GUEST POST: Again ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age’; Reflecting on 50 years after Martin Luther King in Jamaica

GUEST POST by Dr E. Anthony Allen

I entered the University of the West Indies in 1960 as a medical student. This fledgling institution was then only twelve years old. During my time there I had the privilege of associating with other ‘students of the sixties’. As we walked the campus paths we prepared ourselves and dreamed of a future. Eventually, together with staff, relatives and well-wishers, we gathered in the Assembly Hall in June 1965 for a very special Valedictory Service. The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver the sermon.

During that early part of the sixties era, Jamaica and the Caribbean had begun the journey of post-colonial ‘becoming’. We as students, along with other citizens, were seeking to define our personal and collective identities and sense of mission. Yet we confronted the wall of negative psychic messages and the persisting economic sabotage of alien oppression, past and present, local and global. Exploitative capitalism, classism and racism seemed to reign supreme.

As one caught up in that struggle, and together with others on the Chapel Management Committee, (which included chaplains, staff and faculty representatives), I was very much convinced of the role of the Chapel and of a shared Faith in a God of History as critical centres of influence in our journey. The Valedictory Service would be an ideal setting for collective reflection and commitment on the part of graduates going out to lead and make a future.

Beyond the glitter of a just received Nobel peace prize, the inspirational life of Dr. Martin Luther King urged on us the timely opportunity to have him come to articulate the needed message for our time and for us to meet one who was himself a model of this message.

Indeed, as we sat together in anticipation at the Assembly Hall, we were gripped with the hope that the higher principle of love seeking to transform discordant human factions into a ‘beloved community’ was the only way forward.  The fact that protests against unjust laws and systems need to be relentless was the very life of this man. Yet the most powerful tools of non-violence and love were presented to us as the necessary and effective means – these weapons driven by a dream of global harmony and justice transcending racism, oppression, poverty and war.

Over subsequent decades, all of those present have been contributors, in some way, to the Caribbean journey. Many have been leaders and innovators, carrying the ‘King’ dream into all walks of life. As we look back at the changing landscape of fifty years, doubtless his message, life and influence have made an indelible mark on how we fulfilled the task of piloting our collective socio-political and spiritual development. We need to do the research about this impact in the same way as we have with Marcus Garvey.

Nevertheless, in today’s era, the monsters of the early sixties again rear their heads in new ways. The ‘one-percenters’? state corruption, neglect and terrorism? divisive populist politicians? dons?, shottas? persistent poverty? persistent bleaching cream? ISIS?. How ready are our young students and graduates to make a difference? Who will now articulate the message that helped to motivate us in 1965? Let us who were there, and have been on the battlefield as activists and change agents in our own way, keep passing to successive generations the baton of boldly ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age’ (the theme of Dr. King’s  message).

As they face the new enemies of the true emancipation of ‘the wretched of the earth’, these generations can then internalize the words spoken on June 1965:

“…And so you look at him (the enemy) with understanding and somehow you love him and you work as you boycott, as you picket, as you demonstrate, as you sit in with the final idea of redeeming that man not annihilating him; and bringing about a society of brotherhood and understanding where all men will live together as brothers. And so this is the challenge facing the world, indeed the challenge facing the world is made real in this island: ‘Out of Many One People’. This is the great new challenge of mankind and until America learns this and till all the nations of the world learn this we will all border on destruction.”

Dr Allen, then on the Chapel Management Committee, made the suggestion that Rev Dr King be invited to speak at the UWI Valedictory Service.

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2 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Again ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age’; Reflecting on 50 years after Martin Luther King in Jamaica

    • It’s a reflection that’s especially appropriate to the season, even as it continues our focus on the impact of Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s message to the UWI and beyond, fifty years ago.

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