Jamaica's 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the best gives citizens the courage to transform the challenges

OPINION - Happy 50th Independence Day Jamaica! Here’s hoping that the next 50 will bring peace, prosperity and a continuation of the grand Jamaican spirit...

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Today, Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence — and Jamaicans have a lot to be proud of. A country of around three million people, Jamaica has influenced the world and made its mark in the fields of athletics, academics, food, religion, art, music, and more.

There is resilience among Jamaican people, an ambition and a creative spirit that allows them to excel in their chosen fields. Jamaican culture fuels its people with a pride in their homeland that translates into a highly competitive spirit.

This week, Jamaicans have a lot of clebrating to do on top of commemorating their nation’s 50th year of freedom from British rule. Jamaican track stars Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake won gold and silver medals respectively in the men’s 100-meter dash at the Olympics, making them officially the world’s two fastest men. The adorable yardie, Shelly Ann Fraser, won the gold medal in the women’s 100-meter dash for the second time. Plus, veteran Jamaican track star, Veronica Campbell Brown, won the bronze.

What a way to transition into Jamaica’s 50th independence day. These milestones are great — but citizens, ex-patriots, and culture-lovers of the Caribbean country have been celebrating this important date for weeks.

On July 22, Jamaica’s most popular dish was celebrated at the Jamaican Jerk Festival, during which restaurants from all over New York City brought their take on spicy chicken and other Jamaican delicacies to Queens to be enjoyed while Jamaican sound system Stone Love played reggae songs. Conscious singer Tarrus Riley also performed, rounding out a celebration that encompassed so many delectable aspects of the Jamaican way of life in one place.

Jamaica also has a long history of film, beginning with classic movie The Harder They Come (1973), which introduced Jamaica, reggae music and the genius of music maestro Jimmy Cliff to the world. That movie along with other reggae classics were shown at the Do The Reggae Film Festival in Brooklyn, coordinated to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th during this past weekend.

Reggae music was also celebrated in May 2012 as a voice not only for Jamaica, but also for Third World people and black folks everywhere. To honor this achievement, three generations of Jamaican musicians joined together at Lincoln Center to show the diversity, energy, and creativity that have driven reggae’s popularity — and of course to also fete the nation’s 50 years of growth. Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander teamed up with saxophonist Dean Fraser and singer Tarrus Riley to pay tribute to this art form by playing a variety of pieces ranging from the folk song “Linstead Market” to Riley’s hit “She’s Royal.”

In everything that defines a culture and a people — religion, language, food, music, film, athletics — Jamaica stands out in the world despite its slim proportions. The Jamaican accent and dialect are well known and often imitated across the world, as a testimony to this. Even Jamaica’s homegrown religion, Rastafarianism, has become popularized in the form of its traditional hairstyle, dreadlocks.

The social impact of Jamaica, over just 50 years, has been great. Yet, as we acknowledge its 50 years of independence, we must remember that Jamaica has come a long way — but still has a long way to go.

Like many Third World countries, Jamaica is plagued by poverty, unemployment, drug-fueled gang violence, and political corruption. The unemployment rate in Jamaica is over 12 percent. Employed Jamaicans earn an average minimum wage comparable to just over 50 American dollars a week. In 2005, Jamaica had the highest murder rate per capita in the world.