The Inheritance

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The Inheritance

UWI MONA CAMPUS 2011 GRADUATION EXERCISE

Senate Building

Speech by Earl Jarrett
General Manager, Jamaica National Building Society

We gather here at The University of the West Indies in a time of change and great expectations…in Jamaica, the Caribbean Region and the world. It is a time for introspection. It is a time for resolve. And, it is high time for us to examine our inheritance…that has put truth to one of our national songs…that we are indeed, “triumphant, proud and free…”

Fellow graduates … my congratulations on having completed your academic degrees. I remember well my own first graduation and the sense of accomplishment and freedom I felt in finally completing my degree, and getting that all important piece of paper to prove it.

However, unlike you, my graduating class did not have the luxury of such cool comfort; instead, we had the glowing warmth of the afternoon sun piercing down on us; and reminding us in no uncertain terms to be: “Oriens Ex Occidente Lux – Light rising from the West.” 

I acknowledge with great humility the recognition being afforded me by the University community this afternoon …as a proud graduate of this noble institution that has laid a solid foundation on which to pursue excellence, and which has bequeathed to graduates, such as you and me — a legacy of some of the most outstanding nation builders, regional leaders and business giants in this region, and across the globe.

As a region …as individual nation states …and as a regional educational institution we stand on the cusp of historic changes, and we will be judged years from now by the decisions that we make at this important juncture in our lives.

Therefore, we must now ask ourselves a few questions. Do we carry on with the inheritance bequeathed to us?

Or, do we, based on the foundations of the past, craft a new path that will create a richer context in which successive generations will find a more solid foundation on which they can continue to build and strengthen our countries in the Caribbean Region?

And most of all, how do we shape this way or path forward?

WHAT HAS SHAPED OUR INHERITANCE

I want to phrase this perspective in terms of the inheritance or legacy left to us, and to explore to what extent we should consciously allow the past to shape our future.

Marcus Garvey, our first Jamaican national hero, once stated:

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

I was reminded of this quote while watching the inspiring story of the life of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of the German Nazi Commander Amon Goeth, and Helen, the daughter of a Jewish family, who worked as a young maid in his house.

The story chronicles their respective lives during the Holocaust and the subsequent  long term effects of those experiences on their lives.

The two women, who met for the first time more than forty years after the Holocaust, tried to define themselves …and their current lives… based on the individual inheritance bequeathed to each of them, as a result of their experiences.

If we contextualize that experience today … the Caribbean region and our progress almost 200 years after the end of slavery; countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago celebrating nearly 50 years as sovereign nations and the subsequent emergence of a Caribbean leadership class; the establishment of major regional institutions such as The University of the West Indies; to later developments such as the idea of a single CARICOM space …there is no doubt that entrenched in the history of our peoples and our region is a legacy of inheritance… one that is fashioned by the forced migration of freed peoples to this “new world” discovered by Columbus.

If we trace the origins of the ‘new Caribbean,’ we have a legacy that is shaped, in large measure, by the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and the Americas, as a result of the forced migration of millions of persons through the Middle Passage and their subsequent enslavement. In addition, we have the significant influences of other races, such as the Indian, Chinese and Jewish people who found ready refuge in the region, far away from the political, social and economic challenges which faced them in the former established world.

Many of the Caribbean businesses we know today have their genesis in these families who were forced to flee Europe and Asia, as a result of wars and religious persecution. On resettling in the Caribbean they became retail and wholesale traders; and professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and wholesale merchants. And, as “first class businessmen” and owners of considerable property, they established large businesses which resulted in the birth of regionally recognised companies, such as – Desnoes & Geddes, The Gleaner Company, Lascelles de Mercardo, to name a few.

And of course there was the English presence, through the plantation system, which later created institutions and the framework for governance which we have today. All these historic episodes have added to the rich cultural texture of our region, while also leaving some of the challenges that we face today.

Many of us carry the legacy of enslavement … the legacy of the suppression of our rights of freedom and of expression; while others like Goeth’s daughter, are burdened by a legacy of being suppressors and oppressors, or those without the will to make a change.

But, we are what we are. Acknowledging our inheritance is equally as painful for the victim as the persecutor. We cannot change our input, but we can study and fully understand our history, so that we can rise above the negatives, and find ourselves as informed, proud, free and productive people.

Oliver Senior, one of our most prolific Jamaican writers penned it quite succinctly – “we are not newly minted” nor are we “fashionably multicultural.” We have been sculpted by the experiences of time to become ultimately one people … marinated in one melting pot of social, economic, cultural, and political influences.

These varied experiences have coalesced to bring us to this particular space and to this particular time. History has bequeathed to us this inheritance – our multiculturalism, diversity, tolerance, passion for business and a solid world presence, while, at the same time, as in the German movie, delivering to us many painful experiences.

These experiences include inequality in our region …for example in Jamaica which has one of the greatest income disparities in the world. We have also inherited a world of exploitation which manifests itself in tribal politics and divisiveness across the region; in a challenge of race and class … in what has been described by Professor M G Smith as features of a plural society …evident here in Jamaica, and no doubt in other countries, as well. 

