Building Bridges: Africa, The Caribbean and The Future

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.

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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.

Originally posted on Africa Matters.

Brittany Brown: JAYECAN’s New Executive Director

Brittany Brown is a passionate 25 year old who believes in giving hope to the hopeless. She is currently working in the tourism industry as a Digital and Public Relations Coordinator but dedicates her spare time towards finding solutions to assist persons living in vulnerable communities and solving  issues affecting Jamaica. She aims to be  “a socially responsible youth” who will help people and solve society’s injustices.

She has held numerous leadership positions and is currently serving as the Marketing Lead for another non-profit organization, Operation Help The People that focuses on educational development, social infrastructure and environmental change.

She joined JAYECAN in 2019 to further assist persons in need and contributing to Jamaica’s development. She has been a lover of the arts since her childhood and attributes some of her development as a child through the arts specifically dance and drama. It is this love and understanding of the arts that allowed her to become apart of JAYECAN.

She wants to continue enabling children who may not have the privilege or access to the arts to become empowered. Art for her is more than just expressing ones self but a safe space for many persons who are faced with personal issues.

She believes that for every child impacted through JAYECAN’s programmes another community is reborn. “I am grateful for the opportunity for JAYECAN to be apart of these children’s development and enabling them to understand who they are rather than lacking confidence or become something they’re not.”

Through her leadership she wants to further develop  JAYECAN’s major projects “ArtReach” and “HerStory” through collaboration and increased funding. Through collaboration, it will create pathways for networking opportunities that can potentially translate to new partnerships, resource sharing and lesson sharing activities. This will prove useful to the continued success of our organization. It is her hope that we can add to the value proposition of like-minded organizations and especially create and endorse a network of organisations that create opportunities for young creatives and grassroot leaders.

Community development is a vital aspect to her leadership and as such will be mobilizing a team to assist other community leaders convey JAYECAN’s vision and further implement projects within their community.

Brittany believes that every volunteer in JAYECAN will be more than just a volunteer but a cultural volunteer who will build relationships with children in varying communities and assist in individuals honing their skills.

She believes arts and culture is important to social change and cohesion and wants to play her part in helping young creatives recognize their abilities. It is with these abilities developed that JAYECAN will be able to monetize the skill sets of individuals within the programme. She wants to not only use art as a form of therapy but also contribute to Jamaica’s creative industry.

JAYECAN Executive Director Receives Queens’ Young Leader Award

Abrahim Simmonds

Jamaican Abrahim Simmonds was on Thursday presented with a Queen’s Young Leaders Award at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth herself, for his work in using the arts to help develop the skills of young people in his homeland.

Simmonds, 23, is a co-founder and the Executive Director of Jamaican Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism (JAYECAN).

JAYECAN helps young people to identify a skill or talent that they can use to help their community and create programmes which use the arts to drive positive change. These include ‘ArtReach’, in which volunteers visit children’s homes and rehabilitation centres to provide music, art and drama sessions; and Herstory, which encourages young women from disadvantaged communities to use the spoken word and writing to help them to positively explore their past.

For the third year, the Queen’s Young Leader Awards were presented to a number of young game changers across the Commonwealth who have demonstrated commitment to transform the lives of people in their communities.

The programme was established in 2014 to help talented young leaders to realise their potential and position them for greater success in the future, to the benefit of the lives of people across the Commonwealth.

Young achievers from 36 countries across the Commonwealth on Thursday celebrated their Queen’s Young Leaders Awards with a number of special guests, including Sir John Major, Sir Mo Farah, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Liam Payne and Anita Rani.

Simmonds spent a week in the United Kingdom meeting and exchanging ideas with the other young leaders.

JAYECAN Culture Director Receives Commonwealth Award

Twenty-five-year-old ttorney-at-law Michelle Thomas of Jamaica is a finalist in the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work.

Thomas, who hails from Cooreville Gardens, St Andrew, is going up against 16 other young people from 13 countries across the Commonwealth, among them the founder of a youth-led organisation in Papua New Guinea that uses sport as a tool to end violence against women, and the owner of a Nigerian company which uses geo-mapping to recycle waste.

For her part, Thomas is founder of ‘No Crime Movement’ that provides a platform to build support for a society based on respect for human rights. The project targets over 3,000 young people including women who were subjected to sexual abuse, young people who are in prison, and those living with disabilities, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people (LGBT) youth. Her work emphasises an increase in citizen involvement and community-level policing.

The winner — the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year — will be announced at an awards ceremony at Marlborough House in London this Wednesday, March 15.

Repeated attempts to reach Thomas last week were unsuccessful, but in an interview with our sister publication All Woman a year ago, the young woman said social involvement is almost second nature to her.

“For me, to be a lawyer and not give back to society would be the highest level of hypocrisy, because I am who I am today because of my involvement and passion to serve my country and stand out,” she said then.

