BY: JELANI GRANT
From crime prevention to medical marijuana treatments, this year’s Diaspora Conference encouraged more pooling together of research and resources in hopes of benefitting all Jamaican descendants across the globe.
The Providence Methodist Church opened the conference with a sermon from lead Pastor of the Destiny Gospel Centre in Markham Bishop Ransford Jones. The opening ceremony, which included the Governor-General’s Achievement Awards, which were held inside a hall of the Pegasus Hotel making the commute for a majority of the attendees smoother. The seventeen-story hotel is recognized for being situated in the heart of what some know as New Kingston. Traveling to the conference was simple as well because the hotel is located in the financial and business district, less than fifteen minutes away from the Jamaica Conference Centre. Canadian delegates included Adaoma Patterson, Renea Douglas, Jerrold Johnson, Yvette Blackburn, Winston Miller, Janice Miller. During the opening, Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke to the crowd about the contributions that the Jamaica Diaspora Institute has made across the island. He followed up the praise by making a call to all Jamaican people to send support to their homeland. “We need the participation of all of our citizens, whether at home or abroad”, he said.
PM Holness told the audience he has noticed a stronger bond being established since his term began. “We’re pleased to see that the engagement process has evolved over the thirteen years where the diaspora is now fully on board”, he said.
“The JDI has sent support to communities, schools, and health facilities.”
One of the achievement awardees included Mississauga raised, but Winnipeg-born, Donika Jones, who has been serving the Government of Nunavut Health Promotion Specialist in Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention for the past two years. Having attended the conference before, as a Future Leader Delegate from the Canadian region, she said this conference has been much more engaging this time around. “Being more seasoned in my profession, the discussion around health care I understand in a different way because that’s the area I work”, she said.
Jones focuses on Aboriginal communities affected by alcoholism. In Nunavut, the festivals she volunteers at include Living in Nunavut. Jones soon found a community of black people who would join her in creating the Nunavut Black History Month Society. 85% of the population is Inuit, but Jones said there is certainly a black community she has now become a part of. “We have nurses, lawyers, teachers, and educators, we are there.”
“In Iqaluit, we recently started a Nunavut Black History Society. Even before I got there, before we were an official group, they were still doing Black History Month non-profits”.
Between July 22nd and July 27th, people of Jamaican descent came from Canada, United States, U.K., and even Japan for at least three days, where scheduled panels made up of Jamaican specialists discussed the issues at hand. To embody the theme of ‘Partnering With Growth’, the Jamaica Diaspora Institute organized discussion panels that discussed education, crime prevention, health care, and the many potential strategies towards economic growth.
There were a number of effective solutions presented by panel members as well as some Diaspora members who stood at designated microphones for questions. The most notable instance of this was during the presentation from the Minister of National Security Montague who managed to extend his portion of the panel to 1 1/2 hrs, despite all panel members having a ten-minute time limit. However, a common critique heard throughout each day was more discipline and more organization amongst global Diasporas. For instance, Jamaica has been in need of more ambulances across the island since [[year or time period government official made comment]]. After the health care panellist spoke, a member of the United Kingdom Diaspora raised an issue that would later be found in newspapers the next day. “Some members of the diaspora in the United Kingdom raised in the region of 40,000 pounds to buy an ambulance…these members of the diaspora were extremely careful, followed all of the procedures, contacted the Ministry of Health and did everything according to the procedures…that ambulance has been sitting on the wharf for eleven months now”, she said. The funding for this vehicle, that was donated to the Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Hanover, equated to more than $65,000 CAD. Many of the delegates inside the conference room pondered amongst each other how the ambulance could be sent yet unable to assist the people due to red tape was a major concern. Only three days later, the Ministry of Finance granted a waiver to release the ambulance.
Dalia Walker Huntington said she felt one of the issues the Jamaican diaspora have is discipline. “Inviting us to come to invest in Jamaica, is something that’s natural for a lot of us but the problem area is in discipline”, she said into the microphone. “Yesterday, we had someone here for an hour and a half, who spoke ignoring everybody else on the panel, the rest of us and what we had to do.” The crowd seemed in agreement based on their clapping and, respectfully, the panel had answers to a number of these concerns.
After the discussions concluded on day three, Jamaica Diaspora Institute Executive Director Neville Ying provided three-day dialogue summary of topics discussed. Following Ying’s summary, three panels spoke on potential actionable conference outcomes in Jamaica’s global young leaders, investments and Canadian delegates Donika Jones and Yvette Blackburn were a part of the diaspora philanthropy panel. To conclude the conference’s discussions, Conference Chairman Earl Jarrett and Minister Johnson-Smith provided closing statements. The final gathering invited to all delegates was a lineup of performances and speeches at the renowned Devon House’s East Lawn. For anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a big scoop of Devon House, its is the architectural dream of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Stiebel, and is not to be missed during a trip to Jamaica.