That Garvey magic
By Debbie Ransome
There was a sense of anticipation that evening at the Jamaican High Commission.
“Is he here yet?” people kept asking.
The visitors and their entourage were running a little late – usually a cause for cynicism at a Caribbean event in London.
But not tonight. Everybody was in a state of awe and anticipation, because the son of Marcus Garvey was due.
When he arrived, he did nothing to dispel the sense of magic that everyone had expected.
Julius Garvey had started a week-long tour at the start of Britain’s Black History Month with visits to London, Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham.
He told his gathering of his travels in Africa, South and North America and pointed out that, with an African diaspora numbering about 250 million and with 800 million people living on the African continent, 1.2 billion African people needed to get back to the messages of his father Marcus, despite their being “scattered and separated”.
“To a certain extent, we lost our identity and we lost our unity as a people…and this is what he [Marcus Garvey] tried to bring back to us as a people,” Julius Garvey told the gathering.
In a presentation that touched on free-market economics, colonialism, pan-Africanism and a Garvey message for today’s recessionary times, Julius Garvey outlined the importance of history for young people today.
He pointed out that, although many enjoyed the benefits of the industrial revolution and development, “there has been a cost.”
“It is a severe cost... in the loss and distortion of other cultures,” he said.
In talking about the need to return to “belief systems and principles that go back to the beginning of history,” Dr Garvey urged people of African descent to think internationally and not follow a history created for them by someone else.
“Not only liberate yourself from mental slavery but… unless you allow your spirituality to lift… you end up going over a cliff,” he told his audience.
Julius Garvey’s presentation was received with a hush and sense of awe rarely experienced at any country’s High Commission reception.
Message to young people
And it is this sense of respect that organisers hope will help to deliver the message of learning about African roots and history for young people in the Caribbean and African Diaspora in the UK.
The tour, which includes Dr Garvey, his wife, promising young black students and entrepreneurs, is aimed at passing on a message to young people in Britain.
“What can I do?” One of the Garvey tour organisers, Eddie Capone, asked the gathering as he related his feelings as an ex-soldier, watching the streets of London looking like a “Hollywood blockbuster” during the 2011 riots.
Pictures, he said, which reminded him of being on active service.
“There’s a real disconnection between us and our young people,” he said, outlining the motivation for inviting Julius Garvey for the October visit.
“I am doing something on behalf of Jamaica… Jamaica is my mother, England is my father. I was born in Jamaica and nurtured in England,” Mr Capone added.
But is it too late?
But he was not just the only one who experienced shock on seeing black and brown faces in the midst of the 2011 riots, sparked by the violent death of a black youth at the hands of the police in north London.
Can even the Jamaican-born son of a Jamaican-born guru, whose words have been immortalised in reggae music and Rastafarianism over the decades, turn back the tide for a second, third and fourth generation of Caribbean people in the UK?
Caribbean Intelligence© put the question of the “lost generation” to Dr Garvey.
“It’s the wrong question. If you see a problem, then you need to address that problem,” he said.
“Because if you don’t address the problem, then you’re also a part of the problem.
“If there is an entity as a lost generation, youngsters floundering, without a direction, then… let’s go out and do something about it.
“It’s about reaching out with your hearts,” he said, “as well as with your minds.”
Dr Garvey’s faith was rewarded in contributions from the young members of his touring party who were introduced to the gathering.
Some plan to venture into politics, some run their own businesses and they all were thrilled to have been chosen to tour the country with Julius Garvey.
Jamel Higgins, student, businessman and elected Young Mayor of Lewisham, is one of the young people on the tour.
“This is someone we look up to in our community and we need someone who is a role model… and can make an impact in our communities,” Jamal said in his off-the-cuff and fluent presentation.
“We need to create a youth action plan,” the 17-year-old told the gathering.
Dr Julius Garvey, the youngest son of Marcus, provided exactly the type of role model that the young people at the gathering said they could relate to.
His father’s well-known career in business and politics influenced the thinking, but not the career choices of Julius, who was eight when his father died.
He spent his childhood in Jamaica before following an education in Canada, Britain and the US, then going on to work in cardiothoracic vascular surgery and teaching in the US.
As 70-year-old Dr Garvey told his audience, as he was winding down his medical career, he started responding to other opportunities when invited.
“He has continued along the path that his father played almost 100 years ago,” said the Jamaican High Commissioner to London, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, in introducing Dr Garvey.
“At a time when there was no radio, no television, no internet… Marcus Garvey was able to mobilise a following of over six million people on the continent of North America, the Caribbean, New York and Africa… can you imagine that?” she said.
She pointed out that Julius, the son of Marcus’ second wife, was only eight years old when his father died, “but he remembers him as a sweet, loving, concerned parent.”
She pointed out how Garvey’s message of “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” had become the inspiration for leaders including Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as well as the inspiration for many a reggae lyric.
The pan-African message of Marcus Garvey was also a central part of his son’s presentation at the Jamaican High Commission on 30 September.
Speaking afterwards with Caribbean Intelligence© about young people in the Caribbean Diaspora feeling more British than Caribbean, let alone African, Dr Garvey spoke about finding roots and being rooted.
“I would say to them that I am an African. I was born in Jamaica, I live in the United States. And being an African doesn’t negate my current citizenship or my being born in Jamaica.
I’ve travelled a lot… I’m African because I was taught that I’m an African. I grew up being an African person.
“It’s a matter of identity.”
He told Caribbean Intelligence© that a people not taught about themselves would not be able to find themselves.
During his presentation, organiser Eddie Capone spoke about the promise of young people and why he had pushed ahead with this tour during Black History Month.
He referred to a “renaissance” for young people: “We need to trust each other more.”
He emphasised that the tour was not about lecturing young people but about giving “our young people equal value”.
Which came back to one of the issues which many have questioned over the years in the British and North American Diaspora, after their Black History Month celebrations in October in the UK and February in the US and Canada – why just one month a year?
Caribbean Intelligence© asked Dr Garvey about this concept of a month for focusing on black history.
“We need black history every day,” he said in response.
“The kids really need to have a sense of identity.
“Black history is a history of a people,” he added. “Black people need to know their history. History is not about dates, it’s about the people.
“It doesn’t matter whether the grandparents are from the Caribbean or from Africa, they’re still African.
“They may live in London or Nottingham but their history is an African history. If they don’t know it, any wind which comes along blows them aside.
“If they know their history, they can stand strong,”
During Dr Garvey’s interview with Caribbean Intelligence©, people gathered around and nodded as he answered the questions. People took photos of his being interviewed; this was not your usual media Q&A.
The speeches were over, the interviews, photos and autographs were out of the way and still people approached to talk to Dr Garvey, who had not had a chance to sit down since the end of the presentations.
All the time, he smiled, chatted and hugged young people who streamed to him to shake hands and talk, with some just staring in awe.
The Garvey magic worked well into the night and no-one seemed keen to leave.
It’s this magic that organisers hope will help to reverse past problems when they travel around Britain during Black History Month.