By Roy Williams and Audrey Campbell
The Jamaican-Canadian Association (JCA) has been inexistence since 1962 and therefore is now in its 51st year. During most of those years it has been a vocal mouthpiece for Jamaicans, Caribbean, African-Canadian communities and immigrants who did not have representation in high places. It spoke out about injustices, prejudice, racism and all forms of unequal treatment meted out to immigrants and others who were not of the dominant population. In conjunction with the advocacy for equal and human rights, it also served as a meeting place where the proud culture and heritage of the Caribbean could be celebrated and shared with second and third generations.
The advocacy was very instrumental in having most of the troubling issues resolved or substantially modified. While these issues do not entirely disappear they seem not to be as obvious as they once were. There has been substantial change in the society due to thoughtful legislation, enlightened policies and an elevated awareness of the multiethnic and multiracial reality of the new Canada. Since 1962, improvements have occurred in immigration, employment, housing, education, the justice system, police community relations among others. The JCA also pioneered the establishment of the first culturally specific Social Services Agency to address the needs of the underserved Caribbean immigrant population.
Charting the Path Forward
With that illustrious history behind us, the JCA is now engaged in charting a path forward for the next 50 years. The environment has changed. The membership has changed. The needs and aspirations of the community have changed. The need to engage the children and grand children of those that immigrated in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as the future leaders have become paramount. In June 2012 we posed the following question: if the JCA was being formed now what would it look like and what would it do? To answer these questions a Working Group was formed to explore the issues and bring forward a recommendation to the membership for approval. The Working Group formed in late 2011, consists of the current JCA president, two members of the current JCA Board of Directors, five past presidents, a member of the Social Services staff and a past vice president.
The Working Group had several meetings among themselves and one joint meeting with the JCA Board throughout 2012 and to June of 2013. Throughout 2012 and 2013, the Working Group held a joint meeting with the Board, sought the input and feedback from the membership and community at several consultation meetings and released an on-line survey. These consultation meetings were an important part of the process and their input was invaluable. The meetings attracted a cross section of the wider community, both young and not so young and highlighted the JCA’s importance to the Community in terms of what it represents. For 50 years it has been an example for many to follow. The Working Group’s interim report was presented to the JCA membership on May 25, 2013. The full report and recommendations will be presented to the JCA Board June 21st and to the membership for acceptance on June 27, 2013.
The report recommends that due to the realities of an increasingly diverse community, that the JCA Social Services needs its own, separate identity from the JCA membership and therefore ought to be incorporated to be governed by its separate 7-member board that will set policy, give leadership and enable it to blossom and bloom by fully serving the designated communities within its mandate.
Secondly the JCA Membership retains its separate identity free to serve the needs of its changed and changing membership. The JCA Board of Directors will go from 13 members to 7 members due to the removal of the committee chairs who will report to the board through the Executive Vice-President. This was recommended in order to move the Board of Directors from an operational one to a policy one. The JCA will now serve its members in different and greater ways but will engage a greater number of individuals in various volunteer roles.
Thirdly the report recommends the establishment of a JCA Heritage Foundation with a 5- member board. This is a separate not-for-profit corporation whose main function is to source, arrange, promote and administer a fund-raising strategy and activities on a continuing basis and then to disburse the funds to designated charitable purposes within the Social Services Agency and Membership Organization.
Upon approval on June 27, 2013 the implementation process will begin and evolve over the next 12 to 18 months. There is much work yet to be done but we are excited that the new family of JCA related entities will emerge in the very near future. More importantly, the future of the JCA will be secure for the next generation to follow.