Excluded from 'Out of Many One People'

Published: Thursday | August 13, 2009

Devon Dick

OUR MOTTO 'Out of Many One People' speaks to different races, classes and creeds: living, working, praying and playing together in tolerance and harmony. Our motto was ahead of its time of the 21st century in which it is now fashionable to advocate for multiracialism and tolerance of differing perspectives.

Jamaica has had a long history of tolerance; hence Jews, in fleeing persecution in Europe in the nineteenth century, found refugee in Jamaica. Also in the nineteenth century, Jews held positions within our legislature; and James Phillippo, famed English Baptist missionary, had Jewish children in his school in Spanish Town, St Catherine. And our national heroes, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon desired a mutually beneficial and respectful working relationship with their oppressors.

Therefore, it was not surprising that in 1962, our motto reflected Jamaica's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. However, unfortunately, there are signs that we have moved away from such noble ideals and persons are being excluded.

This was clearly articulated last Sunday by the Rev Garnett Roper, pastor of the Portmore Missionary Church and president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary in a sermon on Radio Jamaica during the programme 'Grace Hour'. Roper, using the story of the demoniac, likened the man to persons who suffer from mental illness due to depression, delusion or having a divided personality.

Ridiculed and abused

Often these persons are excluded from mainstream society and are banished to live in cemeteries with the dead. These persons are often ridiculed and abused. Family members are often ashamed to own them. Society treats them with scant regard. These persons need to be reintegrated into our society and made to be part of the 'Out Of Many One People'.

On that same Sunday, I was a member of the deacon George Gillings team that visited the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre for Females. Gillings, who moderates the Richmond Vale Circuit of Baptist Churches in St Thomas, affirmed the ladies in confinement as the best singers of gospel music. And based on what I heard, it would be a brave man who would challenge his assertion. It was gratifying to hear members of the Gillings team acknowledge them as ladies and sisters. Their ministry is a way of making the ladies feel a part of the human race and Jamaican society. And citizens need to recognise that when they contribute to the rehabilitation of inmates of correctional centers they are affirming the motto.

And we must hail Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of late American President John F Kennedy, whose vision founded the Special Olympics movement. Shriver, who passed away on Tuesday, believed that persons with challenges whether mental or physical had the right to be on the playing field and to have a job and education and be anybody's neighbour. She, too, was inclusive; no wonder her family supported Barack Obama in the last USA presidential elections. We must hail churches and civil society which continue to work with and among the excluded and marginalised.

We have just finished celebrating our Independence and we need to ensure that the celebrations reflect our diversity. As I watched the Grand Gala, I was overjoyed that Eric Donaldson, multiple festival song winner, was included in the programme to sing the classics, 'O Cheery O Baby' and "This is the land of my Birth'. Donaldson, an icon of the 1970s is not the same singer, but he was effective. We ought not to discard the 'oldies' but make them part of 'Out of Many One People"

Let us recommit to 'Out of Many One People" and include minorities, all persons who suffer from mental illness, the elderly, the wayward, the weak and those who are challenged mentally and physically.

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church and author of Rebellion to Riot: The Church in Nation Building. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.