September 4, 2020

Marcus Garvey and Intergenerational Trauma


For the past three months, Dr. Marva McClean has been leading a roundtable of writers, scholars, and artists, "Strong in Broken Places," in a discussion of solutions to the effects of intergenerational trauma in Jamaica and the Pan-African community. Writers such as Marcus Woolombi Waters have shared their recovery journey through immersion in indigenous culture, particularly in Aboriginal Australia, and Dr. Opal Palmer Adisa has explored effects on women in the African Diaspora. Using the RIA method (Recognizing, Identifying, and Addressing) pioneered by Dr. Mary Poffenroth, and the work of Marcus Garvey, I have advocated for the teachings of Marcus Garvey to be incorporated in all levels of Jamaica’s educational system and to restore Garvey’s heroic memory within the Pan-African community.

Intergenerational Trauma

According to scholars such as Dr. Vivian M. Rakoff, one of the first psychologists to diagnose intergenerational trauma in the children of Holocaust victims, and Brent Bezo, who followed up with the study of fifteen Ukrainian families that had survived Joseph Stalin‘s pogrom of mass starvation, intergenerational trauma is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in which first victims passed their trauma to their children through a series of problematic behaviors[1]. As Bezo notes, “Each generation seemed to kind of learn from the previous one, with survivors telling children, ‘Don’t trust others, don’t trust the world.[2]” These behaviors, rooted in fear of a reoccurrence of the initial trauma, if left unchecked, are often revealed in symptoms such as learned helplessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm, and depression.

Fearology and the RIA Method

One of the most exciting developments in psychology has been in Fearology, a “transdisciplinary study of the interrelationship between fear and the human experience.[3]” The conceptual framework developed by R. Michael Fisher has been advanced by Dr. Mary Poffenroth, who, in a recent interview, outlined methods she has used to “teach people about how to create strategies around fear”: “The first step is just recognizing what's going on. And then the second step would be identifying it, kind of like ‘name it to claim it. And then the A is going to be to address. What kind of strategies do you need to manage outcomes for this?[4]

Now, fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Some have called fear a gift because it is survival-based[5]. However, the instinctive caution in a dangerous situation can become a liability when the threat is no longer present.

Marcus Garvey, who was never a fearful man, witnessed firsthand the effects of fear on his family and the debilitating effects that it had on them and worked hard to remove fear-based behaviors from his life. As he stated in Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, “FEAR is a state of nervousness fit for children and not men.[6]

By asserting his manhood and humanity, Garvey had taken the first step toward reclaiming his psychic wholeness and healing the psychological wounds that had been passed down to him from his family, especially his overbearing father. Throughout Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Garvey documented the individual affirmations that guided his life and his strategies for sharing his insights with his community.


Although Garvey did not possess the critical vocabulary to classify intergenerational trauma's effects, he was highly adept at recognizing patterns of behavior. Through his extensive reading of Pan-Africans such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, his travels through the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and extensive research at the British Museum, Garvey grounded himself in pre-colonial African history. As David Van Leeuwen explains, "He hammered home the idea of racial pride by celebrating the African past and encouraging African Americans to be proud of their heritage and proud of the way they looked.[7]"

Garvey discovered that one of the most potent methods of ensuring colonial power's longevity was to erase the heroic memory of the enslaved or, as Steven Biko would later state, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.[8]” By a combination of education, enticements, and coercion, the enslaved, as a matter of survival, accepted the innate superiority of their masters. In some cases, the acceptance resembled Stockholm Syndrome. The removal of this inferiority complex, which Frantz Fanon would later explore in The Wretched of the Earth and advocate a model for community psychology, was at the center of Garvey’s message of pride to his community: “Be as proud of your race today as our fathers were in the days of yore. We have a beautiful history, and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world.[9]


While he was growing up, Garvey witnessed firsthand the different responses to colonialism in his father, “My father was a man of brilliant intellect and dashing courage. He was unafraid of consequences. He was severe, firm, determined, bold and strong, refusing to yield even to superior forces if he believed he was right[10],” and his mother, “My mother was a sober and conscientious Christian, too soft and good for the time in which she lived.[11] By the time he was in his late 20s, he had already documented many of the debilitating behaviors within the Jamaican community, and in another speech would lament " Go into the country parts of Jamaica and you will see there villainy and vice of the worst kind, immorality, obeah and all kinds of dirty things[…] Kingston and its environs are so infested with the uncouth and vulgar of our people that we of the cultured class feel positively ashamed to move about.[12]

