Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jamaican 'family' celebrates own independence day

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It's going to be hot, hot, hot in Winnipeg Saturday night as the city's Jamaican community gathers to celebrate their island nation's 50th year of independence from Britain.

"I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to talk about all we have accomplished," says Norma Walker-Dickens. "There is a lot. We have a problem with violence, but we have a lot."

Walker-Dickens, a retired school teacher, arrived in Winnipeg as a young married woman. "My husband came as a student and I had to follow," she says with a laugh. "That's what a good wife did."

Her ties to Jamaica have remained strong. She's got family on the island, including her sister, Letitia Johnson, now here for a visit. "Family is everything to Jamaicans," Johnson says. "We take our children with us everywhere, keep them close."

Both women remember Aug. 6, 1962, when the Union Jack was lowered and the flag of Jamaica raised for the first time.

"It was so exciting," says Johnson, who brought a choir of young singers to the official ceremony.

"It gave us back ownership of our country," says Walker-Dickins. "For so many years, everything belonged to Britain. The Jamaicans all lived up in the hills and the British owned the homes in the flat plains."

The women know many Canadians see Jamaica only in the context of beaches, ganja and reggae music. They're proud of two of those attributes (don't even get them started on Bob Marley) but are clear there's so much more to Jamaica than the obvious.

"Our culture is all over the world," says Johnson. "Look what we have given the world."

She recites a list of names that includes Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Usain Bolt. The Olympian's name comes out like a shout.

"You watch; you watch next week," says Johnson, smiling wide.

Independence celebrations have already begun in Jamaica. Toronto is hosting Jump Up For Jamaica, a series of concerts, public celebrations and a gala dinner. Here at home, the community gathered for a picnic at Birds Hill Park, will enjoy a banquet Saturday night and is involved in bringing a new Bob Marley documentary to Cinematheque Sept. 1 and 2.

Tickets for the banquet are $50. They are close to being sold out, but you can call the Jamaican Association of Manitoba (204-786-5496) to see if there are any left. Two hundred people are expected to attend.

Johnson says she loves Winnipeg and the people she has met. She was at Folklorama on a previous visit and can hardly wait to attend this year. "There is great conviviality," she says.

Both women talk about the importance of raising children with a strong sense of their roots and heritage.

In Winnipeg, the Jamaican association holds classes on Saturdays for children who are struggling with homework or need propping up in certain subjects. The help is open to both Canadian-born and recently arrived Jamaicans.

Kids and teens are encouraged to take traditional dance classes.

"In my day, they had more forms of family," says Johnson. "The mothers did the donkey work so they were always around. They were raised Jamaican style, with lots of family."

Walker-Dickens says the recent Birds Hill picnic was an example of a community becoming a unit.

"There were so many families, so many children -- interrupting, talking, having a good time.

"We don't have a lot of kids in gangs because we hang onto them."

"Maybe too hard," suggests her sister with a raised eyebrow.

The women turn serious when the talk is steered back to independence. They were very young women when the black, green and gold flag was raised for the first time. They know the anniversary will be emotional for them and for all Jamaicans.

"We are proud of our country and proud of all we have accomplished," Walker-Dickens says.

And then she quotes Bob Marley:

"One love, one heart. Let's get together and feel all right."

lindor.reynolds@freepres.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2012 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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