The quality of heroism is the compassion and commitment that drives someone to action that benefits the condition of others, even at the risk of the ultimate sacrifice of their own life.
Today we celebrate those men and women who have given of themselves beyond the call of duty. Those men and women whose selfless actions and service have helped to secure the freedoms and rights we now enjoy.
Today, we celebrate the legendary resistance and tallawahness of Nanny of the Maroons, the leadership, conviction and inspiration of Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, and George William Gordon against slavery, oppression and colonialism for which they paid with their life. We celebrate Marcus Garvey for his vision and movement in liberating minds and uplifting our outlook as a people regarding our identity and purpose. We celebrate Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley as founding fathers of the Jamaican Nation, it’s institutions, ethos and meaning.
We recognize and celebrate our National Heroes as an honour to them, but it is most important that our people are reminded of the fact that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the good of all.
We need heroes now more than ever. In the midst of economic hardship, challenged law and order, confused morality, a general malaise in our society and lack of growth in our economy, our children need to be reminded that we are a great people who can do great things. We need hope and the symbols of hope are our heroes.
There is hope, when a poor teacher in Thompson Town Clarendon, with children of her own, decides to take in a child who has been abandoned to allow that child to complete his education at her expense and supervision. She is a heroin in my book, and for all the abandoned children looking for someone to reach out to and take them in, there is hope. There is a hero out there for you.
There is hope, when a businessman while socializing with friends overhears a conversation about a poor medical student at risk of dropping out of schools because he couldn’t afford the million dollar fee, and volunteers to pay it, without conditionalities or attachments. He is a hero in my book. And for the thousands of students who are struggling with fees and faced with the possibility of having to drop out of school, there is hope that there is a hero out there for you.
There is hope, when someone, without thought for their own life, braves flood waters to save a youngster who had fallen in. Everyone in distress needs a hero, people who would act though others discourage them.
There is hope because today we honour hundreds of men and women who have given to their communities, to the government, to our great nation and the world, a remarkable contribution to make us better people. I join in saluting all our heroes, those we honour today, those yet to be recognized and those who prefer to help in anonymity.
I am confident that Jamaica has the collective will, empathy, commitment, knowledge and skill to move our country from crime to peace, from ignorance to education, from illness to health, from inefficiency to productivity, from idleness to employment, from poverty to shared prosperity.
The greatest threat to us achieving the shared vision of prosperity in our land, is the growing disenchantment, cynicism, and frustration with our systems of governance. While it is understandable that this is increasingly becoming a feature of our politics, it must not be accepted, it must be arrested and reversed if we are to have a rebirth, indeed, a positive evolution of Jamaican Economy, Society, Values and Culture.
For our democracy to achieve prosperity for us, we must work at it and keep working at it, even if we have disappointments along the way. One thing is certain, change for the better will only happen if you participate. You owe it to our heroes, who did not fall to the view that leaving things as they are was an option.
I am sure that there were many in their time who would have asked, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon: why are you getting involved in the agitation for change? I am sure there are those who held the view that it was futile to resist slavery, that the system will never end, that it is better to settle with what you have rather than to take a risk for change. This did not stop Sam Sharpe and it did it stop Paul Bogle. Their efforts contributed to our freedom, their ultimate sacrifice got us this far.
Today we celebrate the victory of our heroes, who had the vision of a better day, the courage to voice the vision and to inspire others, and the conviction to lead action in fulfillment of the vision of freedom and prosperity.
Let us reflect on our own vision for Jamaica, like Garvey, let us add our voice to the vision, like Sharpe and Bogle, let us take action, let us use the inalienable franchise to vote for our vision. And like it was for Busta and Norman, the outcome is our victory.
Have a blessed Heroes Day.
By Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Andrew Holness, M.P.