Matthew McNaughton | Committing to more than what we are now
On this 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s Inpendence, it is apt that we reflect on why we set out on this journey in the first place and who we want to become as a people. Each nation is an exercise in collective action. They are the coming together of a people to make a place, connected by shared memory and, most importantly, a shared purpose.
There is no doubt that Jamaican people are highly capable. Despite inherent and inherited disadvantages, we continue to achieve incredible feats at home and abroad. Those stories fill us with pride, and sometimes the achievements even lead to the upliftment of a family or a community. But hidden in these heartful celebrations is a kind of communal settling. Because, for every Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Don Wehby, and Bob Marley who has become synonymous with success in their field, there are too many unhappy with their prospects, and frustrated in pursuing their dreams.
Many Jamaicans feel they need to leave the ‘Rock’ to achieve their career goals or provide for their family. The prevalence of violence plaguing our society tells us that too many young men and women do not see a path to success through integration into our current social fabric. Every young man who picks up a gun, or young woman abused, is a brother or sister that we have failed as a country.
The ambition of this project called ‘Jamaica’ was never to continue paving a path to success for a few – an inheritance of the colonial condition in which a chosen elite had access to quality education, economic opportunity, and a high standard of living. For Norman Manley, the mission of the generation that would inherit independence was “reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica”. No longer as a place for a few, but for all of us.
And while progress has been made, urgent questions remain. How much longer should we accept the prevailing environment of warring factions competing for scarce spoils? How long should our leaders ask us to be patient, making do with incremental steps towards some uncertain future?
Jamaica is now 60. Still a ‘yute’ when compared to other nations. But I, like many Jamaicans, am tired of having the same conversations, celebrating incremental change and the victories of the exceptional few. I want Jamaica to undergo transformational change in our lifetime to become a Jamaica envied not just for our beautiful beaches, infectious music, and talented athletes, but for the place we have built for ourselves and our children.
Jamaica should be a place where each person feels safe in his home and in his community, not fearful of what nightfall might bring. A place with an economy that creates/provides value to the world in the most complex sectors, enabling meaningful employment that challenges the minds and creativity of our people. A place from which every Jamaican, or person who calls Jamaica home, can achieve the ambition they have for their life.
A people of shared memory and purpose, who, no matter what part of the world they occupy, retain pride, belief, and optimism for how Jamaica is developing and are invested in and benefit from the platform the country provides for their success.
Transformational change in our lifetime: this is a purpose worth recommitting the ‘love and loyalty of our hearts, the wisdom and courage of our minds, and the strength and vigour of our bodies’. So that when we celebrate Jamaica 120, our children and their children aren’t asking the same questions.
Matthew McNaughton is principal of the social impact organisation, the SlashRoots Foundation. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org