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Jamaica 57

Jamaica 57 | We need to build on the legacy of our ancestors

Published:Tuesday | August 6, 2019 | 12:00 AMGordon Cowans/Contributor

The declaration of Emancipation made over 180 years ago has not completed the process of freedom that we seek and deserve as a people. Nelson Mandela reminds us: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The legacy of the system of enslavement of our ancestors still holds sway in our psyche as a people, as in the social and economic systems, the political culture and religious orthodoxy that persist. The culture of crime and violence, the corruption, persistent inequality and inequity and our collective silence in the face of these dangers continue to enslave and weaken us. Regrettably, the institutionalised church has not always exercised the moral authority to influence positive change by being accountable to members and society.

It is a time to redouble efforts for change in our perspectives and actions. We need to remember and build on that other aspect of the legacy of our ancestors who dared, despite the tremendous obstacles, to build and to invest in opportunities to make Jamaica a place that served the interest of the majority and bring dignity to that majority that had faced exploitation and abuse. We recognise that the partnership of church and community in public education, housing, and other aspects of economic, social, and political development has served the evolving nation. The resilience of men, women, and children, nurtured in their diverse expressions of faith and family, has served to sustain us. We have far yet to go.

The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), through its antecedent denominations, has a cherished heritage of being proactive and responsive as a missional church to the needs of our communities and to support initiatives, for example, for more responsible use of land assets and measures to address poverty and generate decent employment opportunities, particularly for our women, youth, and persons with disabilities.

We stand with those who search for, and are committed to, sustainable and transformative approaches and measures to weaken and eradicate the culture of crime and violence, which has been an instrument of control and dehumanisation. Systemic violence, including the rape of women and the multiple forms of abuse of our children, must be addressed by building on our existing work and executing long-term-deep-seated processes of social transformation. These must be based on principles of economic and social justice, gender and social equity, anti-discrimination and respect for all despite differences. Our children and young people must come to know about the legacy of heroes and patriots such as Marcus Garvey and Louise Bennett-Coverley, to name a few.

As a church, the UCJCI supports the national and regional mobilisation to seek the payment of reparatory justice from Britain for native genocide, African enslavement, deceptive Indian indentureship, other colonial injustices, and the continuing legacies of colonialism. We commit to deepening our work in communities, for example, to continuing the nurturing of relationships between children and their parents and caregivers so that children may achieve their fullest divinely ordained potential. In the spirit of transformation, we resolve and will ardently work to break the yoke of our burdens as we choose to be truly free.

The Right Reverend Dr Gordon Cowans is moderator at the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Send feedback to