Caribbean Americans have greatly enriched Maryland’s cultural diversity.
The contributions made by those from the various islands will no longer go unnoticed because of the efforts of state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and five other lawmakers.
Nathan-Pulliam, fellow Sen. Arthur Ellis and Dels. Regina Boyce, Jheanelle Wilkins, Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Gabriel Acevero successfully pushed legislation to declare each August as Caribbean Heritage Month.
Gov. Larry Hogan signed the legislation, making Maryland the first state to proclaim Caribbean Heritage Month. The governor’s order stated that the economic, social, cultural and historical contributions of Caribbean Americans should be honored.
The proclamation urges educational and cultural organizations to observe Caribbean Heritage Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.
“Maryland is proud to commemorate the heritage and tremendous contributions made to our state and nation throughout history by Caribbean Americans,” Hogan said.
Other states also recognize National Caribbean American Heritage Month, but Maryland’s honor focuses on those such as Nathan-Pulliam, who hails from Jamaica, and those who have effected positive change in Maryland and throughout the country.
“In an atmosphere that is very negative toward immigrants, I wanted to use this opportunity to highlight their contribution,” said Nathan-Pulliam, the first Caribbean-born person to win election to the Maryland General Assembly in the House’s nearly 400-year history.
Nathan-Pulliam has served for 25 years in the Maryland General Assembly.
“There are six Caribbean people who are serving — two in the Senate and four in the House of Delegates, and that is historic,” Nathan-Pulliam said.
Ellis, who hails from Jamaica, co-sponsored the legislation. Boyce, who is of Jamaican and Barbadian descent, sponsored the bill in the House. She enjoyed the support of her Caribbean colleagues, the Trinidad-born Acevero, Jamaican-born Wilkins and Peña-Melnyk, who was born in the Dominican Republic.
“The emancipation of many Caribbean regions like Jamaica, Trinidad and others occurred in August. The independence from the British system came in August,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “Marcus Garvey, who led the largest political movement in America, was born in August. There’s a lot of history.”
The bill and governor’s proclamation is essential because Maryland has about 7 million people and more than 60,000 of Caribbean-descent, Boyce said.
“I think it’s imperative to recognize that there are others here who’ve made significant contributions. I remember being told that the pursuit of this legislation was ‘admirable’ and that there was no way it would get done,” Boyce said.
That didn’t deter her because of the many contributions made by those from the Caribbean.
“Here in Maryland you have doctors, accountants and health care providers from the Caribbean,” she said. “I could go on and on.”
Earlier this month, about 100 members of the Caribbean Community of the DMV — Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia — attended the Lecture “From Emancipation to Caribbean Independence” in Silver Spring.
With the theme, “Together, we proudly celebrate our Caribbean Heritage,” the lecture was held in honor of Nathan-Pulliam. It was staged on Caribbean Emancipation Day to celebrate the journey of Caribbean people from 1838 to the present.
The event was also timed to recognize the bill proclaiming August as Caribbean Heritage Month in the state.
Franklin W. Knight, an expert on the Caribbean and African diaspora history and a Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor Emeritus and Academic Professor at Johns Hopkins University, presented the lecture.
“Caribbean peoples demonstrated enormous determination, resilience, creativity, and self-confidence as they constructed a new society to replace the unequal system out of which they emerged after 1838,” Knight said during the lecture, according to Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, who wrote a blog post about the event.
“The struggle for social justice and political representation was extremely hard, but they never faltered and eventually overcame all obstacles to gain political independence,” Knight said. “As a result of their particular history Caribbean peoples were essentially diverse, and their profound respect for diversity and novelty constitutes a fundamental dimension of the Caribbean social DNA.”