Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican political leader, writer and thinker whose philosophy supported the Back to Africa movement of the 1920s, which advocated that members of the African diaspora return to their ancestral lands. He is considered a national hero in the land of his birth, remembered for his influence in Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism. But in the United States, Garvey is down on record as a convicted felon.
Global Voices (GV): For those who might not know about Marcus Garvey or understand the impact of his philosophy and life’s work, could you explain why he has had such an impact on you
and why he is so important to Jamaica? (And even beyond Jamaica to the African and
Caribbean Diaspora, African Americans, etc.)
Geoffrey Philp (GP): This is an interesting question that I've attempted to answer it in many ways, including a recent post: Exonerate Marcus Garvey: 5 Ways You Can Help. Vanessa Byers at Blogging Black Miami was also intrigued about my commitment and I did a guest post for her:
Growing up in Jamaica with the music of Bob Marley and themes of freedom, equal rights, and justice as an integral part of his lyrics, four questions haunted me: Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I
going? How can I be a good man?
Not surprisingly, these questions about the creation of an authentic identity and the impediments have been central to my work as a writer and teacher. Added to this was the question of what W. E. DuBois called ‘the color line’ and the connection between race and class that C.L.R James wrote about in The Black Jacobins.
These questions could have remained abstractions. However, with the birth of my son, they became pressing concerns: How do I teach my son to be a good man and father? What does it mean to be a good man? A good father?
As a father, writer, and teacher who has spent the past thirty years living in Miami, Florida, where many of our children, especially our boys are in trouble, the challenge broadened: How can I teach our sons to be good men?
The importance of Marcus Garvey's work for Jamaica, African Americans, and to the African and Caribbean Diaspora, was best defined by Marcus Garvey's son, Dr. Julius Garvey:
‘A sense of identity, self-reliance, unity/nationhood, entrepreneurship, education in the physical and psychological sciences, and spirituality based on the Father/Motherhood of God and the brother/sisterhood of woman/man. The principles that Garvey outlined in was a philosophy, theology, psychology, and social action plan that could be applied by all people in any location.’
GV: How did your campaign to exonerate Garvey begin and who else is involved in the effort (bloggers, regional groups, etc.)?
GP: I started the petition out of my love and respect for Marcus Garvey. For ten years, I taught Marcus Garvey’s Life and Lessons as part of a course on heroes. The course also used texts and videos about Joseph Campbell, bell hooks, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Audre Lourde, Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and Toni Morrison.
They say we teach what we want to learn and during this time, I was also asking myself the question: How can I be happy? In order to answer that question, I realized that the first contradiction in my life—what the Buddhists call the root chakra (Muladhara)–would have to be resolved: the validation of my life experiences versus the multiple narratives from history, literature, and the media that denigrate anything/everything Black/African.
If I, as a ‘browning’ from middle class Mona Heights, educated at Jamaica College and a graduate of the University of Miami could be affected by this racial prejudice, then how did my darker brothers and sisters feel about themselves? And if they did not experience the ‘shame’ of blackness (Marcus Garvey called blackness ‘a glorious symbol of national greatness') how did they heal themselves from that psychological wound?
All my readings and conversations pointed to Marcus Garvey. When I discovered that Garvey was railroaded by the Justice Department, I felt something had to be done to clear the name of a man who was the victim of injustice and whose only crime was standing up for the human rights of Africans and New World Africans.
Along the way, I met with others who felt as passionately…as I did and we agreed to form a coalition to pursue [his] exoneration. The principals are Dr. Claire Nelson of The Institute for Caribbean Studies; Jabulani Tafari, Priest Douglass Smith, and Dr. Michael Barnett of the Rootz Foundation; Ras Don Rico Ricketts and Professor Donald Jones of the Marcus Garvey Celebrations Committee; Mr. Yaw Davis of the UNIA; Mr. Donovan Parker, attorney at law, and Mr. Justin Hansford, Assistant Professor of Law at Saint Louis University.
But before we did anything, we decided to get the blessing of Marcus Garvey's son, Julius Garvey, who for many years has been a crusader for clearing his father's name. Jabulani Tafari of the Rootz Foundation, who is also a friend of Dr. Julius Garvey, reached out to Dr. Garvey and he gave his blessings.
Then, we crafted a press release by using an online service that allowed us to edit in real time. Next, we used our media contacts and emailed the press release to all of them. The final step was coordinating our efforts online and on the ground.
GV: What are some of the activities (online and otherwise) that you have been doing to
get Garvey’s name cleared?
GP: Jabulani Tafari of the Rootz Foundation has invited celebrated historian, Garvey
disciple, Dr. Runoko Rashidi, to deliver the feature presentation at the 2012 Rootz Extravaganza. The program, scheduled for 7.00 pm to midnight on Friday, August 17, has been designated ‘Marcus Garvey Appreciation Day’ in the City of Fort
Don Rico Ricketts of the Marcus Garvey Celebrations Committee has spearheaded a campaign in Miami Gardens that has several components, which we hope they will approve, including the naming of a section of 7th Avenue, in honor of Marcus Garvey and establishing a Sister City/Parish Program between Miami Gardens, (the largest predominantly African-American municipality in Florida, with a significant Caribbean population) and St. Ann (birthplace of Marcus Garvey) and its capital, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. We have also planned activities commemorating and celebrating the 125th anniversary of Marcus Garvey's birthday, the 90th anniversary of his marriage to Amy [Ashwood], and the 50th anniversaries of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago's independence.
GV: We're very interested in how the social media campaign has been organised. Can you tell us more about it? Do you think using social media to spread the message has given more weight to the campaign? If so, how?
We've used social media because it is the most effective way of spreading the news about the campaign and the easiest ways to collect signatures!
Don't miss Part 2 of this interview with Geoffrey Philp, in which he shares how Garvey has had an impact on his work as a writer, why he thinks it is important that Garvey be exonerated by the first black President of the United States and what the response from the White House has been like thus far.