JANUARY 23, 2014
A few months ago the Rev. Dr John Keane called on me to introduce me to his book “I Promise” and we had an uplifting discussion! We exchanged views on the biblical undergirding of the values and virtues reflected in Jamaica’s National Pledge, and were in complete agreement that, if:
- a half of the people of Jamaica were to internalise the Pledge,
- our nation’s leaders from every sphere modelled it,
- and our children were to be brought up with these virtues and values embedded in their sub- consciousness,
Jamaica’s transformation into that place of choice anticipated in Vision 2030 would be accelerated and achieved.
The fact that you are all here this evening assures me that you also share that perspective. More than that, you acknowledge the need to be more than hearers of the word and have committed to the “journey of service” for the advancement of our beloved Jamaica and in the end, of the whole human race.
Mine, therefore, is the pleasure to extend warmest greetings to you this evening, as we are all companions on that mission for Jamaica to fulfil the destiny envisaged in our National Pledge.
The Rev. Dr Keane’s invitation for me to address you at this meeting was based on his ready appreciation of the synergies between the “I Believe” Initiative, which I launched in May 2011, and the objectives of this “I Promise” group. Interestingly, there is a similarity in the way both initiatives began.
The “I Believe” Initiative had its genesis in a series of declarations which I made in my inaugural speech on February 26, 2009, and Dr Keane’s book was what brought this group of like-minded citizens together.
In both cases, we recognized the need to take our convictions beyond the verbalization stage, so that there could be a tangible impact on our society. You know, more than I do, the transition from word to action in the I Promise experience.
In my case, I had a series of consultation with different stakeholders from the corporate world and civil society shortly after my installation, who impressed on me that the I Believe speech should go beyond talk and put in to action:
- They voiced their deep concern about the moral decay and societal deterioration which were robbing Jamaica of its chances for progress and were injecting fear, anxiety and negativity in our nation.
- They believed that the time was ripe for the non-partisan Governor-General to use his office in a determined effort to stem that tide.
- They were passionately convinced that if Jamaican youth could come to share the beliefs I had articulated and if they were motivated onto positive paths of self-actualization, our country would have a bright future.
I am not sure if you have read the speech on the King’s House or the “I Believe” Initiative website. I shall cite three of the declarations that were made on February 26, 2009:
- I believe that despite our challenges, our setbacks and our despair, we are a nation which has been blessed with a rich heritage, abundant resources, and the prospect of a bright future.
- I believe that the decent, dedicated, hardworking members of our society are in the majority, despite the violence, vulgarity, declining values and economic vicissitudes that confront us.
- I believe that every Jamaican at home and in the Diaspora can say with sincerity, “I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens”, in this island we call home.
After almost a year of consultations with youth, corporate Jamaica and other concerned citizens from across the island, we agreed to launch the IBI with a focus on youth from ages 15 to 35. Our activities would centre on three pillars: Youth, Education and the Family, in which values-based parenting would be one of the main features. We would partner with other organisations and individuals in diffusing the message and inspiring hope in our people that “there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica“.
We defined our Mission thus: “To create pathways through partnerships and to promote programmes that restore hope, belief, and sound values in Jamaica’s families, youth and education“.
The IBI will be three years old in May, a mere toddler in human age. Yet we have accomplished much more than one would have thought possible within our limited resources, but God has been great! Some excellent partners have come alongside, encouraging us with their moral and financial support, which has enabled us to offer several programmes in each of the three pillars.
We have a growing number of “I Believe” Ambassadors, all professionals, who were inspired by the IBI message and have committed to work with us in order to extend our reach and influence.
We are using both traditional and social media to get our messages out and have held several consultations and conferences with youth across Jamaica, the most recent of which was our highly successful National Youth Conference held October 2013. You may visit our website (ibelieveinitiative.org) for a full account of our journey to date.
One of the statements in Dr Keane’s book which grabbed my attention was in the chapter on “Appreciating our Values”. There Dr Keane argued for consistent articulation of our values in order for them to be engrained in our national consciousness. He said:
“This consistent articulation and practice of
organizational values is important in light of
the fact that so many organizational values exist
only on a framed statement on a wall and
have little effect on day-to-day operations.“
I do not think any of us could refute that statement. It is clear that if most of our workers were to be faithful to their organization’s Mission Statement, and should the attitudes of employers lend credibility to those Statements, Jamaica’s productivity would be exemplary.
Dr Keane shared with me that a primary concern of his at this time is creating a network of individuals who would commit themselves to inculcating the vignettes of the National Pledge into the lives of our people all across Jamaica. He correctly opined that the National Pledge would remain no more than mere words if there were no structure and activities to ensure that they permeate the national psyche and affect the way we live and conduct our affairs.
