spirit which seeks the common good rather than personal gain. In times of hardships and challenges, we need people of courage and confidence. People like our National Heroes. They were nothing if not courageous and confident.
They were not intimidated by the mountains of obstacles and roadblocks in the way. Rather, they were energized by them. They were fired up to bring out the best in themselves.
Let our children see in us heroes whose lives teach them honesty, kindness, discipline, self-control, good work ethics and care for the vulnerable among us. We must communicate to them in their growing years the beliefs, values and positive attitudes of our National Heroes which are a fundamental part of the fabric of our society. Let them see us as brave in handling the nation’s social challenges. Let them see us restoring hope and infuse them with the spirit of the ‘I Believe’ messages.
Now, I want to say to you children: You, too, can be heroes. You, too, can emulate our National Heroes. You, too, can make a difference in your generation. You can begin right now; begin by respecting yourself and showing respect for others. When you show respect to your teachers, your parents, your elders and to every Jamaican, you are standing in the tradition of our National Heroes.
How do you start to be a hero? Children, stand up for justice. When you stand up for the rights of those who are being bullied at school, and when you yourself refuse to bully anyone, you stand in the tradition of the heroes! You must show respect to all persons, even to those with whom you disagree; in fact, especially to those with whom you disagree! Be courteous to everyone! Be considerate to everyone! Be kind to everyone. Jamaica needs heroes like that.
Start laying the groundwork so that in decades to come people will benefit from what you did and see you as a hero or heroine. Just as you are the motivated beneficiaries of what our National Heroes have bequeathed, may future generations of Jamaicans be inspired by your legacy.
I congratulate all those who participated in this national heritage essay competition. It is a great initiative and I hope you learnt from the lessons. I especially congratulate the winners today. Keep up the good work. Stay ahead and be a hero in your own right, as you build Jamaica… land we love.