Let justice roll like a river
Let justice roll like a river
Any gathering which pays homage to Bob Marley and exhorts us to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” is, surely, unmissable.
And so it proved at the inaugural Emancipation Day service – marking an end to slavery in the Caribbean in 1834 — at the Moravian Church on Belfast’s University Road today.
The Moravian Church is righty proud of the fact that it was the first Protestant assembly to send missionaries to minister to the slaves of the Caribbean. Indeed, the current Minister at University Road, Rev Dr. Livingstone Thompson, hails from Jamaica where the church now has a strong presence.
In short, this was the perfect venue for an ecumenical service boasting spiritual slave songs (by the magnificent Clover Watts of Jamaica, below), dub poetry, Dominican dance and an inspiring address by the High Commissioner of Barbados to London, Rev Guy Hewitt.
His Excellency Rev Hewitt cited the common bond between Ireland and the Caribbean rooted in the experience of the Irish transported to the West Indies by Cromwell, who, he said, suffered in conditions similar to those endured by the African slaves. He also referenced a more recent bond: the notices in boarding house windows in Britain in the fifties and sixties bearing the legend: “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.”
Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, added Rev Hewitt, best highlighted the determination of the slaves — shamefully, 12.7 million slaves were sold out of Africa — to overcome the misery and brutality of their captivity.
Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
And there’s another bridge between our peoples there, of course, because my pal Larry Kirwan has long insisted the opening chords of Redemption Song are based on an air from his native Co Wexford!
A strong turnout of Caribbean nationals enlivened a marvellous event. We have come a long way, as Rev Hewitt noted, from Enoch Powell’s “odious” ‘Rivers of Blood’ comments but, as the Windrush Generation scandals shows, we have a bit to go yet before we see “justice roll on like a river” for the entire community both in Britain and in Belfast.
Making an Impact on the City Which Made You is one theme of the Detroit Homecoming. That momentous gathering, in turn, provided the spark for the Belfast International Homecoming, scheduled this year for 28-30 November at the palatial surrounds of Belfast Harbour Commission offices.
It’s our intention to bring together for the Homecoming – which will include a legal symposium, a celebration of start-ups, an arts extravaganza and a conference on the theme Game On! — some of our finest sons and daughters who have made their mark in other lands and are now giving back to Belfast.
Among them must be Dave McCartney, a one-time Andersonstown trainee tiler whose company DMC now has responsibility for tiling all the London underground stations and the new CrossRail project. Not bad for a guy who got his first start tiling EuroDisney.
A native of St James in the Falls area, Dave has spearheaded the phenomenal growth of St James Swifts Community Club.
At the core is the St James Swifts soccer team, which last week hosted a friendly game against the professionals of Billericay F.C. in front of a crowd of over 1,000 (the biggest attendance at a soccer game in West Belfast in many years). But it’s not really about the teams or the football – though the club boasts ladies and men’s sides, girls and boys teams, a disability team and an over-40s outfit. Beyond the field of play, they club is working to provide opportunities to the young people of St James, to help move the jobless into work, and to stand with those grappling with depression or addiction.
This is how Sport Changes Life (which is behind the Basketball Classic tournament for US colleges which will take place during the Homecoming) is supposed to look and with ambitious plans for the future, I have no doubt Dave McCartney will continue to make a big impact on the city of his birth. As that great troubadour with the Irish-Jamaican name put it: “We forward in this generation, triumphantly.”