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Building Bridges: Africa, The Caribbean and The Future with Abrahim Simmonds

Abrahim Simmonds is a prolific youth leader from the parish of St. Mary in Jamaica.

He is the founding director of JAYECAN and served as the Technical Officer for the LINKAGES Project in Jamaica, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Family Health International (FHI360), the largest global project dedicated to key populations living with and affected by HIV.

You can join us in live conversation with Abraham on June 11th.

What do you look forward to about this Webinar?

I live in the Diaspora. The majority of the Caribbean region is from within the African Diaspora. One of the growing debates is that we don’t feel as connected to Africa as we should. The region is primarily a tourism destination and most of the market is in the US. And in terms of the exchange of culture, resources and labour, most of our efforts are with the Americas. There is very little exchange with Africa, or parts of Africa, especially cultural exchange.

JAYECAN used to mean Jamaican Youth Empowerment Through Culture Arts and Nationalism. There are many reasons the name changed, but we have stuck with the title JAYECAN. Essentially what we do is create different programs and activities that empower young people to be proud of their heritage, which includes being descendants of Africans.

For most of the organisations that we collaborate with in Jamaica and in the region, that is our primary focus: to build on this identity. It is important that in building on this identity we become more aware of the appetite for a link between both regions.

I personally hold close to a vision that once we are unified and we become blended and strengthen each other, there is so much that can come from the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and in Africa. When we can work together and facilitate our own exchange of ideas, labour and south-to-south experiences, I feel like we would be able to do much better.

What is the importance of a cultural exchange between people of the Diaspora and on the continent?

The region where we are from, our culture is formed out of creolisation and is mainly influenced by globalisation. So we run into issues of identity a lot in the Caribbean.

Our culture and our cultural retention are related to our history of slavery and indentureship of Indian and Chinese people. What we consider our culture is constantly changing because we are nations built up of so many people from different parts of the world.

What’s very evident is that there is a strong Indian and Chinese influence in the Caribbean, but the African culture is the one that constantly changes. Which is good! Reggae comes from our African people in Jamaica and splits into other music forms like dancehall; influencing popular culture in the USA and UK.

Accurately understanding those parts of our culture is very important. The first step is for us to really begin to investigate why we say some of the things we say, why we do some of the things we do. What is that originally reflective of?

If we eat stew peas, what in Africa, in the countries our ancestors were taken from, what elements of the culture mirror what we practice today in Caribbean culture? And in the same way, we would want to be able to share the hybridised culture that we have in the region with the African people, for the colour and creativity it brings.

What do you wish to achieve with your webinar?

I think that a webinar is a good platform to extend this conversation beyond this region. I have a lot of anecdotal evidence about people’s perceptions and feelings toward the African continent and our history. I did a quick poll about three weeks ago asking how people felt about their identity being part of the African Diaspora, getting ideas about how we could make that connection and strengthen our relationship. Some of that information I hope to share in the webinar.

I am looking forward to a future where we are more unified. Where when something happens to us that threatens our democracy or our livelihoods or trade, Africa would stand up for us and defend us as their people. That they would partner with us in different issues that affect us, like climate change or different economic factors that affect our economies, and we as a region would do the same.

I think countries have started to take steps to build bridges. In the last two years two African

presidents have visited Jamaica and set up partnerships with us, President Kenyatta being the most recent, having shared in our independence day celebrations.

In terms of social solidarity and partnerships among regular people like you and me, working

together and realising that we have an extended family in that part of the world is very important to our own progress and our own business.

JAYECAN is going to be able to push forward our agenda knowing that we have a bigger entity that is Africa Matters to join us in this discussion and push this agenda forward. Different people within our society should be able to identify with mentors and partners in that part of the world and then we will work together to build up two regions that are affected by different kinds of oppression.

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