‘There is nothing like being honoured in your own country’
Home-grown talents grateful to be recognised for their contributions to the entertainment industry
As Jamaica celebrates 60 years of full independence, there have been many persons who have dedicated their lives and work to the promotion and preservation of the island’s culture. For the entertainment industry in particular, these creators have carried the heart of the island, through film, music, dance and poetry, to audiences worldwide.
This year, Jamaica will honour 12 individuals who have made immense contributions to art, entertainment and culture. Among the list of awardees is Sheryl Lee Ralph. She is a recipient of an honorary Order of Jamaica (OJ) for her sterling contribution as an international actress and cultural ambassador for Jamaica.
Famous for her roles and appearances in Abbot Elementary, Dreamgirls, the Broadway musical, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, The Mighty Quinn, Moesha and a host of other titles, Ralph is the daughter of a Jamaican mother and African-American father. She spent a portion of her childhood living in Mandeville, Jamaica.
This honour is extremely special for her as she believes it would have made her mother very proud. “I’m so deeply grateful to be named for this truly great honour. I know my mother, Ivy Ralph, OD, is dancing around heaven, and I feel her spirit today,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
“You know, I just love my island. I believe our people and our culture are truly phenomenal, and I always share Jamaica’s beauty, love, and taste with others because of it. So, to be honoured for something that just comes so naturally to me is incredible! There’s a lot that comes with acting. You have to do press, interviews, meetings, rehearsals – the whole works. But it’s always reassuring that, no matter what is happening in my life, I can come back a yaad to refresh, rejuvenate and keep in touch with who I am!” Ralph continued.
Joining Ralph in receiving national honours this year is Dr Amina Blackwood Meeks, who received a Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service in 2020. She will this year be conferred with an Order of Distinction (OD) in the Rank of Officer for her contribution to the development of the literary arts.
According to Blackwood-Meeks, it is always special to be given recognition in your homeland.
“It’s a tremendous feeling. There is nothing like being honoured in your own country. I have received many awards in foreign, abroad and distant places, but there is absolutely nothing like being recognised by your own country among your own people. Now, we do not go around saying I am doing what I am doing to get an award, you know. We do it because we are living on purpose, but it is absolutely an elating blessing to know that purpose is recognised,” she said.
A writer, director, award-winning actress, performer, workshop facilitator, motivational speaker and custodian of oral tradition, Blackwood-Meeks called on Jamaicans to recognise the tremendous impact they have made on the world. “We are the only place in the world [where] the Palestinians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Rastas, Seventh-day Adventists and the Maroons, with all our cultural diversity, can live together in peace and are proud to say we are Jamaican. I hope we recognise what we have given to the world, and I hope we do not rest on our laurels, and I hope we continue to be and do better,” Blackwood-Meeks continued.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, is also among the list of persons from the entertainment industry who have been officially recognised with National Honours and Awards.
For her “sterling contribution to cultural development and political administration in Jamaica”, Grange who received an OD in 2015, will be conferred an OJ. Ranked fifth in the order of precedence, the OJ may be conferred upon any Jamaican citizen of outstanding distinction or upon any distinguished citizen of a country other than Jamaica (honorary member).
In a post to her Instagram page following the announcement, she expressed gratitude for the recognition.
“I am deeply honoured, humbled and thankful to be accorded further National Honours in the form of the Order of Jamaica (OJ). For all of my life, I have been about serving the people. If I am so richly rewarded for this, then to God be the glory. I thank the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, prime minister, and the nation. I am fully appreciative of everyone who has helped me along the way and have wished me well,” the post read.
Other awardees for their contribution to entertainment and culture include Monty Alexander, Dr Kwame Dawes, Jeffery ‘Agent Sasco’ Campbell, Dr Myrna Hague-Bradshaw, Leonard Howell, Kenrick ‘Lord Creator’ Patrick, Anthony Patrick ‘Chips’ Richards, John Swaby and Derrick Stewart.