Commentary: Can Garveyism Improve Jamaica?

Commentary: Can Garveyism Improve Jamaica?

Commentary: Can Garveyism Improve Jamaica?

Jamaican leaders are hoping Black nationalist Marcus Garvey’s legacy can help the flagging island nation progress.

Published September 24, 2012

Jamaica celebrated 50 years as a sovereign country in early August, marking half a century since the small island nation got its independence from Britain. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer reasons for Jamaica’s less than 3 million full-time residents to celebrate these days. Gang and drug violence are spiraling out of control in Jamaica, where a poll from February of this year found that 6 percent of citizens had been victims of crime in the past 12 months. In that same month, Jamaican police incinerated nearly 2,000 guns in an effort to curb gun violence, gun running and police corruption:


Last year, a Jamaican police sergeant was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing guns and bullets from the Kingston armory. He was arrested after agents seized 18 high-powered weapons and 11,000 rounds of ammunition that were stolen for sale to criminals.


Bunting, who recently announced that he hopes to develop new policies encouraging police use of non-lethal weapons such as Tasers to stem a high rate of police killings, told reporters that reducing stockpiles can also "remove temptation" from rogue officers who may plant weapons.


Unfortunately, even if police burned all the guns, that’s wouldn’t be enough to put an end to crime in Jamaica. Guns assist criminals, but they don’t start crimes, and figuring out what starts crimes is the difficult task.


In a desperate attempt to find the root of crime in Jamaica, Jamaican officials are hoping that self-esteem issues might be one answer for what’s plaguing the country. Starting this year, Jamaica is instituting in all schools a mandatory class on Marcus Garvey, the Black nationalist leader most people remember for his “Back to Africa” movement.


Students from kindergarten through high school are supposed to learn values such as self-esteem, respect for others and personal responsibility by studying Garvey, whom Martin Luther King Jr. called the "first man on a mass scale and level to give Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny."




"We want all our children to believe they are important to what becomes of this country. Through Marcus Garvey, we see what it means ... to admit to no stumbling block that we cannot overcome," said Amina Blackwood Meeks, the Ministry of Education's culture director who led efforts to draft the Garvey-infused civics program.

While novel, Jamaica’s Garvey program is being criticized for intentionally avoiding stories about Garvey’s most controversial views, specifically that he believed in an absolute separation of the races and even once met with the Grand Wizard of the Klan to discuss the matter. Garvey even once called noted Black scholar W.E.B DuBois a “rabid mulatto who needed a horse whipping.”


Far be it from any foreigner to tell Jamaicans how best to run their country, but if they’re looking for a Black icon to set an example for leadership, Garvey is probably not the perfect candidate. That said, Garvey also loved his ethnicity, his Caribbean heritage and his people. He can be admirable for those qualities without needing to be perfect, and I think Jamaicans are probably smart enough to take the good from Garvey’s legacy and leave the bad.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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(Photo: AP Photo)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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