My fellow Jamaicans…
When, as human beings, we undergo some painful experience, we often try hard to forget it, to let go so that we can move on. Slavery was the worst form of oppression and human degradation. It lasted for over 300 years and ended 174 years ago. Yet, we cannot forget it. We dare not forget it because it is part of what defines who we are and how we came to be who we are.
It tells of more than just the pain we had to bear, uprooted as we were from the land of our ancestors, struggling as we did to preserve our culture in a new, hostile environment where privileges were few and rights non-existent. It also tells of the sustained resistance we mounted, sometimes quiet, sometimes aggressive, and the determination we maintained, always believing that one day we would be free, that one day we would get our lives back, restore our dignity, rebuild our pride and go forward as a people.
Therefore, slavery is not to be forgotten. It is not something to be kept out of our resume, because it is a testimony to our strength and capacity to endure and overcome, to triumph over adversity. And, so, no matter how tough the times may be or how difficult the challenges we face, we know that we can prevail, that we will be victorious, for we have faced the toughest of times before and we made it.
But the abolition of slavery did not leave a void that must be filled. The slave master’s job is not vacant; it was declared redundant.
When individuals and entire communities are forced to live in fear, their condition is not much different from what was experienced under the slave masters. When we sow seeds of disunity and set one against the other, we are employing the same tactics that were used in slavery. When we disrespect each other we are behaving just like the slave master who disrespected us.
Being a free people means that we must respect each other’s freedom and the right of every one of us to live peacefully and seek after our well-being. Being a free people means that we must strive and work together to attain the happiness and prosperity that we were denied for so many years under slavery.
I call on all Jamaicans to think on these things as we observe the 174th anniversary of our emancipation.
My fellow Jamaicans…