She is director of Cultural Programmes at Jamaican Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism, a member of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassador Network, the Kingston and St Andrew Festival Queen for 2016 and third-place finisher in the national competition, a Governor General I Believe ambassador, special projects chairperson at Educatours Jamaica, a member of the Kingston Open Bible’s youth ministry, mentor for the Denham Town High School debate team, and a litany of others.

The Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work celebrate outstanding adolescents and young adults aged 15-29 from Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Americas, Africa and Europe, who are leading initiatives ranging from poverty alleviation to peace-building.

This year’s group of finalists are recognised for spearheading projects that will contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals — a set of 17 global targets that governments have committed to achieve by 2030.

“Through their own initiative, young leaders in communities across the world are delivering on the ambitious agenda set by governments on everything from eliminating hunger to protecting the environment,” said Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

“All of the outstanding finalists… have demonstrated that young people are central to bringing forward positive change. Through these awards, we seek to celebrate their achievements and inspire others to follow in their footsteps, and encourage high level support for youth-led development efforts.”

The finalists were chosen by a panel of judges including representatives of Commonwealth High Commissions, Commonwealth organisations and young leaders.

One of the judges, Angelique Pouponneau, vice-chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, commented that “each of the youth awardees’ stories has brought inspiration and faith that today and tomorrow are in good hands with young people as equal partners of development”.

In addition to The Commonwealth Young Person of the Year, regional young persons of the year for Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Americas, Africa and Europe will also be named on Wednesday. The shortlisted finalists are: Michael Sheldrick, Australia; Towfique Ahmad Khan and Ukhengching Marma, Bangladesh; Ishita Aggarwal, Canada; Tricia Teekah, Guyana; Michelle Thomas, Jamaica; Charles Lipenga, Malawi; Charles Immanuel Akhimien, Owobi Emmanuel, and Destiny Frederick, Nigeria; Hadiqa Bashir, Pakistan; Jacqueline Joseph and Raylance Mesa, Papua New Guinea; Krystle Reid, Sri Lanka; R Tamira L V Browne, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines; Charles Batte, Uganda; and Jonathan Andrews and Yentyl Williams, United Kingdom.

Governor-General Endorses JAYECAN

The projects endorsed by Sir Patrick Allen include JAYECAN, a youth empowerment initiative of IBI Ambassador Abrahim Simmonds and The Little Genius Competition of Ambassador Tishauna Mullings.  Mr. Simmonds has since been named Queen’s Young Leader for 2017 while Miss Mullings was a participant in this year’s President Obama Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative.  

Sir Patrick Allen presented an endorsement plaque to IBI Ambassador Abrahim Simmonds for his project Jamaican Youth Empowerment Through Culture Arts and Nationalism (JAYECAN) during the IBI Luncheon on Tuesday (November 29, 2016) at the Spanish Court Hotel. 

The other two projects are “My Dream” by Life Transformational Solutions headed by Ambassador Cordell Williams Graham and the Rory Frankson “I Believe” (musical) Tour.    In his remarks, Sir Patrick Allen said that as Jamaica celebrates fifty-five years of independence in 2017, IBI Ambassadors should seize the opportunity to let the initiative make its most significant impact ever.   “I want us to commit today, that next year we will redouble our efforts to ensure that our programmes and activities create tangible pathways for restoring hope, belief and sound values in Jamaican families, our youth, as well as our system of education,” the Governor-General stressed. He also had high commendations for the IBI’s major sponsors including the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China which has contributed $4.1 million for the implementation of IBI projects.    “Their generosity of spirit has given us the opportunity to make meaningful contributions of audio visual equipment, classroom furniture, laptop computers and desktop computers to IBI satellite campuses and outreach projects in Trelawny, Westmoreland, St. Catherine and Portland,” Sir Patrick Allen stated.  

Youth Day at Global MIL Week: Critical thinking in focus

With over 150 participants present at the Kick Start of the Youth Day on Wednesday 2 November, UNESCO’s Global MIL Week 2016 celebration officially started in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Throughout two discussion panels, young people spoke to youth and adults and engaged in a series of workshops on Media and Information Literacy (MIL). The first day of the Feature event of Global MIL Week focused on critical thinking for youth and “hands-on” practical experiences.

Critical Youth Engagement

At the first discussion panel young people shared innovative projects and experiences in production of information and media content for advocacy and positive social change. Ms. Adama Lee-Bah, Head of the Youth Sub-Committee of the Global Alliance for Partners on MIL (GAPMIL), in her opening remarks commended UNESCO for ensuring that youth play a central role in the operation of GAPMIL. A dynamic young presenter, Ms. Eylam Leshem, member of the UNESCO-European Commission NET-MED Youth Working Group in Israel, shared the iThink mobile application. This app helps people make informed decisions, which is part of MIL, through making proposed legislation accessible, allowing people to directly vote and express their opinion regarding individual bills, amendments and procedures.

