ADDRESS BY PRIME MINISTER RT. HON. P.J. PATTERSON, QC, MP
AT OPENING OF EMANCIPATION PARK
WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2002
This evening’s event has a special significance for all of us who live and have our being in our Jamaica.
This Emancipation Park is a site of memory, dedicated to the indomitable spirit, enduring commitment to freedom, to the strength and resilience of our forebears.
It commemorates the resilience of our people who successfully resisted slavery, who with grit and stamina endured protracted suffering and proved against all odds, the invincibility of the human spirit. This Park is a celebration of our survival and beyond.
Some six years ago I responded to the cry for formal recognition of this aspect of our history and, specifically, that historic day when full freedom came to our people, thus making it possible for all of us to be here tonight.
The return of Emancipation Day on the National Calendar resulted National Committee appointed to examine and report on how national symbols and observances can contribute to sustaining cultural unity and assist in the development of the institutional and operational frameworks for civil society.
I understood well the need to capture the popular will, the need to symbolize national values and aspirations and reflect on the soul and spirit of our people.
I said then that the price we pay for social alienation, especially of our young men, or for turning our backs on our culture, or for failing to harness the talents of our people is not just poverty and crime, serious as they are. The price we pay includes cultural chaos, the absence of national identity and the weakening of our values and attitudes.
The recommendations of that Committee, which were accepted by both sides of Parliament led to the re-instatement of the observance of Emancipation Day, which we had given up in 1962.
We dare not forget the beginning of our journey that has taken us through self-government, Independence and the continuing quest for a productive and prosperous way forward- a quest in which we are engaged today.
Emancipation Park is intended to celebrate and mark a glorious and challenging beginning which had beckoned our forebears to re-discovery of self and the shaping of a new order of society. This Park commemorates the ingenuity of the people from whom we sprang.
The construction of the Park speaks to such achievements that have come from the attributes that reside in our people.
Despite the challenges we have faced these past forty years we are confident that we are well on the road to progress. There is much more to be done but much has been achieved.
I firmly believe that our ancestors would approve of much that has been accomplished.
As soon as they achieved their freedom, they rapidly left the estates where they had suffered all the indignities and desperation that slavery engenders and fled to into the hinterlands, into the hills and began building a new life for themselves. In the words of a former slave at a function to commemorate emancipation held in upper Clarendon in 1842: “Now we can buy our own land, build our own house and go we own church.
The road ahead was to be long and arduous and these dreams have yet to be fulfilled for far too many of our people.
Our history records that during slavery, our ancestors used hillside lots to grow ground provisions that fed the entire population, including the planters.
These lands passed down from generation to generation as family land.
Everyone, perhaps naively in retrospect, expected that following the principles of English Common Law that these lands would become the property of the people at Emancipation.
Indeed, the British colonial governor, the Earl of Sligo, made a ruling precisely to that effect. However, not surprisingly the local planters protested and the Colonial Office overturned the ruling of their own Governor. Thus, on the eve of Emancipation, the people lost access to lands, which had been in their family for decades.
The colonial power’s determination to maintain a labour supply for planters in Jamaica made ownership of land by the people next to impossible, except through the granting of land by employers.
It was with a sense of the historic significance of the initiative, that last week I launched the Cadastral Mapping and Tenure Regularization of 30,000 parcels of landing St.Catherine, in Sligoville, the site of one of the first Free Villages in Jamaica.
It is a part of the mission that I am determined to fulfill, to make our ancestors’ dreams come true for more of us. It is the desire to help realize these dreams that informs so many of the policies of this administration.
I have heard talk about my excessive passion with regard to finding every means possible to provide home ownership, to ensure security of tenure for land for the people of this country. I will never apologise for that passion.
I have openly acknowledged that Operation PRIDE and the activities of the National Housing Trust and other agencies that administer the provision of land and houses must be carried out with rectitude, transparency and free from political discrimination. But having said that, I will insist with my last breath, that it is time for the dream of our ancestors to be realized.
Access to education, provision of the basic amenities of life water, roads, electricity and housing. For the masses of the people, the direct descendants of those slaves whose emancipation we commemorate today these are vital to completion of the process started two hundred years ago.
This Park is vivid testimony to the value we place on urban revitalisation. Enough cannot be said about the merits of developing and maintaining public spaces and the resulting impact on the psyche of the citizenry.
Nowhere else perhaps is the principle of common good demonstrated than in a public park. Our ability to respect and enjoy the beauty of nature and to honour our history here in this park has no relation to whether our home is Kingston 8 or Kingston 11. The Park is constructed on the premise that we each have an affinity for our country and for our neighbours.
There has been much debate on the best use of this land. Many of us here this evening may have felt that transforming this piece of prime real estate into a park was a waste of resource.
The truth is that there is no price that can be placed on the value of showing a child the magnificence of Royal Palm; on the value of seeing the joy on the faces of the young or the old on seeing the sparkle of the water in this fountain reflected in the sunlight; the pleasure of finding a haven of serenity in the hustle and bustle of the New Kingston urban center.
An added benefit from this park is the 500-metre jogging and Fitness metre jogging and Fitness Trail. The technological advances we have made in our efforts to modernize our economy have resulted in dramatic changes in our lifestyle. Automation of many processes is helping us to achieve complex tasks with little or no physical effort, in press button record time.
This along with inappropriate nutrition is taking its toll on our nation’s heath.
The Fitness Trail, and its availability to all users of the park fits well within the objectives of the Ministry of Health as it launches a new initiative in promoting a Healthy Lifestyle as we combat the life-threatening chronic diseases which undermine our well-being and socio-economic progress.
Urban communities need public spaces. Studies and anecdotal evidence have long established the connection between levels of violence in a community and the mutual trust residents have for each other to maintain public order. This park is given in trust to all with the hope that we each have a connection and an interest in seeing it flourish.
By seeing Emancipation Park flourish, I know that we will be moved to take back the entire city of Kingston and indeed all our communities from degradation, crime and neglect.
This must seen as a first step on journey of rejuvenation; inasmuch as our ancestors were ready to take back their right to freedom we, so many generations later, must re-establish and actively pursue our right to live in a clean, wholesome city.
I must now pay tribute to all those who have made it possible for this beautiful facility to come into being. To all those who had the dream and those who made it a reality; to Liguanea Club who provided the land.
I wish to publicly acknowledge the nation’s debt to the National Housing Trust which has coordinated this project and that has had the foresight to see that as a corporate citizen its responsibilities lie beyond the physical construction of housing and includes an investment such as this – a social investment in the entire nation.
I salute the NHT’s Chairman, Mr. Kingsley Thomas and his dedicated team. To the hundreds of workers, including the skilled craftsmen and women who have breathed life into the designers’ plans and who brought dedication and skill to every task, who literally toiled day and night to meet the deadline of having this Park ready.
I feel good this evening, not only as a Prime Minister but even more so as a proud citizen of Jamaica.
Just last week we enjoyed the thrill of our successful staging of the World Junior Olympics. We enjoyed the success of our athletes. Even as we speak, our athletes in Manchester are carrying our flag high! – And to be here this evening as we celebrate yet another achievement that demonstrates that there’s nothing we can’t do when we set our minds to it. May I say with acknowledgment to the Psalmist David - my cup runneth over!
I take great pleasure in declaring open Emancipation Park in tribute to that inspired past, which has imbued us who are here in the present with hope for the future.