June 25, 2012

Caribbean-American Values

Graphic by Don Rico Ricketts

By Geoffrey Philp

During this year's Haitian Flag Day ceremony at Miami Dade College, Beatrice Louissaint, CEO of the Southern Florida Minority Supplier Development Council, spoke eloquently about the values that have helped her to achieve her much deserved success. In her speech, Ms. Louissaint drew upon her experience of leaving Haiti "equipped with 6 words of English and a strong family heritage," and attributed her meteoric rise with the Caribbean-American community to her "Six Great Loves": "God, family, self, education, hard work, community and country."

It was a moving speech and for many Caribbean-Americans in the audience, it was a confirmation of the values to which many of us have committed our lives. These values have shaped our identity and have laid the foundation for our success.

Yet, the list is incomplete. For I would add justice.

Justice has been the cornerstone of the Haitian/Caribbean revolution, which began in Bois Caiman under the leadership of the Jamaican mystic, Boukman, and was guided by the Haitian general, Toussaint L'Ouverture. As C.L.R. James argued in The Black Jacobins, one of the first official acts of Toussaint L'Ouverture was to put an end to slavery, the greatest injustice of the era: "Slavery was forever abolished. Every man, whatever his colour, was admissible to all employments, and there was to exist no other distinction than that of virtues and talents" (263).

Justice is a human value and gives meaning to our lives. Without justice, we are reduced to existence that is "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." It is this love of justice that is echoed in many national anthems of the Caribbean and in the lyrics of beloved songwriters such as Peter Tosh: "I don't want no peace/I need equal rights and justice" ("Equal Rights").

It is because of the grave injustice that was committed against a leader of the first and largest economic justice movement in the USA, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, that many of us are petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate Mr. Garvey and to clear his name of any criminal wrongdoing.

If you are a lover of justice, please add your name to the petition:

We are petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, leader of the first and largest economic justice movement in the USA and the world, and the first named National Hero of Jamaica.

On January 12, 1922, Marcus Garvey, founder of the UNIA, was arrested by the Bureau of Investigation and charged with mail fraud. In 1925, Marcus Garvey began serving a five-year sentence in the US penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. After several appeals, his sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge, and he was deported to Jamaica. It is now abundantly clear (and legal scholars agree) that Garvey did not commit any criminal acts, but as Professor Judith Stein has stated, “his politics were on trial."

We think the President will agree that this year, 2012, the 125th anniversary of Marcus Garvey's birth, is a most timely moment to correct this historic miscarriage of justice.


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