My Fellow Jamaicans, once again we celebrate our national heritage as a people.
Our journey has been characterized by a history of freedom-fighting. As we consider the efforts and sacrifices made by our heroes and heroines over time, the songs on my heart, in my spirit and on my lips, are the songs of freedom.
These refrains of redemption kept our ancestors through the horrific Middle Passage. These songs of freedom inspired the fight for freedom from slavery. They motivated us in our struggle for Universal Adult Suffrage. They were the jubilant rhythms that greeted us on Independence Day.
They are the sounds that echoed in our ears and cemented in our minds that we, as a people had the right to participate in shaping our own destiny. These songs kept us strong as we sought equal respect and equal opportunities for all our people – men, women and children.
Our achievements, as a people, have not come easily. The survival of our ancestors through the Middle Passage, the resistance of plantation slavery, the fight for freedom, the struggle for Independence and the fight for economic survival have been purchased through the blood, sweat and tears of those ancestors and our heroes and heroine. Many persons have died to gain us the rights and freedoms we now enjoy, and we dare not forget their sacrifices or take our privileges for granted.
These ordeals and struggles; these triumphs and victories remain etched in our collective consciousness. In defiance, we continue to sing out, even today, in the words of Robert Nesta Marley:
Won’t you help me sing
These songs of Freedom
That’s all we’ll ever have
For that chapter we call to memory as heroine, Nanny of the Maroons and the hero, Sam Sharpe, whose ‘hands were made strong by the hands of the Almighty’. Generations of Jamaicans yet unborn will come to invest their own gratitude to them and others who worked with them to bring an end to slavery.
The example of Samuel Sharpe and Nanny gave strength to the feet of Paul Bogle and the patriots who so nobly marched with him in 1865 in the Morant Bay Rebellion. Their valiant march for equality would also have encouraged George William Gordon and emboldened his advocacy in the Assembly. The lives of both men were snuffed out by executioners, but they will live on forever in our history as a nation. Their fight for freedom signalled that Jamaica would never endure institutionalized inequities and that we are prepared as people to fight for equality and justice.
The modern chapters of our journey to a society built upon the finest traditions of equality, justice and fairness were written by our first National Hero, the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He taught us to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery”, and reminded us that “none but ourselves can free our minds”.
Garvey’s philosophies and teachings remain relevant and applicable in our time. We are still challenged to open wide our eyes to identify the shackles that restrict us. Today, as we recall these great heroes and heroine, warriors for our freedom and defenders of justice, we must rise to the occasion and, we too, must play our part in the advancement of the welfare of the whole human race.
That Garvey is from Jamaica testifies to the acumen of our sons and daughters and the roles we must continue to play in the global sphere.
Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante, who were giants in their time, are still lovingly referred to as the architects of Jamaica’s Political Independence. Both of these leaders established a foundation that political leadership must be founded on the fight for the upliftment of the marginalized and the poor.
Through his demands for justice at the workplace, Sir Alex laid the framework for the Labour Movement. Through his focus on education, Manley established a secure avenue for the advancement of every Jamaican citizen.
These seven Jamaicans in their time and throughout all times have done our people proud. They ensured that at each major turn in our nation’s journey, strong leadership was available to this country to make more certain our transition toward full national development. The tradition of strong leadership is a hallmark that as Jamaicans we must take forward with us as we consider the next steps we must take to protect our achievements and attain our goals, dreams and aspirations.
Today, we pay homage to our heroes and heroine and express our gratitude to those who fought for our Emancipation and Independence. We must continue to guard, preserve and improve our hard-won rights, privileges and freedoms. We must deepen our awareness as a people and we must be vigilant in the fight to protect our right to self-determination.
My fellow Jamaicans, it is against this background that each year we celebrate Heroes’ Day and the selfless contributions of our National Heroes; those that have officially been named and those others who have contributed valiantly to the rich tradition of participation and democracy we enjoy today.
It remains imperative that, as we assess where we are, where we are yet to be and where we are going that we also remember that we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us as beneficiaries of the successful campaigns they have fought on our behalf.
As we march ever more closely to our 50th year of Political Independence, and as we honour our heroes and heroines this week, let us rekindle that intrinsic fervour; that indomitable spirit; that unique “Jamaican-ness” that makes us who we are and will ensure that we become the best that we can be. Let us recapture that progressive spirit that inspired our heroes and heroines, That spirit propelled them towards a more equitable, just and prosperous Jamaica for every Jamaican.
Let us stride boldly into the future. Let us grasp the opportunities. Let us seize the day. Together, let us create the Jamaica we can be proud of. Indeed, may “we forward in this generation, triumphantly”.
My Jamaican, brothers and sisters, descendants of our heroes and heroines, we are a great people. We have been destined for greatness. So today, I challenge you on this critical leg of our journey as a people, to “get up and stand up” with me, and I invite you to “help me sing, another song of freedom, Redemption Song.
As we honour our past, let us work as one Jamaican family, shaping our future together.
May the blessings of the Almighty be with you.
May God Bless Jamaica land we love.
I thank you.