Miss Lou Reading Festival Launches Black History Month

A team of notable Jamaican cultural artists brought the house down with periods of laughter and continuous ovation, as they eloquently and humorously paid tribute to Miss Lou at the fourth annual Louise Bennett-Coverley Reading Festival on Tuesday (Feb. 1) at the South Regional Broward College Library in Pembroke Pines.

The Cultural Tribute titled “Mi Fren Miss Lou – Then and Now” aptly began the activities, at this venue, to celebrate February which is observed as Black History Month nationally, at the same time honoring the life and work of Jamaica’s cultural icon, the late Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley, O.M.

Since its inception in 2007, following the death of Miss Lou in July 2006, the annual event has been a collaborative effort with the Regional Library.  According to Ms. Valrie Simpson, Manager of the facility, “the Library is pleased to partner in the annual Cultural Tribute saluting the legacy of Jamaica’s cultural ambassador”.

Performing to a packed auditorium, the panelists, the Reverend Easton Lee, author, storyteller and playwright, Dr. Ivy Armstrong, healthcare professional, poet and public speaker, and Dr. Susan Davis, actress, poet and educator, all reminisced of time spent with Jamaica’s cultural ambassador during her long and expansive career as internationally renowned folklorist, comedienne, author and social commentator.

Through the Jamaican vernacular, Mr. Lee said that Miss Lou conveyed the passion and vivaciousness of the people with humor, at the same time enlightening them to their cultural identity through language.  He proudly stated that during his encounters with her, Miss Lou taught him lessons in acting.  As a humorist himself, he was able to author several stories in local dialect, telling of his childhood experiences growing up in rural Jamaica and meeting varied types of personalities “in the country” as he shared excerpts with his audience.

In personal tribute to Miss Lou, Rev. Lee read her favorite poem “Happy Anniversary” from his first publication – Behind the Counter – which was authored some 12 years ago.  During his many visits with her, Mr. Lee told his audience that he had to repeatedly read the poem as she expressed her enjoyment “it sweet me” – a story that reminded her of the love and passion she shared with her husband, the late Eric Coverley.

Similarly, Dr. Ivy “Miss Ivy” Armstrong spoke of how she was influenced by Miss Lou’s works and teachings.  She emphasized that the creativity and imagery used by Miss Lou, had championed the language as part of Jamaica’s rich cultural heritage.  Referring to the derivation of the colourful Jamaican dialect, Miss Ivy also shared samples from her several publications to illustrate how Miss Lou had described how the language had was synonymous with “Colonization in Reverse” a poem she had written.

Dr. Susan Davis “Dr. Sue” as she is affectionately known described Miss Lou as her role model.  She described her meeting with the cultural ambassador as a child always participating in the Saturday morning Children’s programme “Ring Ding” which was produced and hosted by Miss Lou, specifically to educate, entertain and inspire the Jamaican children.

Today, Dr. Sue has pledged to carry on the legacy of Miss Lou as a poet and actress reminding her audience that “she elevated our ordinary words to heavenly status” reiterating that “our culture must be appreciated and celebrated.”

With that inspiration and determination, Dr. Sue recently launched a CD, “Ode to Miss Lou” which she said was in pursuit of carrying on the legacy of Jamaica’s cultural icon “in keeping our culture alive.”  The 12-item CD is a compilation of her proud rich heritage which also speaks to her extensive and diverse work and experiences.

Under the patronage of Jamaica’s Consul General, Sandra Grant Griffiths, the programme provided a selection of Jamaican folk songs performed by the Jamaica Folk Revue with audience participation.  A tribute to ancestors and the Blowing of the Maroon Abeng was performed by husband and wife team and cultural activists, Dr. Robert and Okomfo Mena Vassall.

A video presentation highlighted periods of Miss Lou’s career forming part of the evening’s entertainment.  The two-hour programme was moderated by Dr. Marcia Magnus, educator of the Florida International University.

The event was sponsored by The Jamaica Tourist Board, Western Union, Jamaica National Building Society, Jamaicans.com, Attorney Pamela Gordon, Arlene Jardine and the Miami Gardens Observer.  Refreshment was provided by Irie Isle Jamaican Restaurant and Jamaican Jerk Festival USA, Inc. 

The Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley died at age 86 years old in Toronto, Canada, following a brief period of ill-health.  Ms. Lou was buried at the Jamaica’s National Heroes Park in Kingston.

The Louise Bennett Coverley Scholarship will continue to benefit from proceeds from sales of Miss Lou’s works – books, CDs, and other memorabilia during the event.  So far, five students have been recipients of the scholarship tenable at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, posthumously named in honor of Jamaica’s cultural ambassador.