By David F. Roberts

Before a packed audience of British Caribbean residents in London on Thursday 9th June, as part of a special initiative to unite the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, former Jamaican Prime Minister The Most Hon. P J. Patterson emphatically stated, ‘ the Jamaica is a sovereign country and will not let any other country seek to impose policies on us that we do not approve or regard as injurious to our own sovereign interest and protection of our own country. So those who have committed crimes or felonies in the United Kingdom must be dealt with in the United Kingdom. And particularly in Jamaica’s case, there’s no way in the world that in return for the promise of a little gift that we are going to be a prison colony.” The former PM confirmed that both political parties in Jamaica are in full agreement with this position.

Fmr. Prime Minister P J. Patterson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Fmr. Prime Minister P J. Patterson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Prime Minister Patterson spoke as part of a special delegation sponsored by GraceKennedy and Western Union that has spent two days in Britain promoting the idea of creating a united Caribbean, politically and economically, through the establishment of a sustainable connection with and among the Caribbean Diaspora or migrant populations in the United States and Britain. Day one, Tuesday 7th June,  saw the delegation meet with more than 700 members of the Caribbean community in Birmingham, an area known for a sizable Jamaican community. The UK leg of the road show was organised by veteran events organiser Sted Wallen, assisted by marketing supremo Franklyn Walters.

Group CEO Senator Don Wehby. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Group CEO Senator Don Wehby. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Prior to the ultimate event at the Camden Centre in London there was a media breakfast meeting arranged to allow members of British Caribbean media to ask pointed questions about the initiative for dissemination throughout the UK Caribbean community. Held at the Jamaican High Commission in London, many press organisations including The Voice Newspaper, CaribDirect.com, Premier Christian Radio, Culture Pulse Magazine, Jam TV and The Flyer Newspaper fielded questions about the relevance of the initiative to both GraceKennedy and the Caribbean Diaspora.

Presided over by an expert panel comprising GraceKennedy Group CEO, Senator Don G. Wehby, Western Union Regional Vice President Massimiliano Alvisini and Vice President Western Union International, Sean Mason the event began promptly with an overview by Senior Vice President Operations & Marketing, Noel Greenland. Noel outlined the rationale for the ‘Caribbean Diaspora Borderless Possibilities’ concept which essentially seeks to allow GraceKennedy and its partners to engage with the Caribbean Diaspora with a view to ascertain knowledge of commercial and other opportunities that can be harnessed ultimately for the benefit of the children of the Caribbean and the Diaspora.

An array of GraceKennedy products. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

An array of GraceKennedy products. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Senator Don G. Wehby while praising his team for their sterling work in growing the GraceKennedy brand worldwide, pointed out that this 92 year old company has set itself the goal of being a global consumer group with GraceKennedy UK being the beach head for their international expansion into Europe (Holland, Germany and France) and recently Russia with the establishment of 80 outlets. Senator Wehby exuded great pride when he mentioned one of the company’s main drivers being that of entering the African market with the setting up of GraceKennedy Ghana Limited in March 2014. This move to Africa has also allowed for the introduction of Grace Kennedy Nurishment in Nigeria with potential to further expand to other African markets.

GraceKennedy which has boasted 150% profitability and revenues of 14% in the last financial year has done so from the combined performance of its several divisions and subsidiaries which comprise: twelve supermarkets, five manufacturing plants, one bank (First Global Bank), one insurance company and a money services division facilitating international money transfers via its longstanding partnership of 26 years with Western Union.

Carnivalist and director, Elimu Carnival Band Ansel Wong. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Carnivalist and director, Elimu Carnival Band Ansel Wong. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

It was revealed by Carnivalist and director of Elimu Carnival Band Ansel Wong that GraceKennedy has long supported the development of Nottinghill Carnival by providing sponsorship for Elimu Carnival Band. Ansel made the point by showing the irony that GraceKennedy, a Jamaican company supported a Trinidadian mas band at a multi-cultural event in London. This invoked GraceKennedy’s commitment to giving back via its corporate social responsibility program that, in part, provides for the education of some 500 Jamaican children annually, a program that Senator Wehby is particularly proud of.

A few of the senior members of GraceKennedy / Western Union team. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

A few of the senior members of GraceKennedy / Western Union team. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Following on from the media breakfast was the highly publicized London Caribbean Diaspora event at Camden Town Hall where Senator Wehby shared with a large and receptive audience his pride at being CEO of GraceKennedy and the rapid growth the company has made over the years, alluding to their special relationship with Western Union that has been integral to much of the company’s success in the money transfer service. The senator was close to tears when he spoke of the importance of providing employment / life opportunities for underprivileged youth in Jamaica through the Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation. The foundation actively sends 500 children a year from inner city locations in Jamaica to various schools on the island for studies in a wide assortment of subjects. The senator attests that the grades have been most pleasing and heart warming. Students have been excelling with top grades making the annual USD$1 million investment worth ‘every cent’. He suggested that every child in Jamaica should be afforded a good education such as he had, regardless of their socio-economic background.

Diane Abbott MP and Former Jamaican PM PJ Patterson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Diane Abbott MP and Former Jamaican PM PJ Patterson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

The highlight of the evening’s presentations that followed the consumption of a well displayed Caribbean cuisine and GraceKennedy drinks including the new and delicious Grace Aloe drink, was the feature presentation of former Jamaican Prime Minister The Most Honourable Percival Noel James Patterson ON, PC, QC, OE duly introduced by Deputy High Commissioner for the Jamaican High Commission, Mrs Diedre Mills.

Prime Minister Patterson wasted no time by providing the context of the West Indian / Caribbean presence in the United Kingdom with specific reference to the unfavourable reception and treatment of the ‘invited’ Caribbean population in the early days of Windrush in 1948. He made the point that in spite of being invited to work to provide many essential skills and services (nursing, bus and train driving and conducting etc) migrants were insulted, humiliated and disrespected at every opportunity and generally made to feel most unwelcome.

A question from the floor. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

A question from the floor. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

PM Patterson stressed that in order for the UK Caribbean community to progress it ‘MUST’ stick and work together! He said the battle for equality and justice is by no means over and there are still ‘many rivers to cross.’ He glanced over to Diane Julie Abbott MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and said there needs to be more Caribbean nationals in public service as Councillors, Mayors, and so on if we are to make a significant difference to the future of our children.  He said, being a former resident of Camden while a student many years ago he understands the challenges of the migrant Caribbean community and therefore has the Diaspora in his DNA.

In establishing his link and full understanding of the Caribbean Diaspora, PM Patterson commended GraceKennedy’s initiative to unite the global Caribbean Diaspora as a forward thinking progressive company. Though he recognizes that GraceKennedy does not retain exclusivity on the effort he applauds the move and invites other corporate entities from the Diaspora to enlist their support reiterating the notion that we are stronger together than apart. He also made the point that while remittances are very helpful to the economies of the Caribbean, investment is by far the more meaningful and impacting.

DHC Diedre Mills receives gift of appreciation from GraceKennedy Money Services CEO Michelle Allen. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

DHC Diedre Mills receives gift of appreciation from GraceKennedy Money Services CEO Michelle Allen. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

The presentations generated a flurry of questions from the floor, all of which were methodically passed to the appropriate respondent at the head table by moderator and Senior Vice President Operations & Marketing, Noel Greenland. All of the attendees spoken to by the author confirmed the event was most interesting and informative and that they are optimistic the unification of the Caribbean Diaspora would be a reality before too long. The only fear expressed was that the initiative may be relegated to the pile of ‘good ideas’ that never see the light of day.