“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.”
— first spoken by the late Marcus Garvey and later made famous by Bob Marley.
August 6, 2012 marks Jamaica’s 50th birthday as an independent nation.
I wish I could be there to celebrate. The island has come a long way since its slavery days, but still has miles to go. Jamaica’s spirit is its people – they are survivors. Like any Third World country, they suffer from crippling poverty, crime, drug use, violence, and depression — afflictions you would expect of any people brought to a place against their will.
Despite all this, there is still an integrity, a pride, and a grace in Jamaicans that I have not come across anywhere else. Early in the morning, you will see a young girl or boy emerge from what looks like a tin shanty on the side of the road. They will step out into the already humid air, their skin scrubbed clean, hair freshly braided, school uniform pressed into perfect creases. How on Earth could a child get ready for school in that place? But this is Jamaica. A man wakes up at sunrise to start cleaning his small plot of Earth – maybe just a cemented area next to his well-worn, tiny home. As he sweeps and begins burning his garbage, you can hear him singing a Bob Marley song softly to himself. This is Jamaica.
Or, you’ll get into one of the island’s infamous taxi services to find an impeccably clean and air-freshened car, seat belts rolled up, fresh brochures on the seat, and an enthusiastic driver who is eager to show you as much of the island as can be squeezed into a single day, despite the fact that he stops at the same locations day in and day out. But this is Jamaica. Its people are proud, and Jesus, can they hustle. Generations of poverty has a history of turning its young to the streets, adopting violence and drug dealing in order to survive. But then there are those who use their creativity, their wit, and cunning to make it day by day. Drive the best taxi, make the best jerk, or provide the best tour, and you’re guaranteed a tenuous income, especially during tourist season.
Today, in honor of the island’s emancipation from Britain, I would like to share some of my favorite pictures of Jamaicans. I’m proud to be a part of this culture and nation, even if it’s only by 1/4.
Out of many, one people.