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Marcus Garvey is being resurrected in Jamaican classrooms throughout the entire island. Jamaican school officials have mandated a civics program for students from kindergarten through high school to study Garvey’s values (e.g. self-esteem, respect for others, accountability). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said Garvey is the “first man on a mass scale and level to give Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.”
Jamaica is home to 2.8 million (predominantly black) people. The island is currently facing economic and societal problems. The official unemployment rate is 14%, nearly 30% of high school students dropped out before their final year in 2011, and the United Nations said the island had the third highest murder rate in the world over the past decade.
The study of Garvey’s principles, i.e. Garveyism, is a move to help the youth understand their importance to their communities. “We want all our children to believe they are important to what becomes of this country. Through Marcus Garvey, we see what it means … to admit to no stumbling block that we cannot overcome,” said Amina Blackwood Meeks, the Ministry of Education’s culture director who led efforts to draft the Garvey-infused civics program. Jamaicans take great pride in the achievements of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican native who inspired millions of followers worldwide with messages of black pride and self-reliance. Garvey was the first person named a national hero following independence in 1962, and the government put his likeness on coins.
Although he has always been revered as a hero on the island, school officials had declined repeated calls to use his teachings in schools, where history is not a required subject. “The teaching of Garveyism in schools is something that politicians of all stripes have shied away from partly because of their own intellectual ignorance and partly because they don’t know what to make of this complex subject,” said Robert Hill, a Garvey expert who is professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The teachers’ handbook for the new program includes lesson plans using famous Garvey quotes such as “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will” to instill personal identity, discipline, courtesy, national pride and heritage. It says economics lessons could highlight Garvey’s experiences as an entrepreneur, while devotionals will include hymns he wrote. Students will be required to keep a journal. “We have to use all tools and strategies at our disposal to tell our children and our people in general that, as Garvey said, the black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a symbol of national greatness,” said Verene A. Shepherd, director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies. “If Jamaicans from very young are imbued with this kind of thinking, we will see the benefits in years to come.” Several schools declined to allow a reporter inside classrooms to see the civics course in action because orientation was just getting started.
But some academics question whether the program can really overcome the lack of economic opportunities in Jamaica, arguing that self-esteem follows achievement, not the other way around. They also say students will ultimately reject efforts to turn a historical figure into nationalistic propaganda. Hill said he suspects the program will mostly involve “beating the drum for Garvey” while glossing over his complexities. “If I just say to students, `Garvey is a great man and here’s the reasons he was great,’ that hasn’t taught them anything. In fact, the likelihood is you are likely to alienate the very students you are trying to reach because they will recognize it as just a form of ideological brainwashing,” Hill said. “You have to teach Garvey as part of the development of political thought.” But Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said he’s confident the program will soon be a success, saying that “after many false starts, the campaign of values and attitudes now begin in earnest, rooted and founded” in Garvey. Meeks said nothing about the program will be alienating for students or faculty who are not black.
Do you believe a comprehensive study of black history in the United States will help the troubled black youth?