The Power of the Word

By Courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner By Hilary Robertson-Hickling
Updated: March 29, 2006

JAMAICA—A SERENDIPITOUS meeting with John La Rose in London just two days before he died, provided an opportunity for me to understand the power of the word. La Rose was born in Trinidad and went on to live in the United Kingdom in the 1960s where he was a tireless activist on behalf of the Caribbean until his death. A poet and campaigner, he was also a publisher of many important books through the New Beacon Publishers.

In collaboration with many artists and political activists he helped to organise the Black Book fair and many other organisations. His legacy is not only the books and archives he helped to establish but the ideas he espoused that reminded us that Caribbean people are citizens of the world and we must always remember that we are making a wonderful contribution. He nurtured many people and so it was that hundreds of people went to say farewell at his funeral.

At UTech last week I heard the words of Dr. Tommie Smith, one of the African-American athletes who raised their hands in victory at the Olympics in Mexico in 1968. This silent gesture resounded around the world; the words signified were those of ‘Black Power’. Here these athletes after winning an event for their country identified that their country continued to oppress its African-American minority in spite of their contribution and the country’s proclaimed commitment to democracy and freedom.


He spoke of the sacrifice that this had required and the backlash that they had suffered, but he also reminded the audience that athletic talent was a gift from God and should be used to promote justice. He reminded the members of the audience, especially the young athletes present, that they had a tremendous role to play in the development of the world. He suggested that it was about more than fame and fortune.

The words of gratitude that we owe to the sporting fraternity and sorority have been underscored by the performance of the team at the Commonwealth Games. The team consists of athletes, coaches, managers and other personnel who make us feel proud to be Jamaicans. The tremendous efforts of these decent, hardworking young Jamaicans reminds of our capacity for goodness and our nobility even as other elements try to destroy our very fabric.

We need words of wisdom to prepare the Prime Minister-designate, Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, for the task of ruling this beleaguered and strife weary country at a critical moment. Instead of ‘fighting’ words we need words of healing and reconciliation after what seemed to have been a brutal campaign. We need to support the country, not the individuals, and hence we need to stop the backbiting and recriminations that are becoming so common.

This country has a shortage of people capable of cooperating to take the country out of the present mess so we need all hands on deck. We need to encourage the participation of the Jamaicans abroad not only for the remittances which they send but because they have developed some mastery of the systems of the metropoles which we need to have working in our favour.

More praise and less cursing, more positive and less negative words will make it possible for us to rise to the occasion. The people have to force the leaders to find the right words to enable the transformation of the country. The singers and musicians, the talk show hosts, the writers, pastors, parents, teachers and all who use the word have the power to use the written and spoken word wisely.