Today, we pay tribute to the fortitude, determination and bravery of our ancestors. Emancipation Day, August 1, 1838 was a defining moment in the history of Jamaica, and it affirmed the inalienable right of ex-slaves to life and liberty. At last they had hope that they could be masters of their own destiny and contribute to the creation of a society in which their children would not have to grow up as slaves, but as free human beings.
No longer would the weak and sickly ones, who could not manage rigorous plantation work, be deliberately drowned at sea as the ship owners or Merchants select fit ones. The Zong Memorial in Black River, St Elizabeth stands as a grim reminder of the inhumane treatment that was meted out to the slaves, and is a blemish on the history of mankind.
The road to freedom which our ancestors charted 171 years ago is littered with sacrificial struggles, and today we need to rediscover the passion and zeal which motivated them in their quest for freedom.
Unfortunately, we continue to be enslaved in many ways. Low levels of education prevent us from being liberated from mental slavery and poverty. We still find ourselves obligated to others, and even among ourselves we are still shackled by intolerance, lack of respect, breakdown in family life, neglect and abuse of our children.
In addition, we continue to struggle with meritocracy where persons feel excluded from opportunities of educational advancement and the social and economic enrichment of their lives. These factors are crippling our prospects for development and demand that we continue to struggle to be emancipated from them also.
We have to rekindle hope in a vision for Jamaica. I believe the time has come for us to rekindle the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our African ancestors. This aspect of our past should inform our strategic objectives for the future. Our Motto, “Out of Many One People” must mean that every single Jamaican, from whichever background or ethnic origin, should coalesce around a common goal to free this nation from the ills which are gradually enslaving us.
We need to be courageous, to say to the few among us who are demeaning our country that we are no longer prepared to accept things the way they are. They must understand in no uncertain terms that Jamaicans want to restore a value system where the measure of a real man is not by the number of guns he slings, the number of persons he kills, or the number of children he sires, but rather, the extent to which he cares for, and supports his family.
I believe that each of us is placed here by our Creator to enhance the quality of life of those around us. In this regard, a rekindling of the spirit of volunteerism will see us working together to heal our nation. Let us plant seeds of hope in the hearts of our young people so they can dream dreams of who they can become, and the contribution they can make to Jamaica.
National Hero the Rt. Excellent Marcus Garvey once said, “…life is not worth its salt except you can live it for some purpose. And the noblest purpose for which to live is the emancipation of the race and the emancipation of posterity.”
We need to realise that the destiny of Jamaica is bound up in the destiny of all of us. I therefore urge all Jamaicans to give meaning and purpose to your lives; speak with one voice and demonstrate that together we all believe in Jamaica.
Thank you and may God bless you!