My Fellow Jamaicans:
Our annual commemoration of Heritage Week is an important point on the national calendar; culminating in the observance of Heroes’ Day and the conferment of national honours and awards on deserving Jamaicans.
Heroes’ Day affords us the opportunity as a nation, to reflect on the lives of our forebears, celebrate their achievements, and recognize their sterling contribution to national development.
Our National Heroes, through their fight for freedom and their tireless struggle against inequalities, oppression and injustice, laid the foundation for nationhood and facilitated our emergence as a proud and determined people.
Who are Heroes? Heroes are people like you and I – ordinary people, who do extra-ordinary things. They have a strong belief and conviction in wanting to help others and improve existing conditions. They are not content with accepting things as they are.
Heroes are not managers of the status quo. Indeed, heroes lead change.
Sam Sharpe was a slave. But he was not satisfied with the status quo of slavery. He said: “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery”. He was not prepared to accept the status quo.
Paul Bogle was not satisfied with the status quo. He walked from Stony Gut to Spanish Town to agitate for change.
Sir Alexander Bustamante, saw the plight of labour and mobilised workers to secure their rights. He stood up to the colonial powers, bared his chest and said: shoot me, but leave my people alone.
Our National Heroes, in their own way, dared to be bold. They dared to challenge the status quo, resisted the tide of organized oppression, and campaigned against the economic, political and social inequalities of their day.
In our progress from slave ship to free society are countless persons who have, by their conviction and leadership, made important contributions to making their communities better.
Today, our national honours and awards ceremony will capture only a few such persons.
However, on a day like this – Heroes’ Day, we honour all our unsung heroes. Like our basic schools teachers who make extraordinary sacrifices in educating the children in their care. Our nurses, who go beyond the call of duty, under challenging circumstances, to provide health care. To the Professional and hard working men and women of the security forces who put their lives at risk to serve and protect the public.
There is a hero in all of us. The challenges we face as a country may seem overwhelming, and our efforts are sometimes frustrated, but we must never give up our faith and belief that things can be better. We must never lose our conviction to make things better. We must never accept the status-quo and believe that there is no other way, and that this is where we will always be.
Today, I call upon the hero in all of us to play our part in leading the change that we would like to see.
Let us be the heroes that do something as simple, but important as destroying mosquito breeding sites in our communities.
Let us be the heroes that care for the neglected elderly and indigent in our communities.
Let us be the heroes that provide home work assistance to our children after school.
Let us be the heroes that report crime to the police.
Let us be the heroes that resist corruption in our businesses and places of work.
Let us be the heroes that stand up for truth and justice.
Let us be the heroes that hold our Government to account.
We must dedicate ourselves to action that is aimed at raising the bar and improving the conditions under which we live.
It is through these actions that we would have set the stage for our emergence as the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
We are a proud people – a people inspired by the philosophies and teachings of Garvey; emboldened by the courage and fearlessness of Nanny and Daddy Sharpe; a people fortified by the resilience and dedication of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon; and grounded by the vision and patriotism of Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley.
We are eternally indebted to our National Heroes. Let us repay them by conducting ourselves in ways that would cause those in our generation, and in generations to come, to regard us as heroes in our own right.
Reach for the hero inside of you.
May God continue to bless you and our Country – Jamaica – land we love.