Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Garvey's message on self-confidence

With confidence, you have won before you have started. (Marcus Garvey)

Dear Zayda,

Today is Marcus Garvey’s birthday. He was a Black Jamaican who created a movement among Blacks all over the world. He went global long before the Internet and the cell phone. In those days, travel was expensive, and people rarely made overseas telephone calls. If someone called long-distance, we would hold our breaths for the bad news we were sure was the reason for the call. But Garvey achieved what many would be proud to do with all we have to help us today.

Garvey was confident in a time when Black men had little to be confident about. Like my dad who is your great-grandfather Allan, Garvey had only primary school education. He left school at age 14 and went to work with a printer. Like my dad Allan and other Black men of that time, Garvey made the most of what he learned at school. Garvey then taught himself whatever else he thought he needed to know. For example, he taught himself to make speeches that drew crowds to him.

In Garvey’s day, whites were rulers of every Black country, except for Ethiopia. This was the day of the British Empire, and other countries like France and Portugal “owned” colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean as well. The rulers therefore expected Blacks to accept that they were not and could never be equal to whites. Garvey challenged that kind of thinking. He considered that Blacks were members of a “mighty race”. He believed we had a lot to be confident about, and only self-confidence could help us take our rightful place in the world.

Marcus Garvey, a short Black man with African features and limited education, became so powerful that the white world feared him. A way was found to lock him up in prison on charges of fraud. The government of the United States, where he lived, deported him to Jamaica after he served time in prison.

Jamaica is still short on tolerance for Black men who have confidence in their blackness, look to Africa as home, and encourage others to do the same. Black men still find it easier to be accepted when they mimic how white men act and speak, what white men they wear, and whom white men marry. Black men who are poor still find themselves without jobs and without much schooling. As in Garvey's day, prisons are full of Black men.

Many in Jamaica therefore rejected Garvey and all he stood for. Garvey, disappointed at the way his own people treated him, left Jamaica for England where he died.

But Garvey’s message of confidence lives beyond him. He inspired African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, and worldwide movements such as Rastafarianism.

My dad Allan’s legacy of confidence also lives beyond him.

Allan wanted to be a lawyer. Since that chance was not open to him, he worked hard so his children could be lawyers if they chose. He didn’t approve when they chose other careers, as he believed only law and engineering were worth studying. He loved going to court. One of his pleasures was to be a juror and then play all the roles in telling us stories of court drama.

Allan was a realtor. He had such deep knowledge of land law that attorneys would consult him on land matters. One of his close friends was a judge. To hear them argue law, you would not have known which was the judge entitled to dress up in his wig and gown for court.

Allan’s confidence served him well in business. Career choices for Black men were limited to being farmer, teacher, shopkeeper, pastor, policeman, tradesman, or unskilled labourer. Allan wanted to be a businessman in a time when only whites had the money to own businesses. Blacks were not getting bank loans to allow them to start a business. Allan therefore had to work with whites who definitely did not share Garvey’s view of Black people. Allan knew that if he spoke his mind or showed his confidence, he could lose jobs. So he kept his pride and lost jobs till he discovered his joy helping Black people to own land and build their homes. He knew what it was like to have his family on rented property, and he never forget the joy of having his house title in his hands.

So Zayda, Garvey carries the message of confidence.

In addition and your own great-grandfather Allan gives you an example of where confidence can take us. And you won’t have to look hard to see the lessons of confidence that your mom and dad learned from their families.

Let nothing stop you from being the winner you were intended to be, my grandniece.


Your shangazi

2 comments: said...

Dear Yvonne,


Great post...I still shudder when i think how much Garvey tried to accomplish during his lifetime and how much is still left to be done.

I hope Zayda and her generation will benefit and carry on his (and your) noble work.


Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Hi Geoffrey,

Great hearing from you!

I think Garvey's philosophy scares people today as much as it did up to the time of his death. My work in human rights tells me how much is still left to be done, and sometimes I feel as if we are moving backward with the consciousness of our Black youth in Jamaica and elsewhere.

I love what you do for writers with your blog, and hopefully each of us will do our bit to take Garvey's dream forward, even if inch by inch.




When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at