My fellow Jamaicans, I greet you in the spirit of freedom that is the essence of Emancipation.
Emancipation Day is a timely reminder that our freedom from plantation slavery was the outcome of selfless, courageous actions by Jamaicans, who struggled for centuries to break the chains of their enslavement.
The ending of the evils of human enslavement however, only marked the beginning of a new struggle to secure the political and economic empowerment of the hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who had suffered and languished during slavery.
In the circumstances of British Colonialism of those times, improvement was slow in coming. Indeed, it was not until the 1938 workers rebellion, which led to the formation of modern political parties and trade unions, as well as the achievement of universal adult suffrage that Jamaica was definitively launched on a path of progress.
Over the years, this progress resulted in self-government and independence, and in the steady improvement of social conditions.
Even so, victory is not complete. In many ways, we still see around us evidence of the ‘mental slavery’ that Marcus Garvey spoke about and which Bob Marley later identified powerfully through his music. We see ‘mental slavery’ in our people when some continue to bleach their skin and reject the God-given beauty that nature has provided. We see it in many of the attitudes toward family life and parenting which still leave too many of our children abandoned in the streets in the face of absent parents.
So,even as we celebrate the achievements of generations past, who broke the shackles of slavery, let us also draw from their experiences the inspiration we need to complete the mission. Let us also remind ourselves of the lessons that we have learned in the course of our struggles as a people.
Emancipation allowed us to re-fashion our social, cultural and political arrangements and to understand the essential truth that nationhood must be based on fundamental principles of universal freedom, human dignity, and equal rights and justice of all people.
There is a second major lesson to be learned from the successes that we achieved in destroying the evil system of slavery. That is the value of collective responsibility and collective action.
It was the collective action of the supporters of Sam Sharpe and the solidarity of each of the enslaved persons with the other that enabled them to mobilize and strike down the brutal system of slavery.
In the face of the challenge the country faces today to maintain the moral foundations of our nationhood and the standards of integrity needed in national leadership, we must remember that the gains made in the past were made by virtue of the collective action of our people in their trade unions, community organizations, civic associations, and political parties.
We will need the same level of cooperation to sustain our effort to build upon the foundations of our emancipation and provide every Jamaican with opportunity, food, shelter, security, healthcare, education, and all the benefits of modern life.
My fellow Jamaicans, I hope we all take a moment on this Emancipation Day to reflect on the true significance of this anniversary. This is even more important as we are living at a time when across the globe there is a resurgence of ugly doctrines of racism; and oppressive political ideologies are again presenting themselves. This should be a reminder that the cost of our freedom is our eternal vigilance and our willingness always to protect the gains that have been won by blood, sweat and sacrifice of our ancestors.
Let us recommit on this day to fulfill the mission of our ancestors by expressing solidarity with each other, and by living in peace and harmony with our neighbor so that Jamaica will ultimately be the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
I wish for you all a restful, happy and safe Emancipation Day.
May God continue to bless you and bless our country – Jamaica, land we love.