While Jamaica should be proud of its many accomplishments in the post-independence era, the country is yet to reach its potential as a fully sustainable nation, Jamaican-born Canadian Superior Court Justice Michael Tulloch reminded nationals and friends of Jamaica at last Saturday night’s celebration to mark both the country’s independence anniversary and the anniversary of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA).
The JCA was established a month after Jamaica gained its independence from England 49 years ago.
“Independence is a journey, not a destination,” Tulloch, who left the Caribbean country at age nine, said in his keynote presentation.
“The vision of Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante has not yet been fully realized for all Jamaicans. The masses are still not educated; poverty is still very rampant in many segments of Jamaican society; economic disparity is still a sad reality and while the colonial masters are no longer Britain and the structure of colonialism has been dismantled to some extent, Jamaica is still struggling for its economic independence from multi-national corporations that are buying up the capital of Jamaica to the exclusion of locals who are unable to afford it as well as from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who have imposed restrictive economic policies on the country.
“While the crime rate is down, it is still too high for a country of Jamaica’s size, but the journey is continuing. I believe that we as a people have the will, the fortitude and the strength to make real the dreams of our forefathers. When you look at the contributions of Jamaicans in the Diaspora, I am totally hopeful.”
Tulloch, who was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada 20 years ago, singled out track and field as one of the areas in which Jamaica has stood out over the years. Late middle distance runner Arthur Wint won Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medal 11 years before independence.
Jamaica has won 13 gold, 27 silver and 21 bronze medals since making its summer Olympic debut in 1948, and 14 gold (seven in Berlin two years ago), 33 silver and 32 bronze medals at the World Track and Field championships that began in 1983. Jamaica swept the sprint gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning 11 medals overall and finishing third out of 204 countries in track and field.
In the same way Jamaica has shone in athletics, Tulloch noted that the country has been at the forefront and cutting edge of myriad genres of music in the last five decades.
“There is scarcely anything more Jamaican than our music,” he said. “It’s embedded in the psyche of our people. The songs, their lyrics and the dances reflect the essence of being Jamaican in a way that nothing else does.
“When Usain Bolt performed the nuh linga and gully creeper after his famous victories in Beijing, he wasn’t putting on a show as some of the Olympic administrators thought he was or being arrogant. What he was doing was simply being Jamaican.
“We are to be warned that our music, however, must uplift people and not debase or degrade them. We must reject the excuse given that that is the culture. It’s not our culture and it shouldn’t be yours.”
Tulloch said birthdays and anniversaries are times to reflect on “where we are coming from so that we can gain a sense of understanding of who we are as a people”.
“By doing so, we can assess where we are at and gain a clearer sense as to where we are going.”
He acknowledged JCA’s founding president Roy Williams and the organization’s first female leader, Kamala-Jean Gopie who attended the gala for laying the foundation so that his generation and other young people with Jamaican roots can have a community and organization that speak to them and help them bridge the cultural gap.
Former JCA presidents Karl Fuller, Nehemiah “Miah” Bailey and Valarie Steele were in the audience that also included former Consul General Stewart Stephenson who is vacationing in Toronto.
Current JCA president Audrey Campbell said the organization is proud of its accomplishments and the services it has provided for the Black community for nearly five decades.
“The hundreds of thousands of lives that we have impacted through our social services programs, the many scholarships we have presented to assist with educational pursuits, the Saturday Morning tutorials for students in the core subjects, Math and English, and our mentorship and employment programs in addition to advocating on behalf of our citizens at all levels of government are things we are proud of,” said Campbell.
“We have kept our core values of supporting families and building communities while still promoting our culture in Canada…
“As Jamaica and the JCA move forward on (the) exciting journey towards our 50th anniversary, I encourage anyone that is not a member to join us as we continue to build on the great legacy of our founders and the commitment of the members of this much loved and respected organization.”
Consul General George Ramocan acknowledged the impact Jamaicans are making in Canada and read a message sent by Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
“Despite all of our challenges, we have been blessed,” said Golding. “Though we are small, we have made a significant impact on the world. Our music, our prowess in sport, our cuisine, our attractiveness to visitors, and the respect we have earned in the important countries of the world are among the attributes that make us a proud nation.”
Ontario Minister of Health Promotion and Sport, Margarett Best and York West MPP Mario Sergio, also delivered greetings.
“You have come a long way since 1962 and we are very grateful to have your association in this riding,” said Sergio.
Lifetime awards were presented to Beryl Nugent, Joyce Myers and Eulalee Smith while the 25-year service award recipient was Cyndi Anderson. JCA vice-president Dr. Sylvanus Thompson was the winner of the Volunteer of the Year award; assistant secretary Janet Samms was presented with the President’s award and Dominican-born Francis Jeffers, who two decades ago created the Visions of Science Network for Learning to encourage Blacks and other under-represented young people to aspire to careers in science, math and technology, was the recipient of the Community Service award. MicroSkills executive director and community leader Kay Blair was presented with the Outstanding Achievement Award.
“I have had a lot of awards before, but to be recognized by your own is really significant,” said Blair who was recently appointed chair of the William Osler Health System’s board of directors. “It means that I have a community behind me that supports my success and really feels proud of my accomplishments.”