Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference launched in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Jamaica.   Photo credit: Eddie Grant

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, says Jamaicans living in Canada can expect a “really well-thought-out program” when they attend the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference in Kingston in July.

The minister was in Toronto on May 30 for the launch of the July 23-26 conference, noting that it will span not only the traditional area of philanthropy -- in which many Jamaicans overseas have shown interest -- but also areas and opportunities for investment and growth.

 “We will share what we are doing as an administration there. We will also seek to just engage and share what we are doing to expand our engagement with the diaspora,” she said in an interview.

Johnson Smith said there will be sessions which include panels from the Economic Growth Council, and involving members of the Cabinet, like the ministers of health, education, and national security discussing matters related to their portfolio.

She noted that there was a Diaspora Task Force set up to deal with crime prevention and interventions.

“We have a really exciting program. There’s also a youth forum being set up, being planned by young people from the diaspora with some gentle guidance from headquarters, but really it’s coming from them. They did their own survey to find out what young people would like to discuss, and assess that, and pull the three topics.”

The minister said the organizers are ensuring that they have outcomes from each of the sessions.

“So we want to make sure that we say while we recognize that there’s a broad spectrum of topics that’s being discussed that we can’t meet everyone’s desire for a full expansion. But we want it to be recognized that the conference will be the starting point for some things. It will allow for sharing of others and it will coalesce things which have been in the works and need to come together more.

Senator Johnson Smith said she does not expect the outcomes to all happen there but wants to set a plan in place “with measurable activities that can allow us to say in two years time this is what we accomplished at the next conference and this is what we’re going to build on, this is what we didn’t and why, so that we can correct that and move forward. We want it to be part of a real process that delivers.”

She said Jamaicans in the diaspora are excited about attending the conference.

“That has been the experience that I’ve had across the diaspora as well where we’ve launched in Miami, in New York, as well as areas where we haven’t done a formal launch but people have been registering. In the UK, for example, we haven’t done a launch there yet but they have a full committee that’s active and they have eighty people registered already.”

The diaspora conference will start with church services -- one on July 22, the other on July 23 – for persons of different faith.

The Diaspora Day of Service is on July 24 and there is online registration happening so people can register their projects so that the support, transportation, and logistics can be built around it.

This year, Kingston is celebrating its 145th anniversary as the capital of Jamaica and the minister said Mayor Delroy Williams is doing a great deal of work around building a passion around it.

“He has a hashtag -- #stillbelieving – and he’s getting a whole lot of young people involved.”

She said on Labour Day there was a lot of work done on the national project, the Ward Theatre, and the place “is looking sprucy.”

“He’s also doing beautification projects because his vision is that when you start to feel pride in your city then people start to take better care. If you raise the value of the city in the eyes of its citizens then people start to encourage others to care about the city as well. There’s the matter of policing and dealing with some of the tougher issues, and then there’s also the building back of the pride and the opportunities that allow people to want to redevelop in a concrete way.”

There are various developments on the horizon, like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is moving downtown, and GraceKennedy has a whole project around their new headquarters and a large parking space.

One of the big issues downtown is that people don’t have somewhere to park, which allows for congestion. There will be a multi-storey parking building that will alleviate that situation.

There is also UN House so all the resident UN agencies will be in one place down by the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The hope is that all of these things will build more activities, more restaurants, and more pedestrian activity in Kingston.

“Having the diaspora conference there is part of that because we want Jamaicans to come home and experience it, and feel what we feel about the rebirth. We want the diaspora to share in that, and because our Jamaica 55 theme is “Celebrating Jamaicans at Home and Abroad” it all comes together.

The timing aligns it more closely with Jamaica’s Independence celebrations, she said.

Although the conference ends five days before the Independence Week celebrations, July 31 to August 6, Johnson Smith said after the conference people will be able to enjoy some of the lead-up activities, such as the finals, etc.

On the matter of the Mapping Jamaica Diaspora Project, the minister said it ended and that there will be a rebirth.

“We’re going to revise that project. We feel it wasn’t optimized, but we very much believe in the concept, which is identifying our Jamaican community overseas and identifying all the skills and capacities and passions that lie overseas as a better way that help in connecting people. So, we’re going to rethink that project so that it has broader reach and broader participation. So we’re back to the drawing board on that one.”

Just before the launch of the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference, Minister Johnson Smith met with a group of approximately 30 young people in a room at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel.

She shared with them the plans so far from the young people who are involved, but she was also getting from them their sense of the diaspora and what it means to them – “their connection with Jamaica, whether they have one or not, whether they want a deeper connection, how would they want us to engage with them.”

Johnson Smith said it is important to hear from the young people how or if they want to engage “when you’re developing plans for engagement.”

“Engaging young people, second and third and fourth generation, etc. is fundamental to sustainability of the diaspora,” she said, noting that the team has worked hard to make sure that whenever she attends a diaspora location a meeting with young people is organized.

The minister said they have concerns about matters at home and some wanted to know about opportunities.

She said it was the first group that she met with that did not raise the issue of crime but was instead focused on opportunities and communication – how it is that information is shared – and access to programs where they exist.

“They are progressive young people looking to learn and looking to engage with Jamaica in different ways.”

The minister has already launched the conference in Miami and New York.

The Toronto launch included a prayer by pastor, Daviceto Swaby, videos of “A Call to Action: Time to Come Home” and highlights of “Jamaica 55 Launch,” and endorsements by Jerrold Johnson, chief representative officer, JN Representative Office, Toronto, on behalf of the legacy partners, and Adaoma Patterson, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, on behalf of the diaspora.

Lloyd Wilks, consul general of Jamaica at Toronto, said the Jamaica 55 Conference is going to be “awesome and inspiring.”

“Jamaicans in Canada actively participate in the growth and development of Jamaica through actions which support among others healthcare, educational development, community building, security, culture, and investment in new areas of opportunity, including housing solutions and retirement options,” said Janice Miller, high commissioner for Jamaica to Canada.

She noted that ties between Jamaica and Canada have been greatly enhanced through the Jamaican diaspora in Canada and have contributed to increased people to people contacts, tourism, the expansion of diaspora trade and investment, and synergies in a variety of areas, including music, culture and food.

Lincoln Downer, acting director, diaspora affairs department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, outlined some of the activities during the conference and noted that 16 Jamaicans living in the Middle East – United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar – have registered to attend.

Speaking on behalf of Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, Pamela Appelt, chair of the Jamaica 55 Canada steering committee, read Grange’s remarks about the Jamaica 55 celebrations.

“As Jamaica celebrates number 55 we can say we have reached a significant milestone,” said Grange, noting that, “Our modern history is replete with achievements. Today, we are proud to say Jamaica is a modern country which has established itself in the League of Nations.”

Among the many projects highlighted for Jamaica 55 celebrations is the naming of Louise Bennett Square in Gordon Town, St. Andrew.

The closing remarks were made by Yvette Blackburn and the emcee for the event was Denise Jones of Jones & Jones Productions.

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