As we celebrate yet another Emancipation Day, let us continue to remind ourselves of the hard-fought struggles which led us to achieve that momentous victory over oppression.
Let us never take for granted the heroic efforts waged by our forebears, particularly Sam Sharpe, to secure the foundation of freedom on which we stand. Our ancestors stood valiantly against an horrendous system of injustice and exploitation with some, like Daddy Sharpe, paying with their very lives. They were willing to sacrifice their own lives to ensure that we today could enjoy our liberties. Many were beaten brutally, but the pain inflicted only deepened their resolve.
How our ancestors summoned the faith to keep pushing, in the face of what seemed like the invincibility of slavery, was simply amazing. We are not a people who can be kept down forever. Freedom is in our DNA. Ours is a heritage of incredible self-sacrifice, courage, resilience and hope. Today we need to reaffirm these values.
We need to strengthen our bonds of community. We need to have a deep care for one another, knowing no one is an island. We have to care what happens to our neighbor. We have to see that what is a threat to one is a threat to all. Our forebears had that sense of community, which drove them to collectively confront that system of bondage which seemed insurmountable. But there is no force which can stand against our unity. On this Emancipation Day, we have to remind ourselves of that.
Today is a day to reinforce hope. I have launched the Housing, Opportunity, Production, Employment programme with the acronym HOPE, helping people to excel, because I firmly believe in the power of hope. It was hope which fueled the passion of those who fought for Emancipation. Stripped of every form of power externally, our predecessors cherished and nurtured the power of hope within their hearts; from which sprang the wellsprings of courage to defeat slavery. They believed, as Martin Luther King Jr would often say, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.
And this struggle for justice, fellow Jamaicans, is one that must continue. We have a duty to history to advance our emancipation. We certainly cannot afford to betray history by any retreat or surrender. We cannot cede one inch of emancipated Jamaica to any force that would impinge on our freedom. No community in Jamaica today, 179 years after Full Free of 1838, should be under the control of any criminals who dictate people’s movement.
We owe it to those who fought tirelessly and defiantly for our emancipation to ensure that no Jamaican today has their freedom trampled by criminal forces. People have a right to go to their prayer meetings at night without having to fear that they won’t make it back home safely. Their freedom to assemble with their brethren must be secured by a Jamaican state that is working in their interest and for their security.
No citizen who is paying extortion fees to open his little shop or to run his licensed taxi is enjoying the fruits of emancipation. Our ancestors did not fight for our freedom only to have it snatched away by criminals who would keep us locked in our homes while they roam the streets freely to do evil. No, the Jamaican people deserve their full freedom.
They deserve peace and security. Our children must be free to study at nights and not be terrified by gunshots. They must be free to attend school in the day and go to extra classes in the late afternoon without any fear whatsoever.
Emancipated communities are safe zones, where residents enjoy all the civil liberties enshrined in democratic society. Fellow Jamaicans, we must see emancipation in a holistic sense. There is no sustainable emancipation without economic growth. Full freedom means that people have access to work, education, health care, housing and adequate community amenities. Economic freedom has to accompany political freedom. Civil liberties are limited without economic opportunity.
In her book, No Bond but the Law historian Diana Paton wrote that “on August 1, 1838… The newly free members of the Mount Zion mission in Jamaica paraded to celebrate their freedom. They marched to the church and schoolhouse… with banners which read, ‘wages are better than whips’, ‘We will work for our wives and children’ and ‘No bond but the law’’.
Those banners told an important story: The indivisible link between emancipation and economic liberty, and the importance of the rule of law. In that case, the Emancipation Act.
Today, we carry on that mandate of advancing economic liberty, while protecting and promoting the rule of law, in the interest of the people.
This Emancipation Day calls for sober reflections on our history and the responsibilities it imposes on us. On this day, I ask that we recommit to this prayer which is our National Anthem
“Teach us true respect for all
Stir response to duty’s call
Strengthen us the weak to cherish
Give us vision, lest we perish”.
As we give God thanks on this Emancipation day, I say, God Bless Jamaica, Land we Love.