Prior to interning with Grace Kennedy Ltd. in Jamaica in the summer of 2007, Toronto-born lawyer Anthony Morgan’s only identification with the Caribbean country – the birthplace of his parents – was at a superficial level through popular culture, food and religion.
He was a participant in the company’s birthright program that started in 2004 to help broaden the horizons of second and third generation Jamaican university students living in Canada, the United States and England.
Morgan, who two years ago authored The Universal Charter of Media Representation of Black Peoples, said he was transformed into a Jamaica nationalist and Caribbean regionalist through his experience in the program.
“As a result of my participation in the program, I have become committed to a journey of learning ever more about Jamaica and the Caribbean, particularly in relation to our history, as well as our current position in the global arena of geopolitics, trade and development,” he wrote a few years ago. “This journey has also caused me to become increasingly influenced by a Caribbean intellectual heritage emanating from the thoughts, lives and works of individuals such as Marcus Garvey, Walter Rodney, CLR James, Eric Williams, George Beckford, Lloyd Best and contemporaries such as Kari Levitt, Norman Girvan, Anthony Bogues and Brian Meeks.
“My birthright program experience has ultimately moved me to use every opportunity I have to share what I have learned about the Caribbean and encourage other Caribbean young people to take a much keener interest in learning and caring about their regional heritage as it relates to Caribbean historical and geopolitical affairs.”
The eight-week program, aimed at students between the ages of 18 and 30 with a minimum grade point average of 3.0, was suspended five years ago.
At a recent networking session at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Grace Kennedy – which has collaborated with Jamaican universities to fund research and education projects and provide scholarships and grants – announced that the program has been resuscitated.
“This was a very popular program and young people from the Diaspora will once again be able to get a taste of what it’s like to work in the Caribbean market,” said Grace Kennedy Money Services (GKMS) chief executive officer Michelle Allen. “Beginning next year, they will be able to come for a month during the summer.”
Grace Kennedy launched the internship program a decade ago to help students in the Diaspora enhance their professional skills while reconnecting with their heritage.
The company’s chief executive officer, Douglas Orane, conceived the idea for the program while helping a family member, who was attending an American university at the time, fulfil his dream of scaling Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain.
Company employees host the selected candidates who will get hands-on experience in a wide variety of industries while being exposed to a variety of cultural activities.
In the past, the students worked in Kingston and travelled around the country at weekends.
Allen also announced that GKMS and Western Union have partnered to launch a scholarship program.
“This is for students in our host countries who are having challenges meeting their tuition costs,” she said.
Western Union Canada vice-president and general manager Don Delair said the financial services and communications company will offer four scholarships annually totalling $10,000 to pre-collegiate students in Canada.
The networking event, held under the auspices of the Caribbean Consular corps in Toronto with support from the Canadian Alliance of Black Educators, featured a keynote presentation by James Moss-Solomon, the executive-in-residence at the University of the West Indies’ Mona School of Business.
The theme of his presentation was “Engaging the Diaspora: Enriching the Caribbean”.
While the success of Jamaica’s schools is largely dependent on partnerships with alumni groups in Canada and the rest of the diaspora, Moss-Solomon encouraged nationals here to do more.
“Continue to love your schools of choice, but monitor implementation,” he said. “Go beyond sports, teach us peaceful integration and the tools of the global environment, influence the private sector foundations in the host country and continue to support your families at home. Help us with values and positive behaviour, help us to improve our image at home that shows in the world, help us to become as successful at home as you have become abroad and help us to re-learn the true pride that seems to be forgotten.”
A former Jamaica Chamber of Commerce president, Moss-Solomon graduated from McMaster University in the 1970s.
“I applied to McMaster and the University of Pennsylvania to study business and the Canadian university was the first to reply,” said Moss-Solomon. “I am glad they did because I met so many Caribbean people there during my four years. I left with a network of friends that has served me well while doing business in the Caribbean over the years.”