Garvey was not content with his triumphs and disavowed personal advancement in favor of betraying his people's interests:

I had to decide whether to please my friends and be one of the "black-whites" of Jamaica, and be reasonably prosperous, or come out openly, and defend and help improve and protect the integrity of the black millions, and suffer. I decided to do the latter, hence my offense against "colored-black-white" society in the colonies and America[13].

Garvey also rejected W.E.B. DuBois’s strategy of redemption by a “Talented Tenth” for Garvey wanted to liberate the entire Black community from the many ills, which he believed could be reversed,  by restoring a sense of pride to his people by changing how they thought about themselves. As Amy Jacques Garvey would explain, “He taught his people to dream big again.[14]


Garvey was a man of action. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who were content to recognize and identify problems within the Pan-African community, Garvey devised strategies to overcome slavery and racism's pernicious effects.

After reading Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery on his journey from England to Jamaica, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), whose goals, in part were as follows:

 To establish a Universal Confraternity among the race; to promote the spirit of pride and love; to reclaim the fallen; to administer to and assist the needy; to promote a conscientious Spiritual worship among the native tribes of Africa; to establish Universities, Colleges, Academies and Schools for the racial education and culture of the people; to work for better conditions among Negroes everywhere.[15]

To put his words into action, Garvey founded the Black Star Line “to facilitate the transportation of goods and eventually African Americans throughout the African global economy.[16]” He also established the Negro Factories Corporation, which at its height “provided jobs by its numerous enterprises, including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dressmaking shop, millinery store (clothing, fashion, hats, accessories, etc.), publishing house and doll factory.[17]

In the forming of the UNIA, the Negro Factories Corporation, and the Black Star Line, Garvey sought to change behaviors that his elders had adopted during slavery to protect future generations from harm and which many of his contemporaries had accepted.  As he often reminded his readers, “Let no man pull you down, let no man destroy your ambition, because man is but your companion, your equal; man is your brother; he is not your lord; he is not your sovereign master[18].” Garvey was determined to free himself and his people from the “state of nervousness” that plagued his community and restored their confidence, pride, and purpose. Although slavery had ended approximately fifty years before Garvey's birth, many of his compatriots in Jamaica and the Pan-African community were continuing self-defeating practices that undermined their agency. Garvey would have none of it.

Garvey questioned the status quo and the individuals who were willing to betray the Pan African community's interests for narrow material interests, yet he was not naïve. He realized that anyone who tried to change the status quo would either be murdered by the colonizers or brought down by other tribe members out of a misguided attempt to protect the community.

This combination of enemies without and within that led to Garvey’s conviction on charges of mail fraud regarding the Black Star Line, which he had hoped to be a symbol for the aspirations of Black people.

On June 21, 1923, when Garvey was incarcerated in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, the federal government began the UNIA's systematic dismantling and the erasure Garvey's heroic efforts from the community.

Where are we now?

After he died in England in 1940, Garvey and the UNIA slowly faded from the Pan African community's collective memory. Had it not been for Rastafari's courage to preserve his name, many activists in my generation would not have known about Marcus Garvey. However, singer-songwriters writers such as Burning Spear, Johnny Clark, Fred Locks, and Bob Marley have kept Garvey's teachings alive.

However, a recording of three minutes and thirty seconds, though admirable, is only a starting point and should never be a substitute for the necessary soul work to overcome the psychological wounds of slavery, colonialism, and racism, which have deep roots in the culture of the Pan African community. In other words, many within the Pan-African community in Garvey's time and the present are continuing some of the holdovers from slavery and colonialism even though many of the threats are no longer present. This work has been done individually by many of our heroes, thought leaders, and role models, but we haven't addressed nor acknowledged on a community level, the effects of intergenerational trauma.

In Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Garvey proposed that education was the most effective method for the redemption of the Pan African community: “EDUCATION is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their particular civilization, and the advancement and glory of their own race.[19]

Unfortunately, since Independence, successive Jamaican governments have failed to incorporate Garvey's teachings into Jamaica's educational system and have continued the colonizers' practices by omission or commission.

What Can We Do?

We have a choice. We can continue with the status quo or attempt to overcome the effects of intergenerational trauma. And make no mistake; there is no way around these issues; they have to be overcome.

 On an individual level, we can overcome the effects by attending workshops and reading self-help books, unlearning harmful behaviors, and putting into practice ideas that restore our sense of agency on a personal level. But our community will remain unchanged unless we confront the lies about our diminishment collectively. As Fanon advocated and as Dr. Freddy Hickling [20]practiced in Jamaica, we can overcome our collective trauma by examining every aspect of our culture and institutionalizing our collective victories so the next generation will have a framework to critique and forge their own path to freedom. As Coretta Scott King admonished, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.[21]

Marcus Garvey outlined in Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey how he overcame intergenerational trauma and the methods he used to erase its effects within the Pan-African community. But only a few within the Pan African community know about Garvey’s teachings and his impact on African leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela[22].

To this end, rather than “curse the darkness," I have decided to “light a candle” in the form of a graphic novel, ‘My Name is Marcus,” which is intended for younger readers between the ages of eight and twelve.

Although I began the process of inscribing Garvey's name and memory in one of my most anthologized short stories, "My Brother's Keeper," and condensed the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Garvey in another children’s book, Marcus and Amazons, “My Name is Marcus," has been my first attempt to write a biography which includes many of Garvey‘s teachings. I chose to write a graphic novel to engage the imaginations of young readers through pictures and text.  I am hoping that “My Name is Marcus” like the film Black Panther, can restore the heroic memory within the African Diaspora, so future generations can continue the work that Marcus Garvey proclaimed in 1937, and which Bob Marley repeated in “Redemption Song,” “We must emancipate ourselves the mental slavery…none but ourselves can free our minds.[23]




[1] “Transgenerational Trauma,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, August 25, 2020),

[2] Tori DeAngelis, “The Legacy of Trauma,” Monitor on Psychology (American Psychological Association, February 2019),

[3] Fisher, R. M. “A Research Agenda to Legitimate the Study of 'Fear':Beginning Fearology.” In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute, 2011. Yellow Paper.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[4] Alie Ward, “Fearology (FEAR) Pt. 1 with Mary Poffenroth,” alie ward (alie ward, May 1, 2018),

[5] Robert L. Leahy, “The Gift of Fear,” Psychology Today (Sussex Publishers, May 2, 2016),

[6] Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Or, Africa for the Africans Majority Press, 1986, 3.

[7] David Van Leeuwen, “ Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association,” Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, The Twentieth Century, Divining America: Religion in American History, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center, accessed September 4, 2020,

[8] “Yes, 'Mind of Oppressed' Quote by South Africa's Steve Biko,” Africa Check, accessed September 4, 2020,

[9] Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Or, Africa for the Africans Majority Press, 1986, 7

[10] Ibid.,123

[11] Ibid.,123

[12] Colin Grant, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey. London: Jonathan Cape.

[13] Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Or, Africa for the Africans Majority Press, 1986, 3

[14] Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism, Collier Books, 1970, x.

[15] Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Or, Africa for the Africans Majority Press, 1986,

[16] “Black Star Line,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, June 29, 2020),

[17] “Negro Factories Corporation,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, October 24, 2019),

[18] Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Or, Africa for the Africans Majority Press, 1986, 78

[19] Ibid., 17.

[20] Jamaica Observer Limited, “Farewell Dr Freddie Hickling, Psychiatrist to the People,” Jamaica Observer, May 10, 2020,,_psychiatrist_to_the_people?profile=1100.

[21] Contributors to Wikimedia projects, “American Author, Activist, and Civil Rights Leader; Wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1927-2006),” Wikiquote (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., August 16, 2020),

[22] “Marcus Garvey: 80 Years On... And The Significance Of August In The Pan-Africanist Calendar,” Black History Month 2020, August 22, 2020,

[23] “Redemption Song,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, August 29, 2020),

Photograph: Luiz Henrique Evaristo