It is with great sense of honour and humility that I join with you in celebrating National Heroes Day for the first time as Leader of the Opposition.
We have been nearly two years with the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 2,000 Jamaicans have lost their lives to the virus. Our normal way of life has been disrupted, as we have endured nightly curfews, gathering restrictions, mask wearing and no-movement days. People have lost their jobs, some have lost their businesses. Times are hard. We all ask ourselves, when will it end?
If there was ever a time that we need to draw strength and unity of purpose from the spirit of great courage and self-sacrifice of our seven National Heroes, this is it.
The warrior spirit of Nanny, the great Maroon leader who ensured the survival of her people in the wilderness of the mountains and never submitted to the domination of colonial rule.
The liberating spirit of Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, who paid the ultimate price in the struggle for the freedom of the Jamaican people, and never sold out their cause.
The ennobling spirit of Marcus Garvey, who led the way in fighting for racial pride and justice, and whose influence was global and will last for generations until the evil of racism and discrimination is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned.
The national spirit of Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, who led Jamaica out of colonial rule and into political independence as one of the sovereign nations of the world, and gave us a tradition of democratic governance that has assured the rights and freedoms that we cherish and must never take for granted or be afraid to defend.
The rich legacy of our National Heroes inspires us to be resilient, strong and determined, especially in this most difficult time.
It has been said that “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”.
The spirit of our National Heroes finds daily expression in our everyday heroes.
It is in our nurses and doctors and other healthcare workers, who have all been called upon to act heroically to keep us safe amidst the ravages of the pandemic.
It is in our police officers and soldiers, who face grave dangers every day to protect us harm, and sometimes do not get the praise and support they deserve.
It is in our teachers, who have struggled to adapt and innovate so that our children can receive at least some education in the most difficult and challenging circumstances for schooling.
It is indeed in the great generosity of the Jamaican people, who help one another in their communities by lending a hand or a listening ear to make life a little bit easier.
This pandemic has further deepened the pre-existing inequalities in our society. It has laid bare the devastating impact of the digital divide, the vast disparities in outcomes across our education system, the differential treatment of breaches of the DRMA Orders, and so much more.
As the leaders of today, we owe it to our people, and to the liberating spirit of our National Heroes, to tackle these challenges head on, and build a more fair and just society. Our goal must be “One Jamaica for all Jamaicans”.
The beauty of it all is that overcoming our many challenges is not beyond us. The task is great, but our nation is filled with greatness. We have shown it over and over on the World Stage, and in so many areas of life where we punch above our weight and earn the admiration of others.
So yes, my fellow Jamaicans, we can build a better tomorrow, if we act in true allegiance to the spirit of our National Heroes, today and each step of the way.
Happy Heroes Day, Jamaica!