The Jamaican Nationals Association (JNA) of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area (WMA) was launched in the Fall of 1969, at an inaugural meeting on the campus of Howard University. Numerous members of the Jamaican community worked hard the preceding two years to bring to fruition the concept of this new Association; however, the following six Howard students were recognized by most of the participants, at the time, as founders of JNA: John Junior, Keith (K.D.) Knight, Desmond Malcolm, Eunacio McGill† 1 , Horace Neil, and Ralston Parkinson.
This is a brief narrative of JNA over the past 50 years, focusing on its genesis, its purpose, affiliation, eligibility for membership, leadership, accomplishments, future opportunities and challenges, and conclusion.
The concept of a Jamaican organization addressing the affairs of the Jamaican community in Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area (WMA) was influenced profoundly by the nationalistic feelings of Jamaicans during the mid-sixties. Up to that time, the affairs of Jamaicans in the WMA were addressed by two Caribbean organizations: The Caribbean Students Association at Howard University, and the Caribbean American
Intercultural Organization (CAIO). Those nationalistic feelings, no doubt, also emerged as a backlash to the demise of the West Indies Federation (1958-1962) in 1962.
JNA’s stated purpose over the past 50 years has remained largely the same but with the refinements that result from the passage of time and the recognition of the significant growth in the number of persons of Jamaican heritage residing in the WMA.
JNA’s initial purpose, as generally cited in its 1969 Constitution was to:
- Keep an open line of communication and to encourage nationals to return home and participate in the development of the nation;
- Keep abreast of the political, social, and economic developments in Jamaica, and to make recommendations, where necessary;
- Unify, foster and defend the welfare of all Jamaicans;
- Maintain a link with the Jamaican Embassy;
- Provide legal aid;
- Make available information concerning educational opportunities, both at home and abroad;
- Work closely with other Jamaican organizations throughout the world;
- Maintain relationship with the University of the West Indies;
- Inform members of job opportunities at home and abroad; and
- Ensure that the Association is organized as a non-profit.
This purpose as reiterated and refined in the 2019 Updated Bylaws is to:
- Unite persons of Jamaican heritage in the WMA and their friends and supporters in membership and in support of the Association as a vehicle for communication and cooperation;
- Identify, support or provide activities that promote Jamaican culture and heritage;
- Assist students and members of Jamaican heritage in the WMA in pursuit of their educational and developmental goals and objectives;
- Assist in improving the welfare of persons of Jamaican heritage in the WMA and in communities in the U.S. and in Jamaica, including the socially and economically disadvantaged; and
- Assist charitable organizations serving Jamaican communities in the U.S. and in Jamaica.
The Jamaican Nationals Association of Washington, D.C. is affiliated with the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organization (NAJASO). The JNA was among the first members of NAJASO, when the umbrella organization was founded in 1977.
Eligibility for Membership:
Membership was initially limited to persons living in the WMA “who by birth or naturalization is a citizen of Jamaica, or who has legitimate claim to Jamaican citizenship”.
The updated 1982 Constitution and By-Laws expanded general membership to: “Any individual sponsored by two (2) members in good standing of the Association and approved by the Executive Committee or by a majority of the members in general session present and voting.” The By-Laws (1982) also added a category for honorary membership.
The general membership category was subsequently refined in 2002 Constitution and By-Laws update and in the 2019 Updated Bylaws which now states: “General Members shall be persons who are at least eighteen (18) years of age, who either claim a legitimate Jamaican heritage or lineage or who are not of Jamaican heritage but are sponsored by
two members and qualify for membership… Jamaican heritage includes persons born in Jamaica and persons who claim Jamaican ancestry.”
Between 1969 and 2019, 24 individuals have led JNA (two persons twice), by assuming the office of president. Those individuals, in the order that they held office, are: Keith Knight, Desmond Malcolm, Louis Hemans, Francis Wongsam†, Cecil Blake, Stanley Tracey, Franklyn Burke, Alda Anderson, Carlton Drummond, Curtis Ward, Jacqueline Asher, Roxroy Anderson, Carl Bryant†, Elise Morse, David Greaves†, Desmond
Malcolm (second time), Audley Stevens, Richard Wilson, Jennifer Asher, Jacqueline Payne, Moreen Wallace, Jacqueline Payne (second time), Claudette B. Henry, Milton Nicholas†, and Elaine Knight.. Those leaders, along with their fellow officers, executive committee members, regular members and friends, volunteered their time and created many activities, which benefited communities in the United States and Jamaica.
Activities, which JNA provided, sponsored or partnered on over the past 50 years, include:
Efforts to support Jamaican students and students of Jamaican heritage attending colleges and universities in the WMA, such as:
- Awarding Book Scholarships and Student Leadership Scholarships;
- Mentoring, community leadership training, efforts to recruit graduates for jobs in Jamaica, connecting with local Caribbean students’ associations and distributing information of interest; and
- Hosting annual student welcome and networking receptions including introductions to potential mentors and the local Jamaican-American community.
