Jamaica’s first National Hero, the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Garvey is recognized as one of the world’s greatest leaders. His words and philosophy have influenced many generations of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora including politicians, activists, academics and artists. The celebration of Kwanzaa reflects Garvey’s philosophy in the Nguzo saba (seven principles) and even the use of the red, black and green colours. The Honourable Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley, Winston “Burning Spear” Rodney, both considered geniuses and visionaries in the music industry and both born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica were influenced by Garvey.
In Marley’s Redemption Song he encourages “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,” these are Garvey’s words and philosophy. Rodney named an entire album “Marcus Garvey” with “Old Marcus Garvey” as the title of one of the songs. Garvey’s philosophy is also reflected in Max Romeo’s “Maccabee Version” from his album, "Holy Zion." Max Romeo encourages us to "Give Black God the glory" Garvey said: “White people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. We (Africans) believe in the God of Ethiopia, we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.” Garvey’s philosophy influenced the Rastafarian movement. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Martin Luther King Jr and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz are examples of African leaders who were influenced by Garvey’s philosophy.
Garvey is considered the father of modern Pan-Africanism. The result of his inspired work among African people throughout the world was a sense of pride in their African heritage. He was the founder of the UNIA, later renamed the UAIA to better reflect and express the self determination of Africans. Garvey understood the importance of Africans uniting and speaking for themselves. He was uncompromising in his goal of the total and complete redemption and liberation of African people across the planet. In pursuit of this goal Garvey traveled throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America. He succeeded to a great degree in a time when there was no internet or even television. The UAIA included approximately 1200 branches in 40 countries across the globe. There were branches in several African countries including Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia. Garveyites, followers of Marcus Garvey’s teaching were to be found globally from Australia to Zimbabwe.
Garvey’s philosophy of “Race First” encouraged unity, coupled with self reliance, self determination and economic development; if his efforts had not been sabotaged Africa would now be “for Africans at home and abroad.” Instead we are still in a place where white people think they can determine who we are. This was our reality for more than four hundred years during the enslavement of Africans and the colonization of our nations and territories. It seems that not much has changed. At a recent forum, after several members of the African community had expressed their concern at the level of racial profiling some of them had experienced in the public education system and where their children are experiencing the same, a white man decided that he would tell us how to solve “our problem.” In a patriarchal, white supremacist mind frame he decided to “educate” us about our history and culture. Not surprisingly, his “knowledge” of our culture and history was inaccurate but given his sense of entitlement and white skin privilege he felt very comfortable expressing his opinion. He was not there to share the power and privilege his skin colour affords him.
Garvey said; “For over three hundred years the white man has been our oppressor, and he naturally is not going to liberate us to the higher freedom—the truer liberty—the truer Democracy. We have to liberate ourselves.”
It is amazing what Garvey was able to achieve given the “interesting times” in which he lived. Many of us take for granted what we have today without giving thought to those whose lives were sacrificed for the small gains that our race has made. Garvey was born a mere 49 years after the enslavement of Africans was abolished in the British “dominions” which included his birthplace. From 1904 to 1908, while Garvey was a young adult, the Germans were making a “valiant” effort to exterminate an entire group of African people. The four years from 1904 to 1908 Germans in Namibia systematically and savagely murdered Herero people. Coveting the Herero land, cattle and other property, the Germans experimented and perfected vicious, brutal and cruel methods in an effort to destroy the Herero some of which would later be reported to have been used on oppressed people during the second world war. The surviving Herero, some of whom had to flee to neighbouring countries have not yet received reparations from the Germans.
This weekend Africans worldwide will be celebrating the birthday of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It is time we live up to the reality of that “mighty race” that Garvey told us we are. We must emancipate our minds from mental slavery and colonization. Stop allowing white people to feel comfortable when they behave as if they have a right to direct our thought processes, choose our leaders, chastise us for the manner in which we celebrate our culture. No other group would tolerate outsiders dictating to them in this manner. Garvey told us that we do not need to feel that anyone is better than us, we are the equal of any other group of people. “The Black skin is a glorious symbol of national greatness.” He also realized that his teachings would not resonate with every African person. “I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa; there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there.”
In honour of he sacrifices that Garvey made to educate us, let us work to make “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” a reality. This weekend the 15th celebration of Marcus Garvey Day in Toronto will be a two day celebration. Entitled “Healing the Effects of Slavery” there will a recognition of the Bicentenary (two hundred years since the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade) and a tribute to Lucie and Thornton Blackburn who started the first taxicab business in Toronto. The two day event will begin on Friday, August 17, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 19 Sackville Street – the historic site of Lucie and Thornton Blackburn’s home. The recognition will continue on Saturday, August 18 at the Pure Spirit Patio, 55 Mill Street, in the Distillery Historic District, from noon until 10 p.m. Attend this two day event and be educated, Garvey said; “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” For more information about the Marcus Garvey Day celebrations contact Terry Brown at email@example.com or (416) 783 – 1792
Written in August 2007