Taking a look at the philosophy of revolutionary leader Marcus Garvey, and why it should be included in school curriculums. (Courtesy of AFRO Archives)

By Wayne Campbell

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

The Jamaican society is far removed from what national hero Marcus Garvey stood for.  There is not much national pride and our values and attitudes are grounded in a selfish and self-centered manner which is rather alien for those whose ages have come off the calendar.  Jamaica of 2023 is rich in various forms of development, such as those associated with road networks and information and communications technology; yet, sadly, the society is poorer in terms of tolerance and respect for others and a sense of community. Marcus Garvey, if he were alive, would not recognize this Jamaica and this is painful. But, do we care? The jury is still out regarding this question.  One might ask what are the values and messages of Marcus Garvey. 

Garvey’s Philosophy

Marcus Garvey was a charismatic Black nationalist and leader of the Pan-Africanist Movement, which sought to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide.  Garvey was born in the parish of St. Ann on August 17, 1887. Due to the economic hardship of his family, he left school at age 14 and learned the printing and newspaper business. He became interested in politics and soon got involved in projects aimed at helping those on the bottom rung of society.  Displeased with his work, he traveled to London in 1912 and stayed in England for two years.

In 1916, Garvey traveled to America at the invitation of Booker T. Washington.  It was the at the dawn of the “New Negro” era, and Garvey became convinced that integration would never happen and that only economic, political and cultural success on the part of African Americans would bring about equality and respect. With this goal, he established the headquarters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in New York in 1917 and began to spread a message of Black Nationalism and the eventual return to Africa of all people of African descent. His brand of Black Nationalism had three components: unity, pride in the African cultural heritage, and complete autonomy. 

By 1929, Garvey had returned to Jamaica, and he formed the People’s Political Party (PPP), the Caribbean country’s first modern political party.  Garvey was unsuccessful in national elections, however, his party won a seat on the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation.  

Garvey believed people of African descent could establish a great independent nation in their ancient homeland of Africa. Garvey was an advocate for racial pride by celebrating the African past and encouraging African Americans to be proud of their heritage and proud of the way they looked. Garvey proclaimed “Black is beautiful” long before it became popular in the 1960s. He wanted people of African descent to see themselves as members of a mighty race. “We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor Black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history,” he once said. He encouraged parents to give their children “dolls that look like them to play with and cuddle,” and he did not want Black people thinking of themselves in a defeatist way. “I am the equal of any White man; I want you to feel the same way,” he said.

 Regrettably, many of us as people of color are not satisfied with our appearance. Mothers continue to straighten their daughters’ hair. The policing of Black hair continues in our schools as students who decide to have afros are punished for this choice of self representation. Many of us continue to buy into the White man’s narrative that White skin is superior. Yes, skin bleaching continues unashamedly even among school-aged children.  The belief that those with lighter hues are better than those who are dark-skinned is deeply rooted in the psyche and culture of the society. We should not be surprised as the philosophy of Garveyism is not taught in our schools. In fact, civics is no longer taught in our schools. As a result our students have no historical reference for many of the socio-cultural issues of the present time. Indisputably, all of this is strategic and deliberate. We continue to see the effect of this not only in the land of birth of Garvey but also in the wider Caribbean and the Americas.  

On the 136th anniversary of Garvey’s birth the celebrations have been lukewarm. It is unacceptable that most of the events marking this important Black nationalist and role model tend to be confined to academia. It is rather unfortunate that the average person has to go out of his/her own way to obtain information, and this is problematic. It is a calculated and strategic ploy that so much of our history as people of color is hidden in texts. Added to this strategy of White domination, many of us do not read.  This is especially troubling with developments in Florida where African studies is banned in high schools under the leadership of Republican governor Ron DeSantis.  Garvey worked tirelessly and encouraged Black people to discover their cultural traditions and history and to seek common cause in the struggle for true liberty and political recognition. Garvey’s movement set out to give Black people a sense of worthiness in their race and color. 

Garveyism in the national standards curriculum

The time to be creative is now. There is an urgent need to infuse Garveyism into the National Standards Curriculum.  As the global community pauses to commemorate the anniversary of Garvey’s birth, what an impact on the Jamaican society and on Garvey’s legacy if we were to have a policy decision from the government for the compulsory teaching of Black history across the education system. The Jamaican society is at a crossroads. We are destroying each other daily as crime and violence sweeps across the society like a wildfire. Our potential for greatness is being stymied.  In the past few months we have had some heinous crimes, especially against our children. It is obvious that society needs a reset in terms of socialization. As a powerful means of socialization, the school is the optimum institution to pass on the values and attitudes of a society.  Collectively, let us advocate having Garvey clubs in our schools where students can have fun learning the teachings and principles of Garvey.  Given that pamphlets are relatively inexpensive, it is possible that government offices could be utilized as sources of sharing Garvey’s values where pamphlets containing basic information could be made available. Perhaps, there could be a national quiz on Marcus Garvey at the primary and (lower) secondary levels.  In fact we should have a national Marcus Garvey Day in our schools when social and cultural activities surrounding Garvey would take the spotlight. 

We all can and should play our part in ensuring that Garvey’s legacy is known not only for our generation but for succeeding generations. In the words of Marcus Garvey, if we as a people realized the greatness from which we came. we would be less likely to disrespect ourselves.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

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