Efforts to support charities in Jamaica and in the WMA, such as:
- Distributing medical supplies, care packages, and financial contributions to institutions and causes in Jamaica. An ongoing major effort is the partnership with St. Ann/St. Mary branch of the Jamaica Cancer Society focusing on screening, advocacy, and education as to breast, prostate, and cervical cancers; and
- Distributing care packages to homeless shelters, feeding lunch to the homeless and distributing children’s books at community events in the WMA.
Efforts to serve as a point of information for the views of the Jamaican community in the WMA, such as:
- Distributing information on topics such as immigration, becoming migrant workers in the US and on factors perceived as deterring Jamaican-Americans from returning to Jamaica; and
- Participating in interviews on local media over the years including the Washington Post on migration of Jamaicans to Washington DC,
The Jamaican Diaspora Show, Carib Nation, Jamaica Information Service TV, etc.
Efforts to promote community and individual development through Talks, Seminars & Distribution of Information on topics of interest to the community, such as:
- Contributions by Jamaican-American leaders, authors and poets in building American society. Past programs included Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay;
- Jamaican Heroes and Jamaican History. A recent topic: " The Impact of Enslavement and Colonialism on Jamaica's Political Culture" presented by Dr. Franklin W. Knight, Professor of History Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University;
- Self-help and personal development initiatives in the areas of financial literacy, homeownership, entrepreneurship, immigration, etc. Programs have included:
- Homebuying in Jamaica co-sponsored with the Victoria Mutual Building Society in association with Jamaica Association of Maryland (JAM); and
- Help with citizenship process and social media and computer use.
Efforts to support Jamaican Cultural Preservation, such as:
- Sponsoring numerous cultural and fundraising celebrations including Independence galas, Christmas celebrations, fashion shows, picnics, etc.;
- Supporting Jamaica’s accomplishments in track and field, specifically sponsorship of annual bus trip to the Penn Relays, and donation to Team Jamaica Bickle, to support its hospitality initiative focused on students participating in the Relays and their coaches from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands;
- Supporting the annual Jamaican Independence Service sponsored by the Jamaican Embassy, and other Embassy efforts promoting Jamaican culture;
- Sponsoring an annual picnic supporting traditional games such as cricket, soccer, dominoes, etc.; and
- Recognizing Jamaican-Americans in the WMA for their contribution to the community.
Efforts to create bonds within the WMA Jamaican-American and Caribbean-American Communities, such as:
- Publication of newsletters, e-newsletters (PeenieWallie, JNA Focus) and Facebook page;
- Celebrations of Black History Month, Caribbean-American Heritage Month and Jamaican Heroes’ Celebration;
- Supporting efforts which promote Jamaican and Caribbean culture such as Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, Caribbean Appreciation Night at DC United Soccer Stadium; DC World Reggae Festival;
- Updating directory of Jamaican-American and Caribbean-American organizations in the WMA;
- Actively participating in community effort to establish a District Office of Caribbean Affairs (OCA) to monitor the delivery of services to the District’s Caribbean community and make policy recommendations that affect the District’s Caribbean community; and
- Serving on the Inaugural Caribbean Diaspora Ecumenical Service in acknowledgment of the year 1619 and in celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month in Maryland.
Efforts to place JNA on firm footing for its second half century, such as:
- Increasing its visibility in the community through partnerships;
- Updating its Bylaws, Brochure and Membership Application, and developing a 5-year strategic plan;
- Updating its use of technology and social media;
- Updating and complying with legal requirements to take advantage of a wide range of funding options;
- Focusing on recruiting and retaining members through outreach and welcome process;
- Facilitating online process for donations and memberships; and
- Establishing and inviting membership to its inaugural Advisory Council.
Future Opportunities & Challenges:
- JNA is to be commended for its growth from an association established primarily by Jamaican students in Washington DC in 1969 to a major Association in 2019 which embraces the full breadth of the Jamaican diaspora in the WMA and offers membership to all persons of Jamaican heritage or lineage.
- Jamaica’s 50 years existence tracks the significant growth in the Jamaican population in the WMA and presents challenges and opportunities. According to the Institute for Immigration Research, there are approximately 29,034 immigrants living in the washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro areas who are from Jamaica, It has been estimated that the number of residents of Jamaican heritage or lineage in this Area could be at least 60,000 or more. Challenges and opportunities include how to reach a significant percentage of this diaspora and specifically how to reach younger generations in this diaspora through strategic partnerships and implementation of charitable, educational, informational and cultural programs with targeted and broad appeal.
There is no question that for more than 50 years, JNA has exhibited viability, with concomitant credibility and adaptability. On its 50th Anniversary Celebration JNA is as vibrant as ever; and that bodes well for the future!