FORT LAUDERDALE – More than 200 black people, most of them Rastafarians, and some 20 authors attended the 121st Marcus Mosiah Garvey Birthday Celebration last weekend.
Garvey, an early Pan-Africanist and proponent of a “Back to Africa” movement for black people across the world, was one of the most influential people of Caribbean descent in the 20th century.
His philosophy was summed up by his powerful “Africa for Africans!” mantra.
To honor Garvey’s contributions to the African Diaspora, the Broward County Library System held the 2008 Pan-African Bookfest & Marcus Garvey Rootz Celebration on Aug. 16 and 17.
The event, in its sixth year, took place at two locations: Joseph C. Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale, and the Shoppes of St. Croix in Lauderdale Lakes.
The celebration at the park took place in conjunction with the Broward County Library Division’s Annual Pan-African Book Fair.
Next month, on Sept. 13, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens will celebrate Garvey’s birthday – Aug. 17, 1887 – with African dancing and drumming, spoken word poetry and live reggae. The celebrations are in conjunction with the university’s birthday.
In Fort Lauderdale, the celebration’s Aug. 17 organizers said they were continuing Garvey’s movement, which sought to unite the African Diaspora worldwide.
“Garvey is an historical figure who has done great works on behalf of the African race and has left a legacy for us,’’ said Douglas Smith, aka Priest Douggie, president of Rootz Foundation, which organized the event.
The group raises the public’s awareness of historical and cultural information, and mentors young people.
“So, we are trying to keep it alive [because] we see in our community a lack of self-esteem in the young ones and realize that they came from great sources and can also be great, and have a duty to contribute to the development and upkeep of our community and our nation,” Smith said.
Though tropical storm Fay threatened, canceling most of the scheduled performances at the park, Dr. Marcia Stewart, aka the Rev. Queen Mother Moses, a panelist at the event, said the storm was no coincidence, as Garvey had once said to look for him in the whirlwind.
A self-taught avid reader, Garvey made education one of his central themes. His philosophy was that poverty was no excuse for the lack of knowledge. He urged people to read because, he said, knowledge is power. When you are informed, you make good decisions, said Smith.
On what would have been Garvey’s 121st birthday, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Carlton Moore proclaimed Aug. 17, 2008 as Marcus Garvey Appreciation Day.
Garvey advocated black pride and stressed that being black meant strength and
beauty, not inferiority. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in his native country in 1914. The organization grew rapidly, and a New York chapter was created in 1916.
While other chapters were created in large urban centers such as Chicago and Los Angeles, Garvey's message reached into small towns across the country, also.
The UNIA represented the largest mass movement in African-American history, according to the National Humanities Center. Proclaiming a black nationalist "Back to Africa" message, Garvey and the UNIA established 700 branches in 38 states by the early 1920s.
The organization’s influence was felt not only in America but also in Canada, the Caribbean and across Africa.
Garvey’s made his reputation on his stance against integration. He believed that racism was so ingrained in whites that it was futile to appeal to their sense of justice. His foremost mission was to unite the African Diaspora into one body that would establish its own country and government.
“You and I fare no better in America, in the British empire or in any other part of the white world. We fare no better than any black man wherever he shows his head,’’ Moses said, quoting one of Garvey’s many essays. “And why? Because we have been satisfied to allow ourselves to be led, educated, to be directed by the other fellow who has also sought to lead the world in a direction that would satisfy him and strengthen his position. We have allowed ourselves for the last 500 years to be a race of followers. Followers in every race that has led in the direction that would make him more secure. We refuse to be followers any more. We are leading ourselves.’’
Event keynote speaker Senghor Baye, managing editor of the Garvey's Voice newspaper and 1st Assistant of the UNIA-ACL in Washington D.C., called for widespread membership of the UNIA as a continuum of Garvey’s philosophies, including his vision of black power through educational and economical development.
“It’s a shame the UNIA is not in every state of the United States or Snakes of America,” Baye said. “We need to continue prison projects; we need to vibe with our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated. We need business men’s and women’s involvement of empowerment systems; if black businesses don’t connect, we won’t have enterprise empowerment, and we need to partner with all independent, private, charter and public school. One God. One aim. One destiny.”
Baye also urged attendees to get involved in study groups, literary cultural arts projects, and groups that establish healthy foods and classes on proper food preparation. He also said youth mentorship was essential to re-educate children after they have been mis-educated by “the enemy.”
Moses echoed Baye words. Stating that Marcus Garvey came to empower blacks to resist the Babylonian [white] system of oppression, she pointed to a clear message on her jeans skirt that read: “Danger: Educated Woman.”
The educator, psychotherapist, spiritual and social activist said that “mis-education will keep us right where we’ve been.”
Garvey’s legacy is kept alive by organizations such as the UNIA, the Rootz Foundation and the Rastafarian movement.
In 1980, a bust of Garvey was placed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington D.C.
“He taught us self-esteem, self-confidence and most of all he taught us self-reliance. He did a lot to show us as a people what we needed to do to compete and survive in the 20th and 21st centuries,” Smith said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning
Photo: Marcus Garvey Extravaganza event organizers are, from left to right, Priest Douggie, Dr. Marcia Stewart, Senghor Jawara Baye, Tanya Simons-Oparah, Heru and Kwame K. Afoh.