Son of Marcus Garvey calls for rejection of mental slavery

Joyce Norman, mother of Olympian Sharolyn Sherman, helps hold a flag signed with best wishes for her daughter, who is in London.

Members from the Afro-Caribbean community gathered this week in the hall of former presidents at the Asamblea Legislativa for a time revered as learning, reflection, praise and acknowledgment of past leaders and their culture.

The group congregated to commemorate the emancipation of blacks around the world. Speakers defined emancipation as freedom of thought and freedom of action. It’s the act of setting free an overseeing power and setting free from dependence of others, they said.

A.M.Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Julius Garvey and Hellen Walford Bryan, who sang.

“It’s liberation. It’s the change from working without recognition to being recognized as a human being,” said Delroy Barton, a professor and education advocate.

The event was organized by Rodrigo Pinto Rawson, a lawmaker, and featured a speech by Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Garvey, an activist who helped improve the quality of life for Afro-Costa Ricans in Limón.

“Marcus Garvey changed freedom from an act of the mind to an action,” said Barton.

August will feature commemorative activities for the Afro-Costa Rican culture, and this event was the start.

Julius Garvey described the life and mission of his father during his talk.

His father was a publisher, journalist and businessman from Jamaica. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities Imperial Leagues to help develop and empower African descendants.

Julius Garvey currently serves as president of the organization.

“My father said that his organization was made to bring an organization to free the mind,” said Garvey.

“The organization was designed to return esteem to the African people. One way to do this was through the unity of all African American people. We could do this because we had a common culture and common beliefs,” he said.

Marcus Garvey’s journey began in Costa Rica when he moved there from Jamaica to live with his uncle and work on a banana plantation. He observed the hardships of the people and was compelled to make a change.

“He was studying the conditions of the people and also studying the oppressor. He came to the conclusion that Afro-descendants were oppressed and on the bottom of the scale of the world. He came to the conclusion that it was his destiny to bring about a change for African people,” said Garvey.

Marcus Garvey traveled around the world spreading his message. In an effort to make Afro-descendants more economically independent, Garvey started many businesses including the Black Star Line.

The Black Star Line was a shipping company, but also was a way for Garvey to transport people back to the “Mother” country of Africa.

Julius Garvey also has deep pride in his heritage and took it upon himself to research his background by using his DNA to trace his roots. He learned his ancestors are from a tribe in West Africa. He has taken this knowledge, and tried to regain his culture by learning the ways of these people.

“I look African, I think African, I feel African even though I can’t speak African,” said Garvey.

In his speech, Julius Garvey also referenced another type of slavery, mental slavery.

“While others can help us free our body, none but us can liberate our mind. This is an extremely important truth that has not sunk into the mid of Afro-descendants.”

He described a world that he said was subject to 500 years of dehumanization, slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

Costa Rica had their participation in this history.

Afro-Costa Ricans are Jamaican descendants. Jamaicans immigrated to Costa Rica in the late 1800s to work on the railways. Later they were recruited by the United Standard Fruit Co. to work on banana plantations

These immigrants lacked rights and were isolated to the coast, being restricted from expanding west past Siquirres until 1949. The population settled in Limón, where most still remain.

Julius Garvey referenced this time and said it should be used as motivation to push forward.

He said that changing the psyche of a mind of a race is a continuing process, and to be successful Afro-Costa Ricans need to regain three powers- economical, educational and political.

“Number one is our economic power. This is true all over the world. With economic power we can gain educational and cultural power because then you can educate yourselves and children. Not just on what we were, but it is also necessary to learn what is happening around us. Then you can regain your political power. There are many problems that can not be solved without political power,” he said.

However, Julius Garvey departed the crowd with a spirit of hope.

“As Marcus Garvey would say, up you mighty people, you can accomplish what you will,” he said.

Despite the progress, Afro-Costa Ricans still have obstacles to overcome. One of these obstacles is themselves, said speakers.

“How do we characterize ourselves? As afro-descendant or mulatto? Do I refuse to be of Afro-descent because it is something to not be proud? Our sense of identity is lost, and we ask ourselves how emancipated are we?” said Barton.

Barton gave as an example people who disown their race by not acknowledging others from the same background.

“It hurts me when I see black children on the street, and another black person walks by, and the child won’t make eye contact,” he said.

“No one but ourselves can free our mind. It is no doubt that the Negro is its own greatest enemy,” he added.

His recommendation was for Afro-descendants to stop being jealous and prideful, and to go back and relearn the lessons of their ancestors.

The mood of the room changed as poet Eulalia Bernard Little took the stage. Ms. Bernard is the first Costa Rican woman of African descent to publish a collection of poetry.

As Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin Something” played in the background, Ms. Bernard strutted across the room dancing, and reciting lyrics from her work “Leader’s Emerge.”

“Leaders! Emerge! Liberate yourselves. Seek thy identity. Follow the philosophy of Garvey. Evoke his spirit, day by day, in the immortal UNIA,” she sang.

Ms. Bernard challenged the audience to “commence thyself with words, actions, prayers, and swords.”

Also in the meeting was Marta Gibbs, president of the Centro de Investigación Afrocostarricense, former lawmaker Epsy Campbell Barr and Joyce Norman, mother to Olympian Sharolyn Scott.

The event ended with partakers signing a flag for Ms. Scott with best wishes in her upcoming races. Ms. Norman traveled to London Aug 1.

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