Jamaica’s newest ambassador to the US, Dr. Stephen Vasciannie, made his public debut at Atlanta’s Independence ball last Saturday at the invitation of the Atlanta Jamaican Association and the Jamaica 50th – Atlanta Planning Committee. Ambassador Vasciannie, who was only installed in the position in July, was clearly relaxed as he joked with the 800-plus attendees, regaling them with tales from his college classroom, hilarious phonetic spellings, his appreciation of the warm Atlanta welcome and expressed his delight at reconnecting with childhood friends.
Jamaicans of every level turned out in their finery at the ball to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence and to hear the Ambassador’s first formal remarks in the U.S. The former university professor did not disappoint as he recounted areas of concern expressed by Jamaicans at a town hall meeting the previous evening before cataloging some of Jamaicans’ outstanding achievements in sports, entertainment, business and education. Dr. Vasciannie said that too often in reviewing our history we focus on what still needs to be done, so he wanted to make sure that we took note of many of the things that are right about Jamaica.
Before the night was over local politicians Larry Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton and Stan Watson presented the Ambassador with a proclamation congratulating Jamaica on 50 years of independence and welcoming him to Atlanta.
The Jamaica 50th – Atlanta Planning Committee under the Patronage of the Jamaican Honorary Consul, Mr. Vin Martin, and chaired by the former president of the Queen’s Alumnae Atlanta Chapter, Heather Potter, is the group organizing and promoting the celebratory events in the Metro-Atlanta area. This committee draws together community and civic leaders, alumni associations and friends of Jamaica and under the guidance of a Board of Directors which includes Gail Dunwell – Vice President/Secretary, Waine Gray – Treasurer, Louis Parkins – Director, Alrene Barr – Director and Dr. Paul Abrahams – Director, along with Advisory Board members, Dr. David Panton – Entrepreneur, Ms. Myrna White – Director of Marketing & Stakeholder Engagement, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dr. Collette Hopkins – Director of Education and Public Programs National Black Arts Festival, Mr. Barry Bennett – President, Metals & Materials Engineers and Mr. Royston Dyer – Director, Coca Cola Company has planned and is staging a full schedule of events with a parade of Jamaican dignitaries visiting Atlanta and participating in a wide range of activities throughout the year.
The 2012 celebrations kicked off in January with former US Ambassador, Audrey Marks, as the special guest speaker at a launch ceremony at the Atlanta City Hall Atrium. The month of May saw a Sports Day featuring many local teams battling in Netball, Football and Cricket at Burdett Park and the revival of the Reggalypso band for Carnival in Atlanta. These activities were followed by an appearance of the Jamaican Consul General, Mrs. Sandra Grant-Griffiths, as the guest of honor at the opening ceremonies of the Georgia Caribbean-American Heritage Month in June at the Fulton County Atrium. In July, in partnership with the biennial National Black Arts Festival the group presented a photographic exhibition by Jamaican Radcliffe Royce. Then kicking off the week of Independence celebrations on August 4th and in collaboration with DeKalb County Commissioner, Larry Johnson, was a Jamaica Day – Family Fun Day, featuring many vendors, games, local acts and a special performance by the Fab 5’s own Gem Myers.
Other highlights included the annual thanksgiving and ecumenical church service on August, 5th which drew a record crowd. Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, was to have been the keynote speaker but was detained in Jamaica by Hurricane Ernesto. Local Jamaican clergymen Barry Davies, Noel Erskine, Denzil Holness and Winston Lawson filled in for him and focused attention on the role and importance of education to Jamaica’s success. Rounding out the weekend of activities, county commissioners and mayoral representatives from across metro Atlanta participated in a flag ceremony at Atlanta City Hall on August 6th in tribute to the island’s 50th year of independence.
The celebrations will continue on September 2nd with the annual Jerk Festival at Panthersville stadium in Decatur and on October 6th when the committee will partner with Georgia State University to present the world-famous Third World Band at the Rialto Theatre in downtown Atlanta. More events are planned for the rest of the year as Jamaicans in Atlanta wind down the year of celebrations and give thanks for the 50 years of independence.
– By Sarah Vaughan