Youth leader, Mr. Abrahim Simmonds, Executive Director, Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism (JAYECAN) noted that true empowerment comes through helping young people to realize and operationalize their inner resources and environment to make their own lives better, and MIL is a set of skills and competencies vital to this process.

Various ways of teaching MIL

The workshop “Thinking about new and innovative tools to promote Media and Information Literacy” from NET-MED Youth Project discussed various methods of teaching MIL. “The NET-MED Youth project has helped me develop skills and abilities to distinguish between media affiliated to certain interests and independent media by using mechanisms to analyze content, topics and speakers. This contributed to transform me from being only a recipient of information, to interacting with it. It has equipped me to not simply accept everything that is displayed on the screen as facts, but to work on criticizing and analyzing the content, and then accept it or not” said Sondos Faqeeh from Palestine.

Comment boxes as spaces for arguments

In another workshop the participants offered their opinions on how communication can be improved.  “Here in Brazil the comment boxes on social media or newspaper websites – let me put it in the metaphoric words expressed by participants – are the place to vomit. We wanted to create an app to make people see news in context, how each article is part of the bigger context and think more how to connect the dots. Participants tried out the app and we received great feedback from them” said Jessica Tarasoff, workshop leader from the University of Sao Paulo.

Music as a way of teaching MIL

Telefonica Digital Education focused on music. Referencing recent Nobel prize recipient Bob Dylan, who used his medium to get his literacy across, participants gathered in the workshop “Maker Experiences, MIDI Controller and 3D Printing”, assembling a music controller through both hardware and software.

Using apps to learn about different cultures

Creating a situation where critical thinking and creative answers are required is a start for any kind of development and learning process about MIL. Technology can contribute to this. The workshop “Learning to learn with technology” engaged participants in learning about each other’s cultures using creative techniques, as well as learning in more dynamic ways. “People are using this application to integrate different means of technology – everything from taking photos to doing videos to learn about each other” explained Mr. Jonas Sylvester Kaspersen, the workshop leader and Director of Organisational Development at Recrear International.

Critical engagement and non-violent communication

Recognizing violent elements in media content was the topic of the workshop “Press, Violence, Youth: Tools for News Literacy” organized by different departments at the University of Sao Paulo (USP). “We learned a lot about non-violent communication, and it was very important to see a lot of different aspects that make our communication violent and what we can do to have dialogue instead of sometimes just screaming at each other or voicing opinions and not listening” said Ms. Julia Showlia from Sao Paulo who took part in a workshop.

“Media and information literacy starts with me”

It has become easier than ever to voice opinions at all levels – locally and globally. But as UNESCO’s Alton Grizzle emphasized, no matter the method, the key lies within critical thinking. Stakeholders around the world recognize the need for critical youth engagement to achieve sustainable development. Online spaces can be either a uniting or dividing force. The Internet can bring together people who would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet, allowing them to learn about each other’s culture firsthand, dispelling misleading stereotypes. This first day of Global MIL Week in Sao Paulo ended with all participants loudly expressing the lesson learned: “Media and information literacy starts with me”.

Global MIL Week 2016 is led by UNESCO in cooperation with the General Assembly of the Global Alliance for Partnerships in Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL), United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the Media and Information Literacy and Intercultural Dialogue (MILID) University Network. Global MIL Week is celebrated from 2-5 November 2016 in São Paulo, Brazil.


Contact: Alton Grizzle, Programme Specialist, a.grizzle(a) sends e-mail), + 33 (0) 1 45 68 42 11.

Flying High: Malik “Dean Fraser” Clarke

Lauded by his quaint community of Islington in the rolling hills of St. Mary, lives seventeen (17) year old Malik Clarke – an upcoming Saxophonist. Yes,  saxophonist. It isn’t your typical rural area pastime engagement but the twelfth (12th) grade St. Mary High School student hopes to follow in the big footsteps of Dean Fraser – a famous Jamaican saxophonist whose work transcends those before him and whose legacy testifies of his greatness. 

Dean Ivanhoe Fraser, a legendary Jamaican saxophonist has given of his talent to hundreds of reggae recordings and is highly regarded as one of the island’s top musicians. At the ripe age of twenty (20), Dean joined Rocksteady extraordinaire, Lloyd Parks’ We the People Band, playing back up to Dennis Brown on several of his recordings for Joe Gibbs. Dean has worked and toured with the likes of Luciano, Sly & Robbie, Bob Marley, Tarrus Riley and a plethora of internationally acclaimed reggae artistes, while performing at sold out reggae concerts and events across the island, the Caribbean and the Diaspora. Today, after the advent of the digital age, Dean Fraser still maintains his relevance and was awarded the Musgrave Medal in 1993 by the Government of Jamaica in recognition of his contribution to music.