HOW TO DEFINE OUR INHERITANCE

But how do we define this inheritance. I suggest it should be looked at in a holistic way, and we should face … and acknowledge …and accept both the positive and negative influences without guilt, without anger, but simply for what they are. 

Graduates, we cannot rewrite history … this history has our DNA imprint. Our region can be personified and compared to us as individual persons imbued with a DNA that defines us positively and negatively.

Neither can we resile ourselves from our existence – from who we are. Therefore, we need to maximize or take advantage of the positive elements of our inheritance; and, by this, begin to frame a new Caribbean Region with a clearer understanding of who we are, and where we can go.

One lesson of the inheritance is that the region’s success is tied to its people, including our population of Caribbean peoples living here in the region and in the Diaspora, along with important friends of the region. The only way to lift up the Caribbean is to lift up its people.

Professor Paul Romer of Standford University, in comparing the economic development rates in various cities around the United States of America, observed that the cities that were hospitable to people attracted great talent and achieved higher economic growth. Being hospitable means ensuring that we enact laws which broaden our perspective, and makes us more accommodating, so that it is easy and attractive for people to come and live in our communities.

Graduates, our inheritance challenges us to look ahead, and not to remain buried in the past.

In the past our focus was on exploiting what was in the ground, whether it was crops planted on plantations –the bananas called ‘green gold’ or sugar cane; or, in more recent decades, by extracting minerals such as bauxite or other items to be exported to earn funds.

The value of our peoples was understated — rated as secondary to these commodities: and now, in the region where our economy is heavily dependent on services for some 70% of our GDP, there is no point looking under the earth or on top of the earth for solutions to build our society.

We must open our eyes and think and recognise that it is the attraction and retention of people that makes the difference.

It is unacceptable for this region to continue to experience the outward migration of 75% of our tertiary trained graduates. As Trinidadian Calypso sings … we cannot abandon ship without thought of the inheritance bequeathed to us; and the responsibility, which is embodied in each individual as a determinant of the region’s economic growth.

I encourage you to seek to stay in the region; and to push for a legacy that will make the region more hospitable… to create a welcoming environment in our countries for people.

We can begin by supporting the call for a Caribbean Charter of Human Rights with a framework for embracing inalienable human rights, including doing away with laws that separate our people, or permanently punish people who take risks, or allow for detention of people without due process… and others.  

We must create a space for people from all over the world to feel welcomed to our region, and this may well include revising some of our own immigration laws so that talented people from across the globe can come here to achieve their dreams while growing the region’s economies and expanding our culture and intellectual space and capacity.

Our inheritance also dictates that we should understand that we all have a bequeathed stake in Jamaica, in Trinidad, Barbados, St Lucia, Dominica, all the countries which form part of this region; and that we should all play a role in its governance – and graduates, such as you, should volunteer to serve on school boards, and in non-governmental and community based organisations. Become a part of the governance system and not leave it to a few persons.

Taken in the right context, our inheritance has defined us as one of the most creative peoples in the world; and, as such, we need to use that inheritance to build the confidence of our people rather than destroy it.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey once stated — you are masters of your own destiny, masters of your fate; if there is anything you want in this world — it is for you to strike out with confidence and faith in self and reach for it.

So far, we have allowed others to use our inheritance to make us feel inferior and unworthy. In essence, you the graduates and we as peoples of the Caribbean, have power to be “masters of our own destiny,” as Marcus Garvey declared.  We can be what we want to be…and we have the power to be successful. We have the power within us to change our region and the world….

CHARGE TO GRADUATES

Now we have this inheritance, but how do we ensure that it works for our best collective and individual interest? How will each one of you make the best use of this inheritance?

During your time on this Mona campus, you have been exposed to various and diverse critical thinkers; therefore, do not narrow the broad intellectual perspective that you have acquired now you are leaving here to face the real world. But, instead, seek to expand it …and do not be restricted by your inheritance, but rather use it as stepping stones for your own upward mobility.

Your inheritance gives you the right to question and change the established way of doing things.

Your inheritance gives you the right to put forth ideas, which may be scoffed at by others, and watch those ideas take life.

Your inheritance allows you to see beyond what is… to what can be … and to follow that path even if you are the only one afloat in a sea of doubters.

In the final analysis…our inheritance is what we make it; and, what we do know is that — success is not guaranteed, it is not a given. However, what is also certain is our ability to shape the history of future generations. Be willing and bold, like past generations, to craft an inheritance for the generations to come …and to contribute to shaping our history, because, indeed, we can!

Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address as the first Black President of South Africa quoted an excerpt from the book A Return to Love, written by Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be?

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This powerful quote brings us back to the charge given us in our University’s motto: to be – Light shining from the West.

Graduates, I see the hope of our nations and the region in your eyes. I am buoyed by the look on your faces … which speaks to exciting possibilities and eager expectations to achieve your goals. And I challenge you to go forth and use your inheritance to write our region’s history over the next three decades …to strengthen organisations and allow new entrepreneurial activities to bloom in the region… and, in so doing, make realthe great prospects for the continued development of our countries and region.

Congratulations, once again, on your graduation.

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