With the paucity of attention paid to our National Pledge, it is likely that less than fifty percent of our population can recite it from memory. Thus its potential as a transformational tool will be lost to us unless we act appropriately.
I also agree with Dr. Keane’s view that the Church has a pivotal role “in leading and exemplifying the changes needed in the Jamaican society”. He also pointed to the need for the Church to assess its methodologies in the context of its waning impact in society. Dr. Keane is not alone in this, as many church leaders have expressed both views and are seeking, under God, to rebuild their influence on the hearts and minds of our people.
I hear this in the several denominational Assemblies, Synods or Conventions to which I am invited in my capacity as Governor-General. I have also noted that the theme for this year’s Keswick Convention is “The Church: Image and Impact”.
We are all concerned that for the country which holds the Guinness Book of Records’ first place in the number of churches per square mile, that Jamaica should:
- be ranked among the murder capitals of the world, and
- hold such a low position on the global transparency index.
Clearly, for the transformation we seek in our island, it must begin with the Church and so I pray that all our denominations will commit to God’s leading for His greater glory and for the renewal which we so urgently need.
Dr. Keane posits that compliance with our National Pledge is not only a national obligation, “but also an act of obedience to God by His redeemed people, who empowered by the Holy Spirit are uniquely able to uphold its values to the glory of God and the blessing of the nation“.
This suggests, therefore, that the message of “iPromise” ought to be presented to church members and by church members in the variety of encounters which are possible. I don’t know how many are aware of this book. We can start by making it available to them. Members in the churches’ Youth groups and counselling teams in all denominations could benefit from the concepts in this book. In brief, there is much work yet to be done to get our churches to appreciate the value of the National Pledge.
Another ideal forum for action is our education sector. With the resumption of the teaching of Civics in our schools, the National Pledge should be high on the agenda. Perhaps persons from this group of “iPromise” partners could create a workbook for use in primary schools, in which the values identified in the Pledge could be discussed with children. They would then have a better understanding of what it is that they recite from time to time. For the secondary schools, “iPromise” partners could undertake to:
- address assemblies across the island,
- organize essay competitions, and
- host iPromise rallies.
All schools should also be encouraged to increase the frequency with which the Pledge is said.
You might also be interested in the “Respect Agenda” (RA) which is being developed by a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Mr. Reginald Budhan. One of the ways in which the R.A. will seek to extend its impact is through the appointment of Ambassadors who will serve with secondary schools from which they graduated. The idea is that their achievements will motivate students towards excellence.
The Respect Agenda is linked with Minister Thwaites who wants to see it promoted right across the education system. The IBI has agreed to partner with this project and, in fact, I have accepted the invitation to serve as its Patron. “I Believe” Ambassadors will no doubt be involved in this project.
As you might also be aware, since there has been discussion in the media, Ambassador Burchell Whiteman has been assigned the task of reviving the “Values and Attitudes” programme launched by former Prime Minister the Most Honourable PJ Patterson several years ago. That initiative was largely misunderstood and therefore fell by the wayside. As Ambassador Whiteman develops this revived programme, I am sure that a timely intervention on your part would help to strengthen his hand.
For you, as well as for the IBI, partnerships are important as none of us can achieve our objectives in isolation from each other. One of the groups which the IBI has endorsed is “Hands Across Jamaica For Righteousness” with which many of you might be familiar. They work with children across Jamaica whom they seek to motivate based on the Christian values perceived in our Motto, Anthem and Pledge. This is one group with which “iPromise” could also partner.
With specific reference to the IBI and the synergies with “iPromise”, discussions with Dr. Keane have led to agreement that our mentorship activities in which “I Believe” Ambassadors participate, would include concepts from the book.
Our Ambassadors will seek to incorporate the values and virtues identified in the Pledge in their interactions with mentees. I should add that several Ambassadors have been mentoring secondary school youth from a group selected by the school’s administration. Individual Ambassadors also work with other mentees or youth groups. They will have many opportunities to blend the IBI and “iPromise” messages.
We also decided that when “I Believe” Ambassadors are recruited, they will make a statement of their belief in the principles and values of the IBI and will end “I believe; therefore I promise“. At an early date I plan to invite Dr. Keane to address the Ambassadors, the better to prepare them for this aspect of their role.
The publication of this book, and the coalescing of partners around the concepts it espouses, come at a time of increasing concern about the state of our nation. We all have to seize that moment and collaborate in pulling our country back from the brink of social degradation. I believe that under God we shall accomplish this.
I therefore urge you to rally and stand by the Pledge; enflesh it; don’t let it languish and die.
I close with the words of Dr. Keane in the poem “A Fresh Wind”:
A fresh Wind is blowing over Jamaica,
I hear it on the airwaves, in the aspirations of our people
In the cries for transparency,
For justice, brotherhood and peace –
Blow wind blow!”