Giving Back – Investing in Human Security

Posted on Oct 19, 2015 in Speeches

Keynote Speech at the Knox Association of Past Students – New York Chapter [Annual Banquet, 17 October 2015]

“Giving Back – Investing in Human Security”

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

It is a pleasure for me to be giving the Keynote Address at the Knox Association of Past Students – New York Chapter’s annual banquet.  As you come together to celebrate your alma mater and our Jamaican heritage; but, more so, as you come together to continue your mission of support to Knox College; to live true to your school’s motto – “Niti Severe, Neque Cedere” (To Strive, to serve, and not to Yield) – I congratulate you!

My wife Sonia and I are pleased to be sharing this evening with you.

I congratulate this alumni body for keeping the Jamaican flag flying in the diaspora, even as you express your commitment to those students who follow in your footsteps.

In considering your theme for this event: “Giving back to Knox,” I offer my own perspective on giving back; what it means and how I like to contextualize it: “Giving Back – Investing in Human Security.”

As we reflect on the things you do, and what we mean when we say “Giving Back,” allow me first to put in perspective the Knox College you celebrate, honor, and support. This is important, because, as Jamaica’s first National Hero, the Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, quite aptly stated:

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

Knox College, counted among Jamaica’s traditional high schools, though founded in the 1940s compared to my own school which is over 150 years old, is no less an important institution. Your alma mater has contributed significantly to the education of the Jamaican people and to Jamaica’s development as an independent nation.  Alumni of Knox gathered here tonight is testament to your school’s history and purpose.

As Knox’s co-founder, the Rev. Dr. Lewis Davidson stated at the time of Knox’s founding:

“Knox College aims to equip boys and girls, men and women with the training, knowledge, techniques and character that will fit them to live well themselves and to contribute to the development of the country.  The essence of the plan is simply to meet the needs of the people, whatsoever those needs may be.”

Isn’t it amazing, that in the 1940’s, the Rev. Dr. Lewis Davidson had such a revolutionary idea.  We know that when anyone of that era spoke of “the needs of the people,” they were addressing the needs of the masses, those marginalized in society at large.

I am heartened by the fact that the Mission Statement of the institution today remains true to its founding objective:

“[An] Institution which seeks to provide …an environment which facilitates the spiritual, physical, intellectual and social development of the individual that he (or she) may become a leader in the creation of positive changes in the society.”

There is every reason for you to be proud of your alma mater which equipped you to participate in the process of securing for others that which was secured for you and, by doing so, to participate in the development of your country.

Undoubtedly, we are creatures of our history, our culture, and our experiences! From our history, we gain knowledge and understanding of who we are.  By virtue of the road we have traveled, we either emerge stronger and more resilient, or we are doomed to be relegated to the margins of society.  We grow in confidence and we see ourselves no less equal than others.  As Marcus Garvey also said:

“If we have no confidence in self, [we] are twice defeated in the race of life.”

As Jamaicans, we never lack confidence in ourselves; we do not allow doubt to dictate who we are and what we can achieve; and true to that precept, which belies our small numbers and our small island nation, Jamaicans know no national boundaries, and the whole world is our stage.

Knox College has prepared you well for playing your part on the global stage.

As Jamaicans in the Diaspora here in the United States we contribute to every facet of American life.  In the same way we contribute here in our adopted home, we contribute to every facet of Jamaican life.

We have been a part of American history and the American demography, since the beginning of this country – from the pre-Independence period.  We have contributed to the building of America from the ground up – as architects and engineers of all disciplines; as medical professionals – doctors, dentists,  nurses, nurse aides, pharmacists and medical technicians; as educators and teachers; as lawyers in defense of the less fortunate and in defense of civil liberties; as civic and political activists and leaders; as laborers and technicians, housekeepers and nannies; as researchers, scientists, and inventors; we engage in every aspect of business and entrepreneurship; we work in the factories and in every industry; we work on the farms; and we have excelled in entertainment, the arts, and sports.  We have excelled in every area of endeavor in American society.

My fellow Jamaicans, we have cared for Americans from the cradle to the grave.  We have played an important role in the past, we are contributing significantly to the present, and we have earned a stake in the future of this great country, which we have adopted as our home, and which has welcomed us, as it has for centuries welcomed other immigrants to its shores.

We are Jamaicans and we are proud of our heritage!  Our capacity to give back is a part of whom we are; who we have become; who we have chosen to be!

When you asked me to speak here tonight, I did not hesitate.  My alma mater and yours share much in common.  Not only did we steal from you one of your most beloved teaching couple – Gerry and Patsy German, but Gerry was my principal in my formative years at Manchester.  He helped to mold me and helped make me what I have become.  He once told me he was very proud of me. I was equally proud and fortunate to have had him as my principal; and I am sure those Knox College alumni who experienced Gerry and Patsy were equally proud to have had them as their teachers, also.

As Gus John wrote, on the Institute of Race Relations website, upon Gerry’s passing at age 84 in 2012:

“Gerry was a life-long campaigner for children’s education and unwavering supporter of our struggle.”

Gerry was more than that. Writing in the UK Guardian, Hugh Muir put it even more succinctly.  He wrote of Gerry:

“The rebellious Welshman was a born teacher and a tireless champion of equality and social justice.”

