The Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) of the Ministry of National Security put its community action cultural development services to work on Emancipation Day by sponsoring the first ever Emancipation Day celebrations in August Town, one of Jamaica’s first free villages, on Emancipation Day, August 1.
The all-day celebrations brought African Gardens’ town square in August Town to life, and marked a ‘coming out’ of sorts for the residents themselves. Some twelve stalls showcasing pastry and food items, including roast breadfruit, peanut cakes, drops, festivals, fried fish, fried chicken, cakes and soups. There was clothing exhibits of crocheted and fabric beach wear, aprons, caps, doilies, handcrafted floral arrangements and a cosmetology booth. An array of locally produced wines in a variety of flavours held pride of place, and was a hit with young men from the community as well as visitors.
Twenty-two year old Joanna Williams from the community hopes it will be the first of many small steps towards renewing peace and hope in the once volatile community. “Everybody pick up themselves again, trust me. Nobody nah deh pon de corner again, nobody nah beg $20 again,” she said.
She had high praises for the work of the various groups especially the CSJP. A product of the work of the CSJP, Williams says she was a high school dropout who was assisted to go back to school under CSJP’s remedial education programme. She sat qualifying exams and participated in two skills courses, one of which now earns her some extra money.
At Saturday’s celebrations, her cosmetology booth saw a steady trickle of visitors, with patrons receiving pedicure and manicure services among others.
She says she is now one of more than 100 young persons who have been assisted with reeducation and retraining. Buoyed by the interest shown by CSJP, the residents have pooled together to hire a bus to transport the group to school every day.
Forty-six year old Winnifred Harris admits she got jealous when she saw the dramatic change in the youth in the community. “I know they were looking for young people, but when I saw the young people going out in the mornings, and just getting a fresh start, I told her (CSJP officer) I would like a change too.”
Today she is pursuing training in housekeeping. “I feel proud,’ she says. James Edwards, ‘Forky’, beams as he declares that he is now a certified electrician (Level 1) and making more money than he did two years ago. He used to be one of the corner youth, depressed, discouraged.”I wasn’t really a bad youth, but just don’t have nothing to do, I just come out here so and sit down every day. He says not even early disappointments of not having a place to hold classes could stop him after he was accepted as part of a group of seven young men. “I tell the teacher, Miss, l will come to class anywhere you have it, or we wait until you find somewhere.”
Tina Estick at 19 years old now knows what her career path will be. “I want to be a chef! She has applied to do makeup subjects at one of the local educational institutions. Her stall was a mouth-watering array of beautiful cupcakes, and cakes and wine. She has turned her love for pineapples into a moneymaking venture, teaming up with her mother, and taste tested her pineapple wine at the fete on Saturday – the result a big hit. Others like Lois Hamilton, and Ann Marie Josephs say the fair was a long time in coming but is good exposure for the community.
Community Action Officer (CSJP) Angella Harris, who brought greetings on behalf of the CSJP said later in an interview that the Emancipation Day event was a success especially as it drew on the talents and resources of the residents, and families, fostering family entrepreneurship. “Can you believe all the exhibits were locally made!” Harris said CSJP was pleased to be major sponsors of the cultural event, which was a key thrust of the programme. “It’s very important as its shows the diverse nature of the programme. Although it targets young men at risk we realize that it is also important to engage families.”
There was the lesson in the history from guest speaker, sociologist and university lecturer, Professor Barry Chevannes, but also the chance to share in the rich and budding talents on display, including the ingenious locally produced items.
Praising the spirit of cooperation, and unity which he said was already evident in the organizing of this, the first ever commemoration of Emancipation in the 171 year old community, Chevannes said the day was particularly important for August Town on the whole, one of the nation’s first free villages.
The historian informed residents that August Town was once known as ‘Africa Hill, until it was renamed August Town by the free villagers to note the important date.
He said it was important that Emancipation be commemorated as a community event, but even more so that the celebration of the event includes the children. “It is not size, (Jamaica’s) it is the spirit that we have inherited from our African ancestors, that is what emancipation is about and that is what we are passing on to our children. Any event that does not include and pass on to its children is not worthy of being called an emancipation event,” he said.
He encouraged the residents to continue to work together ‘so that next time the event would be ‘bigger, better and more edifying’.
There were greetings from constituency caretaker Andre Hylton, Oscar James of the Community Development Committee, Social Development Commision’s (SDC) Terry Ranglin. Items by the visiting community group from Kitson Town, St. Mary and the Christ the King Marching band rounded off the day’s proceedings.