During the first week of August, a sea of people dressed in black, green and gold occupied an enormous space teeming with electricity and excitement on the grounds of the Jamaica 50 Grand Jubilee Village, formerly the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. The stadium was filled with lively musical celebrations, plays, movie screenings, fashion shows, dancing and was complete with a large screen that displayed the Olympic winning moments of homegrown heroes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price. Those winning moments seemed to be the icing on the cake for a country that, despite its hard times, knows how to celebrate when the time comes. And celebrate they did, in that typical raucous Jamaican fashion when it was confirmed that both the fastest man and the fastest woman in the world both hailed from the tiny Caribbean island.
Jamaica came under British control in 1655 when it was captured from the Spanish. From that time until 1838, the British brought slaves from Africa to work the land which largely consisted of sugar plantations. After slavery ended, Britain invested in infrastructure on the island, but simultaneously had a system of repression of the nation’s Black majority and punished those who tried to buck that establishment. Jamaica started moving toward independence in the 1940s. Britain conceded to giving the colony greater economic and political power to govern themselves. On August 6, 1962, in the same national stadium that hosted the 50th anniversary celebration, the flag of the British Empire was lowered for the final time and replaced by the gold, black and green Jamaican flag that flies today.
As Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from Great Britain, the celebration is made great through the entity that can be seen as Jamaica’s greatest asset and even its greatest export; its people. Jamaica’s national motto is “Out of many, one people,” which summarizes the diversity of ethnicities in its population which is more extensive than most people realize. There are about 3 million Jamaicans that populate the island and roughly the same amount live in other countries, helping to disperse their unique culture. For almost fifty years, this tiny speck of land in the Caribbean Sea, roughly the same size as the state of Connecticut, is a fixture on the world stage in the fields of music, athletics, academia, and international diplomacy, among others. Jamaica has made these contributions in extraordinary part through the export of its people to the farthest corners of the Earth, in particular to the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America.
Despite economic hardships, high crime rates, government corruption, these resilient people continue to smile, to work hard, and to make extraordinary contributions to the world. Here’s to the next 50 years.