Discussions on the African slave trade and the issue of reparations have always been interesting topics for Sophia Bryan and her schoolmates during history class, at Meadowbrook High School in Kingston.
So when the opportunity came for Sophia, who is Deputy Head Girl at the school, to present her views to the Commission on Reparations, at a recent public meeting, she happily volunteered.
Launched in May this year, the Commission was set up by the Government, under the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.
It is chaired by Professor Barry Chevannes, director of the Centre for Public Safety and Justice at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, and has been charged with the task of receiving submissions, hearing testimonies, evaluating research and studies and engaging in dialogue with relevant interest groups and legal and academic experts.
Chairman of the National Commission on Reparations, Professor Barry Chevannes (left), making a point at a public sitting of the Commission, recently, at the Webster Memorial Church Hall in Kingston. Next to him is Donna Parchment-Brown, a member of the Commission
Sophia is one of several persons who have made submissions to the Commission. Students of St. Catherine High School, St. Georges College and Northern Caribbean University, as well as members of the Rastafarian community, have also participated.
“I was most elated. I was happy to be able to make a contribution, because this issue had come up in my history class, and it is something that I feel very passionate about,” Sophia told JIS News.
She believes that the descendants of Africans should be compensated, and cited the reparations paid to the Jews who, she said, are encouraged not to forget the horrors of that holocaust.
“So why should we forget and not ask them to compensate us for what they took from us?” she asked. She suggested that compensation should come in the form of economic investments and educational opportunities, in areas inhabited by descendants of slaves.
“We will not be asking them for handouts. I will not want that to happen, but in terms of the help and the alliances that could be formed to help us to improve ourselves to surpass being a third world country,” she added.
Sophia, who is also the Assistant Vice President for Region 1 of the National Secondary Student’s Council (NSSC), said that she wants to see more young people attending the sittings.
“We need to let them know that we feel passionate about this movement, and we have a say where this is concerned,” she added.
There are plans by the Ministry to enlighten young people on the issue of reparations. Director of Cultural Policy and Monitoring at the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and member of the Commission, Tanya Batson-Savage, said the Commission would be targeting high school students at the final public sitting for this year, scheduled to take place on Friday (November 27) in May Pen, Clarendon.
So far, meetings have been held at Liberty Hall, 76 King Street, downtown; the Webster Memorial Church Hall, Kingston; and the Social Development Commission’s (SDC) Hall in Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
She noted that the input of young persons was important to the process.
“It is important to target not only students doing history, but the more general student population,” she stated, adding that the concept of reparation would be the main focus at the forum.
Miss Batson-Savage said the biggest challenge facing the Commission at the moment, is the mobilisation of community groups and interested persons to attend the sessions.
“The interested audience is the Rastafarian community, because Rastafari have been the persons interested in reparation and, therefore, they are the immediate group that comes out,” she added.
According to Miss Savage, it was necessary to get the message out to the wider public, since the subject impacts on all Jamaicans. She revealed that the Commission will do additional research into the legacy of slavery in Jamaica.
“I think the meetings have gone very well, so far. I believe the first one was very good, in terms of the comments that we got from the audience. The people who came to give depositions were very targeted and specific,” Professor Barry Chevannes said.
He also noted that some of the statements were profound.
“I do not want any money, because the love of money is what brings about a lot of evil, but the love of education is what bring about so many benefits because it opens your mind,” Professor Chevannes recalled someone saying, when asked how the people of Jamaica could benefit.
He said the majority of people who have given statements have spoken about the effects of slavery, and have not directly addressed the issue of reparation and the proposals for different forms of reparation.
Professor Chevannes urged citizens and groups to attend the sittings and to express their views to the Commission. He outlined some of the issues that persons should be prepared to speak on.
“Should there be reparation made for slavery? Is it too far gone to worry about that? Are there legacies that we are still suffering from? And if reparation should be made, what form would you like to see it? That’s the objective of the thing,” he said.
He said it was not the Commission’s duty to spread the word about reparations or to defend it.
“That is not our function, the Commission is set up simply to listen to people’s views, consult with professionals,..and advise the Government really on what approach should be taken. That’s our job,” he explained.
The Commission will provide a report to the Government on its deliberations and recommendations, after the consultation meetings with the public.
“We expect to do that during the summer. We have until the end of November 2010 to submit a report,” Professor Chevannes said.
Other members of the Commission are Garth White, Jeanette Grant-Woodham, Professor Rupert Lewis, Lord Anthony Gifford Q.C., Donna Parchment-Brown, Ras Junior Manning, Robert Miller, Tanya Batson-Savage and Kim Marie Spence.