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The Atlanta Jamaican Association Reaches Impressive Community Service Milestone

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The Atlanta Jamaican Association (AJA) has reached a major milestone in community service. Long recognized as the longest serving and probably the most prolific Caribbean organization in Atlanta, The AJA officially celebrates 30 years of service this year.

To mark this special achievement, The AJA will host a series of events during the course of the year. The feature event will be a Commemorative Church Service and Community Awards Reception, to be held Sunday, October 21, 2007 in the Fellowship Hall at Hillside Presbyterian Church, 1879 Columbia Drive, Decatur, Georgia. Start time: 5:00 p.m.

“At the 30th Anniversary Commemorative Service and Community Awards Reception we will honor our founding members and present community service awards to outstanding leaders who have contributed to the Jamaican community during the past 30 years,” explained Joy Boothe, 30th anniversary planning committee chairwoman.

“Several businesses and organizations will also be specially recognized.”

Ms. Boothe further outlined several other events and items planned or proposed
specifically with a 2007 celebratory spirit in mind. These include :

  • The availability The AJA’s 30th Anniversary memorabilia
  • Proposed courtesy calls on Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and Honorary Jamaican Consul Vin Martin
  • Special Recognition and Tributes at The AJA’s August 2007 Jamaican
  • Independence & Emancipation Ball and Scholarship Awards Program, and The publication of a souvenir journal for the 30th Anniversary Commemorative

Church Service and Community Awards Reception in October.

Most long standing Association members will tell you that the road to this
commendable service record has been long and difficult. Somehow, from its humble beginnings in the basement of a home owned by Denzil and the late Quo Vadis Dixon, AJA managed to advance itself gracefully to a position where it is now a force to be reckoned with.

Undoubtedly, the respect that The AJA has earned over the years is based primarily on its sterling record of achievement.

“We have quite a bit to be proud of,” the Association’s Past President Astley Leslie attested, beaming with pride. “We are especially proud of the fact that, over the years, we have awarded some thirty or so scholarships to deserving college students. In addition, our Family Relations Committee represents the soul of the Association. Under the leadership of Committee
Chair Copeland Comrie, the Family Relations Committee has clearly demonstrated that
it cares about the welfare of the Association’s constituents.”

Asked to define “constituents” Mr. Leslie, a former high-ranking member of the Jamaican government opined that “our constituents are AJA members and, to a lesser extent, the Jamaican community in Atlanta.”

To its credit, The AJA has earned recognition far and wide. One such noteworthy
commendation came in August 2005 in the form of the Phoenix Award which, according to the City of Atlanta’s official Web site, is the city’s highest mayoral honor.

Other distinguished recipients of this prestigious award include Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons; the Food and Drug Administration, Southeast Region; and CARE, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations. A “Jamaica Gleaner Online” August 24, 2005 report by Derrick A. Scott mentioned that the award was presented to The AJA “in recognition for the tremendous contributions that Jamaicans have made to the city of Atlanta.”

Separately, The AJA has an impressive list of Atlanta firsts. As an example, it was the first Jamaican social organization to be formally established in Atlanta. In fact, purists will insist that The AJA was the first Caribbean social and philanthropic organization in Atlanta…period!

In addition, in 1985 The AJA was the first Caribbean organization to host a formal beauty pageant. It should be noted, however, that the beauty pageant was later transformed_some say superficially_ into what was labeled a Cultural Show and Talent Competition. The repackaging was an attempt to reflect, quite positively, the conservative stance of the Jamaican community in Atlanta at that time. By then contestants were not merely awarded prizes. Instead, they were awarded scholarships for use in furthering their education. Counting the scholarships awarded to contestants, the number of scholarships The AJA has awarded over the years is well over 60, double the “thirty or so” Mr. Leslie knew about.

Interestingly enough, the Cultural Show/Talent Competitions were discontinued in the late 90’s by Ms. Monica Pinnock, the second woman ever to serve as an AJA
President (the first being Cecilia Smith who, in 1977, had the distinction of being the very first AJA president). Ms. Pinnock was in strict opposition to the swimsuit component of the “competition.” It was a clear and positive demonstration of this past president’s strength of conviction.

Further, as early as 1985, The AJA sponsored a group of fourteen teachers, nurses and other professionals on a trip to Somerton, Jamaica to conduct workshops in health care, child care and other educational topics. At that time, too, The AJA sent a shipment of food supplies, health and beauty supplies, and twenty-five bicycles, all for distribution to the poor. Also, in 1994 The AJA organized a highly successful health mission to the University of the West Indies Hospital at Mona. Essentially, Jamaican nurses left Atlanta to complete a tour of volunteer service providing much needed patient care as “relief” nurses. In addition, The AJA collected and donated various medical equipment and supplies for use in the hospital.

Later that same year The AJA organized a Work Tour to the Savanna-la-mar Hospital in Westmoreland. The tour group was charged with painting an exterior wing of the hospital. In addition, members of the tour group collected and contributed, for patient care, various medical supplies and equipment.

Similarly ambitious Association volunteer services are still being offered even
today, and a number of donations are still being made, both as part of ongoing outreach missions organized by Copeland Comrie and AJA life member Derrick R. Wright. “As long as there is a need for our service, our commitment to the underserved will remain strong,” Mr. Comrie pledged.

Despite its years of spectacular achievements, however, The AJA is not about to rest on its laurels. Joy Boothe, who doubles as one of the executives with
responsibility for strategic planning, is quick to point out that The AJA is preparing itself to meet the challenges of the future. She said that The AJA will continue to do its part in whatever capacity it can to meet, head-on, the key challenge of educating young Jamaicans.

As a result, it is not surprising that, even today, The AJA continues to attract
committed volunteers. Asked what attracted her to the Association, new member Sandra Gammon explained that when she came to live in Atlanta permanently, she needed to be part of an organization that “would be committed to helping Jamaicans as well as the communities they live in. The AJA seemed to be such an organization,” she added.

Even so, Association President Allan Alberga, a long time attorney who practices in Georgia, Jamaica and the U.K., is wary about certain challenges that the Association faces. For one, he is worried that the Jamaican community in Atlanta is not sufficiently unified. “It is no secret that I am disappointed in the absence of unity within the community,” he laments. “The founders of the Association specifically, and sensibly, declared unity as one of its aims.”

As a closing thought Mr. Alberga asserted that “the Jamaican community in Atlanta can do much more, both in Atlanta and in Jamaica, than we are presently doing. However, this requires cooperation,” he said. “I am determined, whether in or out of office, to find that (winning) formula.”

The AJA is a non-profit organization established to promote friendship, unity and understanding between Jamaicans and the members of the greater Atlanta community. The Atlanta Jamaica Cultural and Educational Fund, Inc., The AJA’s cultural and educational affiliate organization, enjoys 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.

The public is invited to The AJA’s monthly meetings which are held normally on the
second Saturday of each month, starting at 7:00 p.m. Meeting Venue: Fellowship
Hall, Hillside Presbyterian Church, 1879 Columbia Drive, Decatur, GA 30032.

Additional information may be obtained by calling The AJA at 770-593-9290, or by
visiting their Web site at www.ajaatlanta.org . Their listed mailing address is P.O. Box 2207, Lithonia, GA 30058, and e-mail address: [email protected].

Derrick R. Wright
Life Member, The AJA
[email protected]

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