He wrote, that for Gerry German,

“…. Equality and justice [were] the most natural things in the world to him.  They were drivers for all his work, whether teaching at Knox College …or as head at … [Manchester High School].”

Thank you Knox College for giving Gerry German to us at Manchester!  It wasn’t enough that you allowed us to defeat you in football, you allowed us to steal from you one of your greatest treasures – Gerry and Patsy German.

I speak of Gerry German, an educator shared between Knox College and Manchester High School, primarily because of the example he set for all of us.  He instilled in us the confidence to be proud of who we are by exposing us to our Jamaican and Caribbean history, which was not a part of the high school curriculum during my day.  He exposed us to the social and racial injustices, which had taken its toll on Jamaica and on the children of those who were routinely marginalized in our society.  His teaching and his legacy enriched us with a passion for service, and strengthened our love for our alma maters and our country.  He imbued in us the culture of giving back in whatever way we can.

Just recently, I was taken aback by a statement attributed to the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Montego Bay in which she decried what she perceived as a lack of investment in Jamaica by members of the Jamaican Diaspora.

I asked myself: Is this lady’s understanding of investment in one’s country limited to financial investment merely for profit or personal gain? Considering the organization she presides over, this unfortunate perception and careless utterance should not be surprising.

I followed up by asking myself: Does she understand what is meant by investing in people; what is meant by investing in human security, and not merely investing as a means to enrich one’s own pockets, and grow one’s own wealth, often at the expense of others?  I am not here criticizing entrepreneurship; don’t get me wrong!  I am merely putting in perspective what it means to invest in people’s lives versus investing for personal profit.  It means investing in human security.

But, then I concluded: Perhaps she had never heard, or did not understand the value of the investments made, over several decades, by members of the Jamaican Diaspora with the singular aim of creating opportunity for others, and enhancing the human security of Jamaicans at home in education, in healthcare, and in the social development of those less fortunate.

Perhaps she has never heard of the work and mission of the Knox College Past Students Association, or of the works of similar past students associations in the diaspora, such as the Manchester High School Past Students Association, and the dozens of other alumni groups across the United States, and the world at large, that make it possible for the educational institutions in Jamaica to survive and flourish; that which makes it possible for hundreds, perhaps thousands of less fortunate children to have access to a high school education.

Without alumni groups such as yours giving back, many children would not be able to pay their school fees, or purchase books and uniforms, or pay for transportation to school. Many students would be forced to go to school and spend the better part of the day on a hungry stomach.

Will someone please educate this lady about giving back – the raison d’être of alumni groups, such as the Knox College Past Students Association? Giving back!

Yes, you and other alumni groups within the Jamaican Diaspora are investing heavily in the children of Jamaica; you are investing in Jamaica’s future.  You are investing without the expectation of personal enrichment.  You are investing in nation-building because you love your old school and you love your country.

Our capacity to give back is a part of whom we are; who we have become; who we have chosen to be!

Although we live in the diaspora, as Jamaicans we continue to participate in numerous ways in the social, economic and political development of Jamaica. Over the past 53 years of independence, diaspora organizations have done much for Jamaica as a nation and for our fellow Jamaicans at home.  Our remittances, which now amount to billions of dollars annually, have been a life-line for the Jamaican economy, and have provided sustenance to relatives back home.  Money and other forms of support from the diaspora have educated a vast cadre of Jamaican so-called “barrel children”.  Our contributions in kind and service, in the fields of education, health and social development, often provide underserved members of Jamaican society with a safety net.

In the same way alumni groups, such as yours, provide education assistance to thousands of Jamaican children, hundreds of medical missions go to Jamaica each year to extend quality healthcare services to tens of thousands of Jamaicans otherwise deprived of quality healthcare services.  Education and healthcare are two primary elements of human security.

As members of the Jamaican diaspora, as members of the Knox family, I urge you to continue, steadfastly, in your commitment to your former high school and, in so doing, helping to grow the community in which your alma mater is located; indeed helping all of Jamaica. Applaud yourselves on your efforts! Your work does not go unnoticed and is very much appreciated by those whose lives you touch on a daily basis.

I personally subscribe to the concept, which I first heard articulated by then foreign minister of Jamaica in the 1970s, the Hon. P. J. Patterson, that “Jamaica is a country without borders.”  He recognized the significance of the Jamaican diaspora and the important contributions Jamaicans across the globe were playing and could play in the future development of the country.

The members of the Knox Association of Past Students, here in New York and elsewhere, are living up to that creed.  You have shown through your support for your alma mater that you don’t have to live in Jamaica to support policies and programs that uplift the Jamaican people. By the same token, you don’t have to live in Jamaica to oppose policies and programs that don’t.

As you continue to support your alma mater, I leave you with words again borrowed from Marcus Garvey:

“God and nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.  Follow always that great law.  Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.”

As you go forward, be encouraged by the words of Marcus Garvey which resonates with us, even though spoken more than three-quarters of a century ago.  As Garvey implored us:

“Up you mighty nation, [Jamaica], accomplish what you will!”

We are Jamaicans!

Thank you, and God bless you.