Belmont Academy in Westmoreland transformed its café into a virtual museum of Jamaica’s artistic, culinary, cultural, musical, natural and political heritage in celebrating Jamaica Day on March 4, 2016. Over twelve schools from across the Ministry of Education’s Region 4 (St. James, Hanover, and Westmoreland) shared in this year’s celebrations under the theme, “Celebrating Jamaica, Promoting the Arts.”

Staged by the hosts in collaboration with the Education Ministry and radio station IRIE FM that broadcasted live intermittent interviews from 6:00 am until 3:05 pm, the event unfolded in five parts. First, there was a Jamaican Film prelude that showed excerpts from “Rockers”, “Smile Orange”, “Lime Tree Lane”, Titus in Security”, and “Oliver at Large”. Second, there was an Opening Ceremony that included the invocation by Pastor Mario Parchment of the Water Works District of Seventh Day Adventist churches; welcome and introduction by Principal Rayon Simpson, JP; speeches by Dr. Michele Pinnock Director, Regional Director; Custos Rotulorum of Westmoreland the Very Reverend Canon the Hon. Hartley Perrin, CD, JP; and Keynote Speaker, the motivational Miguel “Steppa” Williams. 

Third, there was a concert featuring performances from eight schools with Guest Performer Marsha K, the Digicel 2015 Rising Star First Runner-up. Finally, there was a flag-raising ceremony performed by the St. James High School’s Marine Unit and Marching Band; and five multiple displays by various schools.

“Today was well organized. It had a perfect balance of education and entertainment, reported Head Boy Rajay Dockrey.” 

Unity Primary displayed traditional foods (including boiled yam, Mackerel Run-dung, Dhalpurri – an Indian dish – Ackee & Saltfish, Dukunoo – Blue-draws or Tie-leaf-), while Georges Plain Primary showcased Jamaica’s performing arts heritage (musicians, NDTC dancers and the Sound System era), athletics and aspects of slavery. 

A composite watermelon sculpture, made possible by parent Sophia Haughton, depicting the Doctor Bird, Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey, was the centre-piece of the Academy’s near exhaustive display that included preserves and pastries produced by their Home Economics Department, students and parents.

The over 1,000 youngsters, parents, teachers, officials and community members in attendance got a glimpse of life in pre-independence Jamaican household implements and cooking utensils including wash pans, chamber pots (chimmie), basins, pails, goblets, tea cups, plates, cooking pots and pans all made from enamel were on display. Also on display were a manual typewriter, an electric floor polisher, several hardboard suitcases (Dulcimena Grips) and clothing of the 1950’s.

 “The exhibits show elements of the past that has made us what we are,” commented Keynote Speaker Steppa, as he launched into his highly appreciated half-hour presentation that saw him performing five poems from his wide repertoire including his signature piece, “Talk Up Yout’”. His poems speak to real-life situations from his work as a teacher/motivator in the Correctional Services (prison system); abhors child abuse, and encourages children to take responsibility for their lives and parents to exercise proper parenting. 

In addressing the event’s theme, Steppa noted that “one time parents used to discourage children going into music but now music is a career (as is) the creative arts – photography and writing”.  “No nastiness, we have enough of that, make sure it’s positive, its clean-up time”, he cautioned to loud applause. The applause went up a notch when he declared that male students must pull up their pants and condemned bleaching of the skin. “Don’t get lost in popular culture that is contrary to your natural culture,” advised Steppa.

Other artistic expressions presented were in the form of dance by Savanna-la-mar Primary and Cave Valley All Age from Hanover; music and dance by St. James High; music, song and dance by Belmont Academy; brass instrumental by Green Pond High; song by Godfrey Stewart High and Haddo Primary and Infant; poetry by Negril All Age and community member Haile Mika’el; while the New Revelation Mento out of neighbouring Beeston Spring entertained intermittently.

Referencing the scripture passage Joshua 4: 5-7, Pastor Parchment stated, “Jamaica has great stories that must not be forgotten. When you leave here today, and when folks ask, tell them the story of excellence so that they may know that Jamaica has good reason to celebrate.”

“I charge you to hold yourself responsible to learn something of our dynamic culture and to pass on the information to others,” Principal Simpson requested of the attentive audience.

In her address, Dr. Pinnock noted that Jamaica Day is a part of the Culture in Education Programme of the Ministry of Education. She quoted Governor General Sir Patrick Allen from his Jamaica Day February 26, 2010 declaration in which he challenged “each Jamaican to gain a deep understanding about being Jamaican”; adding, “Jamaica Day instils the spirit of Nationalism among citizens, it allows us to better understand our heritage as we coach our students into adopting positive values and attitudes.”

“We are here today to raise our heads in the optimism of hope,” encouraged Custos Perrin as he enumerated the achievements made in sports, music and technology. “We celebrate Jamaica because we have ample justification so to do…it is our home.”

 

        

In photograph to the left keynote speaker, the motivational Miguel “Steppa” Williams perform to a captive audience. At right Belmont Enterprise student directors from left, President Jasmine McGrowder, Vice President of Production, Barika Clarke and Director of Production Lacyann Campbell man their business.