Jamaicans from Maryland gathered with foreign dignitaries to honor the country’s accomplishments after 61 years of independence. (Photo courtesy of the Jamaican Association of Maryland)

By DaQuan Lawrence,
AFRO International Writer,

The Jamaican Association of Maryland (JAM) recently celebrated the Caribbean nation’s 61st year of independence. Members of the Jamaican diaspora, friends and family gathered on Aug. 19 for the 2023 Independence Gala 2023. 

The gala took place at Martin’s West and celebrated the establishment of the nation’s modern constitution and Jamaica’s 61st year of independence from British colonial rule. 

Attendees enjoyed an evening full of soulful music, food and historical significance as they celebrated the occasion with Her Excellency Ambassador Audrey Marks, the Jamaican Ambassador to the U.S. 

This event was instrumental for me as I am really connected to the Jamaican community. I used to do a lot of work with Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who is now retired,” author, scholar and global activist Haki Shakur Ammi told the AFRO. 

Former Senator Nathan-Pulliam is a decorated U.S. politician who was born in Trelawny, Jamaica. Her long list of historic and invaluable contributions date back to the 1960s when she first moved to Baltimore, Md. 

Ambassador Marks is Jamaica’s thirteenth Ambassador to the U.S., the first woman to serve in such a capacity, and also serves as the Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Amb. Marks is currently completing her second assignment in her current role as Ambassador, as she previously served in the same capacity between 2010-2012 and is also the first Ambassador to be assigned to the same post twice.

JAM President Rick Nugent expressed appreciation to everyone who played a role in the success of the gala via Facebook post. 

Also, in attendance at the celebration at Martin’s West, was Joy Thomas Moore, who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and Cuba, and mother of Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.

“It’s an honor to be here and the biggest honor is knowing that JAM is working to preserve Jamaican culture and to let everyone know Jamaica has a voice,” Moore said. “Jamaica has always been known for its tourism, but now I believe the world is recognizing the nation for its other industries.”

JAM was founded on July 4, 1988, and aims to unite Jamaicans, their friends and supporters and acts as a vehicle for communication and cooperation among and between Jamaicans in the Maryland area and throughout the U.S. 

The organization advances the social and economic welfare of Jamaicans and seeks to maintain and promote the cultural heritage of Jamaicans living in Maryland. 

Other celebrations of Jamaica’s independence took place across the nation, as Jamaica’s Prime Minister the Hon. Andrew Holness was the keynote speaker at Jamaica’s 61st Independence Gala in New York.  

“It was incredible to see Ms. Joy receive an award and give remarks, as last year Wes Moore was a candidate for Governor, and now he is Maryland’s Governor,” Ammi told the AFRO. 

The current Jamaican Constitution took effect on Aug. 6, 1962, and guarantees the freedom, rights and privileges of every Jamaican citizen. The Constitution reflects the country’s independence as a nation state and is a central cornerstone of the island’s legal systems, institutions, and political independence from Britain after more than 300 years of colonial rule. 

The history of Jamaica includes courageousness by Jamaican people in their triumphant struggle for freedom and justice. The original inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to be the Arawaks, also known as Tainos who came from South America 2,500 years ago and named the island Xaymaca, which meant ““land of wood and water.”

Modern Jamaica recognizes the historical legacy of genocide committed against the island’s indigenous peoples and over three hundred years of slavery and oppression suffered by the Jamaicans of African origin. 

These escaped slaves, known as the Maroons, developed their own culture based on their West African roots. Since the British were never able to recapture or pacify them, they were granted political autonomy in 1739. The Maroon culture still exists in Jamaica today and is an example of the country’s tenacity and determination.