Indeed, Dean Fraser presents himself as the grand role model for aspiring saxophonists.

Though intrigued by Dean Fraser’s accomplishments, Malik credits his involvement with and love for the saxophone to Youtube famous Charlie Lamprecht who won over his heart just over two (2) years ago when he started to indulge in ‘sax’ videos online.

Malik’s great ambition seemingly dwarfs the unbelievable fact that he began playing just over two (2) years ago.  The rural St. Mary community of Islington has been inspired and perhaps serenaded by the self-taught youngster’s talent and atypical engagement; so much so that Malik has been asked to perform at several functions and events. Though Malik has not yet racked up any accolades, he basks in the adoration of those close to him while firmly believing in his prospects of rising to prominence within the local saxophone arena by surmounting unimaginable musical barriers.

Philosophical Malik

A life heavily guided by philosophical underpinnings and inspirational thoughts have been the fuel to Malik’s endeavours and aspirations; central of these figureheads is Nelson Mandela. Malik believes that through his actions, he will be able to “reinforce the pronouncement of Nelson Mandela in the mind of aspiring youths that everything is deemed impossible until it is done”. Adorned with passion and fire, Malik wants his spectators to know that living and achieving in life is more of a possibility than a probability and the key to this is self-belief and recognition while supporting conscious thoughts with conscious actions. Despite his upbeat persona, even Malik falls on hard times, emotionally. Whenever he finds himself down in the dumps, he draws on his persistent nature, fighting for what he wants until he gets it.

Though naturally gifted and interested in saxophone and music, Malik’s ultimate goal is to become an airline pilot. Soul Plane: The Sequel, perhaps?

When asked to offer a word of advice to Jamaican youths finding it hard to reach for the stars, Malik had this to say, “We all have dreams and ambitions. Conscious thoughts require conscious actions. While in Jamaica we have a lack of opportunities and a poor economy, investing in self is crucial. Read and educate yourself. Employ what you have read. Pray. Believe”.

Malik Clarke: A Classic Man

By: Andwayne Davis, JAYECAN Marketing & Evaluations Director

The Jamaican Dream

Marred by decades of lackluster and self-induced depression, the Caribbean nation of Jamaica has been in a sad state – pummeled by social despair, economic turmoil; compounded by a vicious crime situation – the collection of which attempted to stifle the dreams, aspirations and visions of its vibrant people. Manifestations of this profess itself in the seemly deep seated mentality to indulge in the demonic act of ‘migration’ – the diffusion and dilution of our people.

Some fifty-odd years ago, in 1962, Jamaica became a sovereign state in the belly of the Caribbean Sea and represented a prized position of the world with a multitude of accolades that threatened to defy its small size. The year 1962 continues to hold a special place in the hearts of its people, symbolizing the ceremonial shattering of the relics of slavery and Imperialism, while heralding the drive to a fruitful future filled with hopes and good intents.

Along the road to prosperity, the island stumbled into dark days that stigmatized, tarnished and ruined its good name – lessons from which we are yet to fully learn from. It is from this place of darkness and ash that Jah-Mek-Yah will rise and become, once again, the treasure it is destined to be.  At the heart of our triumphant campaign to glory, are the nation’s people – those that have firmly cemented, enshrined and immortalized Brand Jamaica; The Living Legends and the runners that have relayed and anchored our nation in the hearts of the world. It is our people that will move Jamaica from strength to strength and it is our people that we must look to, to rebuild our nation.

It is said that history has a tendency to repeat itself and like Martin Luther King Jr., Jamaica, too has a “dream: The Jamaican Dream”.

In transitioning from debt rich to crime poor, Jamaica’s transformation will be a tumultuous one, marked by sacrifices which we must all endure and a life that beckons constraints. But 876 will never quit! Finally able to overcome its inner niggling, Jamaica will sweep onto the world stage with formidable hauteur and be the place for its people, and those of the world, to thrive and to flourish. Marcia Griffiths’ “Land of Love” speaks to the land that we all dream about – a land filled with comfort, belonging and support.

The Jamaican Dream embodies qualities that personify a place overflowing with prosperity, peace and understanding where all tenants and talents are appreciated and Jamaicans are tolerant, educated and whose priorities reflect those that are emphatically pronounced in our national anthem – wisdom, justice, respect, responsiveness, strength, vision, knowledge and truth.

Let’s continue to make Jamaica great! Xaymaca: Land of Legends

Join JAYECAN on Twitter, today, December 20th from 6:15 p.m to 7:15 p.m as we continue the discussion on “The Jamaican Dream” and delve into what it is like to be Jamaican and the visions/hopes/dreams we have of Jamaica Land We Love!

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By: Andwayne Davis, JAYECAN, Marketing & Evaluations Director