In this globalized landscape, one of the political transformations being embraced by some nation-states world wide is a redefinition of citizenship and the corollary responsibilities of citizens to polis and vice versa. The Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, which celebrates its 46th anniversary of independence on August 6, is firmly in the throes of this change. Since 2004, Jamaica has charged its emigrants to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom with organizing structures to support the wellbeing of Jamaicans in diaspora while mapping conduits for nationals to formally contribute to the country of origin. At the third biennial conference held in Kingston in June, Trelawny native and New Jersey resident Patrick Beckford was elected chairperson of the Northeast USA Diaspora Movement.
Senator Ronald Robinson, minister of state in the ministry of foreign affairs and foreign trade, reaffirmed the significance of Jamaicans in diaspora via an intervention in the 2008-09 State of the Nation Debate currently underway in Kingston. As reported in the July 21, 2008 Jamaica Gleaner, Robinson said the 2.7 million Jamaicans living overseas are still very committed to the development and success of their country of origin. “Many Jamaicans in the diaspora continue to give unstintingly of their time, talent, experience and expertise for the betterment of this country,” he explained
The Jamaican Government moved to institutionalize the work of the movement by establishing a joint select bi-partisan committee on diaspora affairs in Parliament in May. Robinson said the committee’s principal role is to maintain dialogue with relevant groups in the diaspora. A second priority includes undertaking wide public consultations with the aim of guiding a national approach, strategy and policies on diaspora matters.
The Jamaica Diaspora Foundation (JADF) and the Jamaica Diaspora Institute (JDI) will come online later this year. Hosted by the Mona School of Business at the St. Andrew campus of the University of the West Indies, the JDI will serve as the operational arm of the Foundation.
Robinson reported confidence in the new structures and approaches. He anticipates a common, sustainable effort in the Diaspora Movement’s work for national development.
When the news of Jamaican immigrant Esmin Green’s June death at Brooklyn’s King’s County Hospital emerged in the public sphere in early July, Beckford was one of the principal leaders who organized support for Green’s family. Beckford joined members of the Jamaican diplomatic corps and Caribbean-American elected officials in negotiating with New York City’s public and private sectors to facilitate the family’s travel and other critical needs in the United States. Beckford sees himself poised to respond to pressing crises impacting Jamaicans in the NE USA while simultaneously keeping a firm hand on the rudder of this nascent organization. Speaking recently at the Brooklyn funeral services for Green, Beckford reminded his fellow Jamaicans present that “as citizens of this country, there are things we can say that others cannot.” He hinted at the role and responsibilities of Jamaican-Americans in facilitating the community’s wellbeing in the United States and globally.
The Jamaican Diaspora–USA is divided into three regions: Northeast, Midwest and Southeast. Wayland Richards and Marlon Hill are the chairpersons of the Midwest and Southeast regions. Under the rubric of the NE USA Diaspora, work is organized by states and by sectors. These sectors include Education, Health, Lobbying and Policy, Public Safety, Trade, Faith-based and Future Leader development initiatives, with the latter two being new additions this year.
Responding to the theme “Borderless Partnership for Development” at the June conference, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding underscored the Government’s commitment not only to the achievement of sustained growth for the nation, but to the importance of involvement of Jamaicans living abroad in the initiatives to fulfill the stated objective. The Government is focusing on the key areas of training, job creation and investment as the path to sustained economic growth. Golding said key aspects of Jamaica’s future development pivots on the partnership and involvement of all stakeholders, including Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
South African and Cuban contingents joined the Canada, UK and USA contingents for the first time this year.
According to Inter-American Development Bank figures, Jamaicans in the United States contributed US $1.975 Billion via remittances in 2007 alone. Remittances far outpace other foreign exchange inflows into the Jamaican economy, including bauxite/alumina, tourism, and sugar and its byproducts. But Jamaicans in diaspora are organizing themselves to represent much more than a foreign exchange flow. They are eager to render the small island nation more competitive in the global economy by contributing the vast amounts of human capital amassed via education, training and experience on island and abroad.
Jamaicans in diaspora are encouraged to get involved in the Movement to shape policy and programs with the view of assisting fellow Jamaicans, no matter their geographic locus.
For more information on the NE USA Diaspora Movement, contact Chairperson Patrick Beckford at [email protected]