St Elizabeth Homecoming Week Celebrations
• Our Chair, Ms Jennifer Grant
• The Very Rev. Canon the Hon. Weeville Gordon, Custos Rotulorum
for the parish of Kingston
• Dr Patrick Dallas, Chairman of the St Elizabeth Homecoming
• Directors of the St Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation
• Other St Elizabethans
• Fellow sponsors
• Other specially invited guests
• Members of the Media
Thank you for inviting me to address you, as your Foundation launches the 16th Annual Staging of ‘The Best of St Bess’, a series of events, which have become highly anticipated nationally, and a highlight on the personal calendar of many Jamaicans, at home and abroad.
I join with my fellow sponsors in congratulating you, Dr Dallas and the Foundation, for the tremendous work that you put into planning the activities each year, and we are proud to partner with you in celebrating the excellent work and achievements of your parish.
I commend the St Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation for its firm resolve—to sustain the vision of making St Elizabeth one of, if not the most successful parishes, economically, in Jamaica. I know that it took many years of hard work to get to this stage. However, it is clear that your service to the residents of St Elizabeth, and by extension, Jamaica, has resulted in positive support from all sectors of the country.
My organisation, Jamaica National Building Society, has very strong roots in rural Jamaica, having been established in the vestry of a church in neighbouring Westmoreland. Therefore, we cannot help but admire and, where possible, support initiatives such as those being promulgated by the Foundation, which puts rural development and regeneration at the centre of its activities.
I recall that when the decision was made to encourage Jamaicans living overseas to return home to visit by hosting parish homecoming celebrations, your parish eagerly adopted the concept, and out of this has emerged the most consistent, active and visible parish development agency in Jamaica.
In addition to that, you saw the necessity to use other creative ways to develop and expand the borders of your parish culturally, economically and socially, where others lacked the vision and drive to do.
So today you can proudly say, like US President-elect, Barack Obama, “on this day … at this defining moment …” we have succeeded where few others have.
And this, I believe, is evident in the choice of the theme for this year’s homecoming – ‘Celebrating our Legacies and Showcasing The Bess’.
As I reflect on the theme of your celebrations, I am reminded of some of the great legacies of your parish that have been indelibly etched in the annals of Jamaican and world history. Your parish has many firsts:
•The capital, Black River, is among the oldest in Jamaica, and the first place in the country to have electricity…
• A resident was said to have imported the island’s first motor car…and
• The first race-horses in Jamaica were imported by a resident of St. Elizabeth.
Some of your famous sons and daughters have also created firsts internationally. And, particularly now, at this time of political change and firsts in the United States, it is important that we acknowledge them … two of your most prominent citizens of St Elizabethan heritage:
• Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State … the first black Secretary of State and the first of Caribbean descent, whose parents came from Jamaica. His father is a son of Top Hill, St Elizabeth…
• And former New York City Councilwoman, Una Clarke, one of the most powerful black women in that city, and the first Caribbean-born woman to be elected to the New York City legislature, a legacy which was passed to her daughter…who is now a member of the US House of Representatives…
But, even as you celebrate the legacies of your parish, and showcase the best of what you’ve got to offer, I challenge you to ensure that this rich heritage of which you’re so proud continues.
I believe you have started on the right footing with the establishment of the Homecoming Foundation which aims to develop and implement programmes to ‘grow’ the parish in all aspects. You already enjoy a reputation in this regard, which is second to none, having provided Jamaica and the world with so many lessons in the areas of resilience and innovation.
Your Ten-Year Vision for the parish speaks to several developmental projects which, I believe, will be difficult to fully implement and sustain unless there is a shared vision and continuity in the Foundation. Therefore, it is critical that the second, third, and fourth generation St Elizabethans be exposed to and infused with the passion that you have for the parish. And, hopefully, through this awareness, they will be encouraged to work for its continued development.
I congratulate your use of Information Technology (IT) and new media, through the creation of your new website … the communication channel of choice for young people. This is a clear indication of your appreciation of the need to maintain a seamless connection…not only with young people; but with the people of St. Bess who are part of the Jamaican Diaspora.
Your website, effectively marketed, will become a vital channel to connect these important groups. And, its archives will graphically highlight important aspects of the parish and share the vision of the Foundation.
I note that, through the series of events being planned for this year, you are focusing on issues which will impact on the building of social capital for future generations, and I commend you for this.
For example, the Leadership in Education forum will bring together various stakeholders in the education sector to devise strategies to improve the output of schools and to create a skill base among residents, which can contribute to strengthening the parish and, ultimately, to nation building. And no doubt the Education Development Fund is a major plank in this development process.
The Land Titling Forum is a clear recognition of the fact that owning land symbolizes some level of economic success and stability, and is a good base on which families can strengthen their resources and communities can “take root.”
We all know that in Jamaica, family land is often passed down from one generation to the next, and subdivided for family members, without each person obtaining bona fide registered titles for their piece of the property.
It is estimated that there are 300,000 parcels of like this and we refer to them as ‘dead capital’ because they do not have registered titles.
Therefore, these plots of land cannot be leveraged to access financial resources to support areas such as business, education, health and investment. Through your influence, the Foundation can help to stimulate economic independence among your people by encouraging them to liberate these parcels of ‘dead capital’ by getting certified titles.
When these ‘dead capital’ come to life, they can add to the economic base of your parish and by extension, Jamaica, as no doubt, the value of land will continue to increase over the next ten years.
Therefore, the Foundation, must, by necessity, create pathways for persons, particularly the young people, to understand the importance of properly certified land, and how they can use it for profitable purposes.
And what better way to drive home the importance of land titles
than through the Business and Agriculture Forums, which can provide real opportunities, as the financial resources gained from using land as security are put to good use.
It is acknowledged that the private sector is the engine of economic growth here in Jamaica; and, therefore, access to finances can be the lubricant to oil this engine. With access to available and affordable financing, there is no limit to the opportunities for growth, particularly in the small and micro enterprises sector.
History shows that this parish was built on the hard work resilience and creativity of its people, particularly farmers.
Not many persons can speak about St Elizabeth without remembering the legendary ingenuity of your farmers in developing the mulching technique, thereby providing a viable alternative for farming with minimum quantities of water, in what is perhaps the driest region in this country.
Nor will many easily forget that you have the designation of being the ‘bread basket of Jamaica’ given your output of agricultural products such as—tomatoes, watermelons, carrots, escalations, sweet peppers, corn and tobacco.
And, it is commendable to note that—although your parish represents one tenth of the land in this country, and is the home of only six percent of the island’s population, your impact extends way beyond those specifications.
Indeed, the people of St. Elizabeth have much to celebrate.
I, therefore, challenge the members of this organisation to ensure that your legacies live on to motive and inspire current and future generations. And, it is my hope that the activities in your Homecoming Week will provide a blueprint to demonstrate to other parishes how they can rally their parishioners around a common goal to propel their people and parish forward.
Since Tuesday, the world has witnessed the tremendous force that has been unleashed in the United States of America, as one man, Barack Obama, with a short resume, mobilized an army of young and old people and with a message of “change.” You too can influence our people to—continue to move the bar higher and change the lives of people in St. Elizabeth.
And so, it is on that note, that I officially launch the St Elizabeth Homecoming Week Celebrations 2008 …. ‘Celebrating our legacies and showcasing The Bess’, and wish for you immeasurable success in all your activities.
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