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Jamaican official visits Queen's to mark Black History Month

African-Caribbean Students’ Association hosts speech by Caribbean nation’s High Commissioner to Canada.

High Commissioner Janice Miller with members of Queen's administration and faculty, Kingston Deputy Mayor, and the Africa Caribbean Student Association.
From left: ACSA members Rachel Miller, Dainelle Barham and Bunisha Samuels; Kingston Deputy Mayor Simon Chapelle; Queen's Associate Professor Barrington Walker; High Commissioner for Jamaica to Canada Janice Miller; Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Tom Harris; ACSA President Nirosha Balakumar; Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion) Stephanie Simpson.

On invitation from the Queen’s African-Caribbean Students’ Association (ACSA), Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Janice Miller, gave a speech on campus marking this year’s Black History Month festivities. High Commissioner Miller made her address to a room of around 50 guests Saturday, Feb. 9, following a luncheon with members of ACSA, and the university’s administration.

“We are grateful to Her Excellency Miller for visiting our campus to celebrate Black History Month with our students, faculty, and staff,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Opportunities to strengthen our international relationships are important, as they present a chance to learn and share ways we can continue to promote global learning, equity, diversity, and inclusivity together.”

The High Commissioner spoke on the theme of ‘Moving Beyond Boundaries,’ and discussed the importance of the relationship between Canada and Jamaica. She pointed out that some 340,000 Jamaicans live in Canada today; a sign of the long and affable history between the two countries. High Commissioner Miller also emphasized why Black History Month is an important time each year to reflect on one’s roots as a Jamaican, or as a person of African descent, in Canada.

“Before coming to your campus today, I learned of the story of Jamaican-born Robert Sutherland and how he bequeathed his entire estate to Queen’s because this was an institution at which he felt he belonged,” says High Commissioner Miller, referring to the university’s first Black graduate. “I am aware that the university has taken steps to recognize Mr. Sutherland in various ways but it would be good if there was more done to recognize his legacy and contribution.”

Since 2003, Queen’s has been engaged in exchange programs with the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica, as well as that school’s campuses in Barbados and Trinidad. Over 40 students have participated in learning exchanges between the two schools since the partnership began.

ACSA President Nirosha Balakumar felt the High Commissioner’s visit was not only a great celebration of the African-Caribbean diaspora in Canada, but also demonstrated the importance of women of colour occupying positions of power, whether it’s as government representatives or in the post-secondary sector.

“Since the 1980s, ACSA has acted as a home and a family for countless students within the African-Caribbean diaspora who struggle with their transition to a new city and environment when coming to Queen’s,” Ms. Balakumar says. “We take pride in the strength of our community and its historical contributions to the university community and to the city of Kingston. We want to thank Her Excellency Miller for lending her important voice to our efforts.”

In addition to Black History Month celebrations, ACSA works throughout the academic year to advance issues of importance to students of African and Caribbean descent, and to those who share common interests. The group hosts a variety of engagements ranging from educational, social, community outreach, and sporting events to educate both the Queen’s and Kingston communities about African and Caribbean culture.

Additional Black History Month activities continue until Feb. 28. Visit the ACSA Facebook page for the full schedule of events.

“Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, and Usain Bolt are only some of the Jamaicans who have made a global impact,” says High Commissioner Miller to those who attended the lecture. “When considering the global reach of the Jamaican diaspora, I am reminded of Marcus Garvey’s famous quote: ‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.’”