Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Religion & Culture | Dr Fred Kennedy talks slavery, reparations and culture in Jamaican society (Part 1)

Published:Wednesday | July 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Sam Sharpe's Monument in National Heroes Park.

Dr Kennedy, you have written extensively about 'Daddy Sharpe', what does that name mean to you?

The Honourable Samuel Sharpe, deservedly one of Jamaica's seven national heroes, represents for us the greatness of our people. He exhibited the qualities of self-sacrifice, honour and the bravery of spirit, which made him one of the great liberators of our past.

He became a leader who fought against the injustices of slavery, with the intent not to murder his oppressors, but to bring about freedom through social change.

He possessed integrity and the strength of conviction to fight for what was right, no matter what the cost, even the sacrifice of his own life. Persons like Sam Sharpe help to define for us who we are as a people and a nation.

What more can be done to make our heroes household names, say, in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr?

Every third Monday in January, thousands of activities are organised across the United States in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Equally in Jamaica, church, government, and private-sponsored events could mark special days of celebration during the heroes' month of October each year.

Performances, parades, free admission and transportation to national parks, landmarks and museums. Additional funding to the arts through the work of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport would also go a long way to develop talent and promote awareness. Inclusion of detailed studies of the lives and works of national heroes in schools and universities would also be a mark of recognition of the importance of preserving Jamaica's national culture and heritage.

Is history as a discipline lost with the emergence of tech-oriented societies?

Not necessarily. Over the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of access to primary and secondary sources through the Internet. The computer has become our library. We have experienced a paradigm shift. No longer does the teacher control information, which used to be the privilege of a few.

The challenge now is to make this technology available to as many as possible. We must make sure that everyone benefits from this knowledge revolution.

Equity of access is crucial, but so, too, is the ability of the users of technology to discern the validity of information and learn how to analyse and use it. Teachers have an important role to play in this regard.

There is a distinct pattern emerging from your work. You gave us the critically acclaimed Huareo and the equally engaging Daddy Sharpe. In both books there is resistance to colonialism and oppression in general. Could you explain this thrust in your writings?

Friends have made this same observation. On reflection, my own academic work in education shows the same orientation. My doctoral thesis was entitled Advanced Literacy at the Basic Level. It examined methods by which 'failures' in the system could learn to achieve high standards of literacy. My philosophy has always been, 'every student can learn'.

I attribute this passion to my upbringing, to the values I learnt at home and at school, of fairness, service and compassion. In later life, my historical research picked up the same themes, exploring the psychology of the disadvantaged, and the heroism of those who have been able to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

Slavery was an international enterprise like no other: insurance companies, bankers, financiers, merchants, builders, large and small investors, all under a political and religious carapace. No doubt, white Gentiles and Jews were unjustly rewarded. As you know, Dr Tony Martin's research on this subject continues to stir debate. Where is Fred Kennedy on the reparations question?

The transport to the Americas over a period of 300 years of more than 12 million Africans enslaved by Europeans and the millions of casualties that resulted are atrocities for which we need atonement and healing. In 2013, Caribbean Heads of Government established the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC) with a mandate to prepare the case for reparatory justice. The CRC outlines a comprehensive 10-step path to reconciliation, which aims to involve representatives from European nations in the process. I am in support of such a program.

What are some of the main barriers to equality in today's society?

I have always believed education to be the great equaliser. It empowers individuals with the resources to be self-reliant. Knowledge is power, it gives people the right to freedom and shows the way to charting one's own destiny.

At home and at school, education promotes societal values, necessary for working productively and in harmony with others. It is education, which will eradicate poverty, and eventually the violence that besets our society.

- Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. His latest book: In Search of Truth: A Course in Spiritual Psychology, is available on Amazon. Feedback: email: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.