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My fellow Jamaicans:

We celebrate National Heroes Day at a time when its deep meaning and relevance could not be more significant. The life lessons bequeathed to us by our National Heroes, whose voices echo so eloquently across the span of time, prepare us for our present challenges.

Now more than ever we need to rediscover the things which bind us together. Our National Heroes, through their fixity of purpose, common vision of liberation and focused determination, summon us to find common cause. They remind us of the ongoing struggle of ensuring that every Jamaican is given the opportunity to fulfil his or her full potential.

There was an overarching ideal which united the struggle of all our National Heroes: Freedom.

• Freedom from slavery and subjugation
• Freedom to assert our humanity
• Freedom to craft our own destiny
• Freedom to preserve and promote our unique culture
• Freedom to carve out our own path to nationhood
• Freedom to create our own national identity
• Freedom from the tyranny of poverty
• Freedom to construct a society of peace and prosperity

For our National Heroes, freedom was the essence of our humanity. They knew that what distinguishes us as a people is our capacity for free action and our free will. But there are things which constrain our freedom and which, therefore, militate against the work of our Heroes.

Crime constrains our freedom. The right to life is the most basic freedom. As a society, we have to deeply embed the concept of the sanctity of life.We have to find ways to inculcate and reinforce that in our children. In the home, at basic school, through the media and in the popular culture, we have to teach our very young ones that each life, including theirs, is precious and inviolable.

We can’t wait until they reach adolescence to teach them respect for life.

One way to internalize our Heritage week motto, which is “Our Heritage…Our Legacy… Our Strength”, is to teach our history to our children. Let them know that the freedoms they enjoy came at a great price. These freedoms must be cherished and protected. When we take the lives of our own brothers and sisters, essentially taking over from our slave-masters in destroying lives, we are dishonouring our Heroes.

Let us recommit on this National Heroes Day to respect life; to continue the tradition of our forebears to promote the liberty and happiness of our fellow Jamaicans; not their demise. Our heritage, indeed, can provide the wellsprings from which we draw strength.

At a time when we need to deepen civic engagement, let us remember the examples of our Heroes, whose lives were characterized by self-sacrifice. In some cases, quite literally. The legacy of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sir Alxander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley, challenges us to be our best selves.

The way we came together recently and to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in preparing for Hurricane Matthew was an example of the kind of cooperative spirit that must become the new normal.

We must pull together, not pull apart. We must build bridges, not walls. We must shake hands, not clench fists. On this National Heroes Day, let us rekindle the flame of cooperation, consensus-building and caring.

We would not be where we are today as a nation were it not for the heroic actions of those whom we celebrate today.

What are we leaving for the generations to come?

What are we sowing today for others to reap tomorrow?

Are we building a foundation that will last or are we merely living for ourselves?

Our Heroes remind us that life is best lived in community; in fulfilling a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. We need to recapture that spirit of self-sacrifice. We can’t build a society with each person just looking out for “me, myself and I”. It is fascinating to note that Sam Sharpe, who played such a pivotal role in the struggle to end slavery, was himself not one of the most mistreated enslaved.

Methodist Missionary Henry Bleby recounted, and I quote: “Sharpe acknowledged to me that he had, as an individual, no reason to find fault with the treatment he had received as a slave. His master… was always kind to him and he had never been flogged beyond the occasional and slight correction he had received when a boy. But he thought and learnt from his Bible that the whites had no more right to hold back black people and for his own part he would rather die than live in slavery”. What an enlightened attitude!

Sam Sharpe fought slavery not because of personal oppression, but on principle, and in selfless devotion to others.

This is the spirit we must nurture in Jamaica today.

This is how we truly honour our Heroes. On this National Heroes Day, I salute all those Jamaicans at home and abroad who in their own way are heroes. Those who are:

• Heroes to their families, providing moral leadership, love and guidance.

• Heroes to their communities, working tirelessly to build bonds and to rescue those floundering in despair.

• Heroes in civic life, many of whom are being honoured today, providing sterling examples of service.

• Heroes in business, professional and vocational life, demonstrating excellence, high performance and dedication.

• Heroes in sports and culture, providing inspiration to thousands of Jamaicans who see in them their best selves.

• Heroes in academics, as exemplary students, teachers and researchers, building up the storehouse of knowledge and showing that, globally, we are second to none.

Our National Heroes would want us to carry on their work. Let us not disappoint them. As we mark this day, let us rededicate ourselves to building a greater society on the foundations of freedom they left us.

May God bless our heroes, and may God bless Jamaica

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