I am petitioning the Jamaican government to stop the eviction of the Rastafari and preserve the ancestral lands at Pinnacle.
As the epicenter and birthplace of the Rastafari faith and movement, Pinnacle provided refuge and promoted self-reliance to Blacks in Jamaica at a time when they were relegated to second-class citizenry. Although Pinnacle remains a Jamaican legal issue, it has international historical significance as Rastafari brought the world a freedom message that encouraged oppressed and impoverished peoples of many nations to fight against colonization and systemic inequities.
Bob Marley delivered the message of Rastafari composed over the beat of reggae to the world, and in turn shone an international spotlight on Jamaica. What good does it do to gain the world and lose your soul? Out of Saint Ann was born a messenger. Out of Pinnacle was born the message. We have preserved the site of the messenger, now we must preserve the ancestral land of the message.
The Jamaican government honors Bob Marley’s societal contributions and legacy as part of its national history; as it honors his life it must respect his faith and preserve the land that birthed his truth and gifted a freedom soundtrack unto the world. As I pen this letter, artists travel throughout Africa performing “Redemption Song” in honor of Nelson Mandela; encapsulating the dignity, honor and struggle of his life’s challenge to free South African people from colonial oppression.
Who can forget the images of Zimbabwean independence as Bob Marley took stage celebrating the deliverance of a nation back unto its people from the hands of foreign subjugation? President Barack Obama often acknowledges reggae’s influence on his personal development, that Bob Marley’s lyrics encouraged his self-acceptance and raised his social consciousness. On an international scale, no other music parallels reggae’s — henceforth Rastafari’s — influence on past and modern human rights movements and leaders.
As a civil and human rights attorney, reggae music and Rastafari inspire many of my philosophical underpinnings. In spring 2012 I taught a theory on music as a form of social change at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. My students listened to Bob Marley’s lyrics and dissected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches, learning to lead a spiritual revolution based in love and to challenge oppressive systems that plague society with the illness of inequity. As I stood before my students lecturing on these principles, I did not know that within two weeks’ time they would come to lead a protest based on Florida’s failure to arrest George Zimmerman for the racially motivated killing of an innocent 17-year-old. My students coined the phrase that became an international movement and cry for justice: “I am Trayvon Martin.” I cannot quantify the influence of Rastafari on the movement, but I can say that teachings of its principles lived within my students.
The King of Morocco recently undertook national judicial reform to implement democratic principles throughout their legal system, and thus invited United States’ attorneys and judges to consult on the reformation project. Last month, as I worked to ensure human rights norms applied to people within Moroccan borders, I dressed in my suit while listening to “Zimbabwe,” “War” and “Africa Unite” every morning. These songs based in Rastafari principles communicate a blueprint for the world as it should be; I wanted these philosophies to reflect in the small contribution I made to the legal reform of a nation. While in Morocco I also lectured at a law school on the persistence of cultural and systemic racial disparities in the United States, and my nation’s violations of international human rights standards. My entire speech translated into French and Arabic, until my last few words in which I charged the students in the Kingdom of Morocco to: “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights!” In the 120 minutes I spoke, only nine words needed no translation. As a smile spread across their faces I knew that for the first time in two hours I reached my students with a humanity that no language barrier could impede. Through reggae Bob Marley empowered impoverished and oppressed peoples to fight for freedom and live in love and equality; a universal language called truth that needs no translation. A language based in Rastafari. Respect.
Learn from the mistakes of my nation. The United States displaced and mistreated its native people, forcing them from their sacred homeland destroying their culture and trampling on their faith. Teach a different lesson to your children. Show them Jamaica’s pride in Rastafari and preserve Pinnacle so they will learn that the true wealth of a nation is not its GDP or material gain, but the richness of its people, its culture, its history. I pray that the Jamaican government will adhere to its own creed — out of many you are one. As a wise man once said and a soul rebel sang, we will fight, “until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation.” I stand beside the Rastafari to protest the destruction of their ancestral lands in Pinnacle in a spirit of ubuntu — a South African saying meaning, “I am because you are.” I and I. As a practitioner of human rights and leader of a recent international movement to fight oppressive systems that devalue Black life — I can attest that every time I speak some amount of the cadence in my voice is ode to the wisdom of Bob Marley delivering the message of Rastafari fused to the reggae-rhythm that beats within my soul.
Please take a moment to sign the petition.
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