I write this week from Kingston the capital city of Jamaica; a bustling city on a beautiful and blessed island which I am happy and honored to call my incubator. An incubator, in a technical sense, is defined as “an enclosed apparatus in which premature or unusually small babies are placed’. While incubator is also a contemporary term referring to “a company that helps new and startup companies to develop by providing services such as management training and/or office space.” For me, Jamaica was the warm and safe space where memories and a strong foundation was formed, due to family and friends. The black gold and green of the Jamaican flag represented the beautiful people, the lush land and the sunny island. The sweet aroma of Blue Mountain coffee and unlimited spices filled the morning air and the rhythm of reggae moved you from almost every car and corner shop in certain areas. These were my memories.
As Merid Tafesse and I landed in Kingston on Monday June 17, we were received by a protocol officer, arranged by the Ministry of Culture Gender Entertainment and Sports (MCGES), as special guests. Merid’s first visit to Jamaica and my return to the island after fourteen years was off to a great start. As the days of the week rolled by we were immersed in TV and Radio interviews exploring and unpacking the very reason for our visit, Let’s Talk About Locks…Colloquium, E-Exhibition and book signing for I LOVE LOCKS, my children’s book promoting culture, identity and heritage. Through visual art and a few words, namely I love locks, we were able to have a robust reasoning at the world renown and number one tourist spot on the island, according to the Principle Director of Culture and MCGES opening remarks, at the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road on Thursday June 20th . The small theater that presents a video on the reggae icon, Berhan Selassie’s life and legacy with tourists from around the world, filled quickly with participants ready to engage in a constructive conversation on locks, discrimination, culture and identity. MC’d by Sister Mitzie Williams, Communications Officer for the Bob Marley Foundation; moderated by University of the West Indie’s (UWI) Professor Imani Tafari; with presenters Ms. Barbara Makeda Blake- Hannah O.D., Cultural Liaison; Dr. Frederick Hickling O.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at UWI; Ethiopian Fine Artist, Merid Tafesse and yours truly.
We talked about the respect and recognition Jamaica receives world wide for such a tiny place; a tiny place which has been a fertile ground for social and cultural expression impacting how the world sees and engages with food, dress, culture and ofcourse locks, the crowning glory upon our head. We discussed presumptions, fear, ignorance, imagery, human rights violations and efforts to change minds, hearts and laws. Most of all we talk about the importance of children being the first point of contact for this discourse, a discussion on loving one’s self and being proud of our African heritage and our hair.
The discussion led to a proposed resolution by Hon. Ms. Hannah-Blake for the full implementation of laws related to the topic while Sister Mitzie boldly reprimanded the government for propping up perpetrators of discrimination who many times do their best to harm the psychological states of our children. They demanded immediate action. WOW! When we left Kazanches headed to Kingston shortly after African Liberation Day on May 25th, we had no idea that I Love Locks, a book written, illustrated and printed in Ethiopia would be a catalyst for such profound action. Some may wrongly say re-action but this cry for justice is proactive. I have the birth right to say that in a country where my kith and kin still dwell and which the world is watching, waiting and wanting more examples of excellence in music, sports, literature, art and more, a true incubator and powerhouse on the world scene, wake up. Why amidst the beauty, creation and legacy for justice and equality evoked by the Ras Tafari Movement do we not see our value? Why do we still perpetuate discourse of “otherness” when if not for hair, who would know the heart? Why do we continue to either complain or be complacent in our efforts to raise a generation of youth who are proud of their history and hopeful of their future? Well, folks I am here to tell you that it exists on the island. The passion for change, the love for culture and country, the connectivity to Africa, the aspiration for a safe sweet space for children to walk home safely on the street is alive and well. The fortitude of the African ancestors, who are the majority of the people on this powerful Caribbean island, will always be my people and I will always have this island and it’s people in my prayers in Axum and Lalibella because I know as His Imperial Majesty Qadamawi Haile Selassie said during His 1966 visit to Jamaica, “We are blood brothers.”
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.