It is with great pleasure and an enormous sense of pride that I extend greetings and best wishes to my fellow Jamaicans and the many well wishers and friends of Jamaica who have come to celebrate the 47th Anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence.
I would like to thank the Jamaica American Association of Central Florida for their gracious invitation and take this time to acknowledge my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Una Clarke, retired councilwoman from New York whose shoes I stand in tonight and a special recognition to Laparkan Shipping your fine sponsor.
Jamaicans everywhere over the last two week are gleaming with pride as they celebrate our 47 years of self determination and their contribution to world society both individually and collectively because we know we have helped to shape the world through our many talents, whether in government, business, sports, entertainment and many other chosen fields.
Let us also acknowledge the role of all those organizations and persons who have, in various ways, contributed positively and who continue to go beyond the call of duty in service to Jamaicans at home and abroad.
The Question tonight is where do we go from here in this our adopted home?
Tonight, I am going to take a few minutes to talk to you about something that is important to all us in this country — whether you are from Jamaica or any other part of the world — and that is the U.S. Census.
• The census is a count of everyone living in the United Stated every 10 years. It is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
• The next census will be April 2010 and the one page 10 question document will be mailed to us anytime after March 15, 2010. I am one of five Florida Legislators, appointed by the Governor as a delegate to the 2010 Statewide Sunshine Census Complete Committee.
• Your participation in the census is required by law, and federal law protects the personal information you share during the census.
• Most importantly, the census data is used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state, and tribal government.
• The data also guide local decision-makers in important community planning efforts, including where to build new roads, hospitals and schools, thus the importance of each person being counted.
In South Florida, the Greater Caribbean American Cultural Coalition has spearheaded the Caribbean Count Committee (part of the National Caribbean American Community Census Committee) under the leadership of the Institute of Caribbean Studies that advocated for June as Caribbean month here in the United States.
We are working with other community leaders to bring public awareness to set in place the mechanism to ensure that everyone is counted. I am counting on Central Florida to play an important role in this process. However, the greatest challenge rests with what has been designated the ‘hard-to-count” population.
The hard to count population is considered undocumented, homeless, and areas with high unemployment and now transient families affected by the economic crisis we are facing.
Several South Florida communities rank high on the U.S. Census Bureau’s list of 50 counties with the largest number of people living in “hard-to-count” areas. Traditionally, many of these communities are known to a have high concentration of Caribbean / undocumented nationals.
During a recent conference of the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington, D.C., a group of Caribbean elected officials, community leaders from across the U.S. and I attended a White House Briefing focused on question 9 on the Census data sheet. Item 9 address the issues of self identification and country of origin.
I know we all recognize that we have strength in numbers and when we self identify we will know the number of persons claiming, Jamaican, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Guyanese and other country of origin. In Tallahassee, we have, one Trini, 2 Haitians and 4 other members of Bahamian descent and a host of Hispanics and one Yardi.
Remember, the data collected will be used to distribute and guide decisions as it relates to schools, hospitals and roads. Don’t forget the funding that will come back to our communities for minor home repairs, small business loans, first time home buyers programs and other social service programs.
With an accurate count we can become as effective as our immigrant brothers and sister from Cuba and Israel and help our brothers and sisters from Haiti. Yes, Caribbean National because we have the votes, we can influence policies, and influence elections and the broader community will know that we are import part of the fabric of our communities and respect us.
As a result of the White House Briefing, and our confidence as to the privacy and integrity of the process in the information that you share we are encouraging Caribbean nationals, our media to support our efforts dubbed, the Race Plus Ancestry/ Origin Option, this position calls for Caribbean nationals to check Race in Item 9 and write-in their Ancestry/Origin. Remember we have White, Chinese, Black, Indian and others in the Caribbean. Jamaicans remember our Motto “Out of Many One People. I will be checking “Black” as my race and will write in on the line below “Jamaica” for ancestry/country of birth.
We need support for this consensus position that we advanced to the census leadership in Washington and we all have a role to play. The Florida Delegation, along with other nationals from across the United States have committed to attend the Congressional Black Caucus annual conference in Washington, D.C., September 23-26, to support Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a proud Caribbean woman, who currently holds the seat of the late and former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm another daughter of Caribbean parents . Congresswoman Clarke will co-chair the weekend activities. She represents New York’s 11th Congressional District, which has the largest number of people of Caribbean descent in the U.S.
While in Washington, D.C., the Caribbean leaders will meet with members of the Unity Coalition, a group of over 50 Black organizations, to solidify support for question 9. We cannot do this alone we need our African-American brothers and sisters and our media partners to keep our issues in the press and support this first ever meeting by Caribbean American leaders and activists at the Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, D.C.
You can get involved by partnering with the Census in combining the strengths of local government (your cities), community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, the media businesses and others, to ensure a complete and accurate 2010 Census in Central Florida and our entire state.
The Census Bureau provides promotional materials, regular updates and data assistance to partners to assist in this effort. The Greater Caribbean American Coalition will provide support if you are willing to take the lead, Please call my office.
In closing, as we celebrate Jamaica’s Independence, let us remember that we have a responsibility to be good citizens of this country, let us give thanks for the journey so far and for the numerous achievements, despite the many challenges along the way, recognizing and understanding the we stand on the back of our ancestors — we must continue to engage our communities in activities in this our adopted home as we continue to bless Jamaica and the world with our gifts and talents.
I commend this organization for its tremendous efforts in catering to the needs of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora by your donations and gifts of time and volunteerism.
Congratulations again and as I look out in the audience I know I am standing between you and the dance floor. I close by wishing this years’ Independence Ball the success it so richly deserves and may you all have a grand time.
Give thanks to our Heavenly Father for his continuous blessing and guidance — Thank you and God bless you! God Bless America and God Bless Jamaica Land we LOVE.