Injection of new energy for organization that remains a powerful force for good in our community.
Up at the Jamaica Association Of Montreal, there is a growing chorus of new voices talking about renewal and about building to greater heights on a foundation that has been in place for the past 44 years.
You see, for more than three decades, past president Noel Alexander and his team of workers and volunteers have built the association into a dynamic hub of activities, with a variety of programs and cultural activities that have impacted the lives of not only Jamaicans, but also a wide cross-section of Montrealers.
Today, dozens of Montrealers are enrolled in the association’s educational, vocational and lifestyle-enhancing programs, while many more enjoy and participate in the various activities and events that showcase the music and culture of Jamaica.
It’s annual Jamaica Day celebration, held every year in July at Parc Drapeau, is one of the first of its kinds organized in our community and is still among the largest outdoor events in the city, drawing tens of thousands people to ‘the island’ for a festival of food and music.
More significantly, the association, unlike other groups in our community, has remained viable and relevant in the face of massive cutbacks to frontline services by various levels of governments. To that, much respect is due to Alexander.
On April 29, the association hits a milestone when Alexander and his team pass the baton to a new executive who will assume the responsibility of propelling it into the future.
Mike Smith, a long-time community worker, takes over the mantle of leadership and is surrounded by a team, all of who profess a desire to help guide the association to the next level in its development.
Others on the new executive include:
Mark Henry, 1st vice president; Conroy Barnes, 2nd vice president; Aston Mendez, treasurer; Sharon Nelson, secretary; Nancy Davis, director; Collin Page, director; Alexander Townsend, director; Clyde Williams, director; and Noel Alexander, immediate past president.
Aston Mendez, who has served as the association’s treasurer for several decades, remains on the executive and cautions the new team against the urge to disregard the work that has been done by those who came before them.
“We have to try not to tear down what’s already… we have to build on it,” he told them.
As president, Smith says his priority is to make the association more accessible and to increase the membership.
“I think it’s important for us going forward to bring more members into the association, and at the same time broaden our representation across Montreal.”
Smith added that the strength and the longevity of the association are due to its transformation from being just a social organization to a community service entity.
‘Today, programs such as the single mothers’ project and our educational classes draw participants not only from our community, but also from the various cultural groups in the city,” he says. “That’s the way we’ll continue to grow by serving the community.”
He says a lot of emphasis is on using social media to target young Montrealers to be part of the association as it charts a course to the future.
Other board members are just as excited about reaching out to the youth.
Clyde Alexander, a long-time resident of this city, says the involvement of more young members will help the organization to remain relevant.
Barnes, who has been around the association for a little while, says there is glaring need for a sport program as a way to attract and keep young people actively involved.
Also, according to Page and Townsend, both holding positions as directors, the way forward must also include some of the activities that have made the association a vital cultural force in Montreal and in keeping the community “alive.”
As such, the weekend events and games will remain a staple at the association’s headquarters.
Nancy Davis is one of the newcomers to the association; she brings a powerful link to Jamaica where she has a strong base, having worked with the cricket organizing body, and in the island’s music industry where she represented many internationally acclaimed reggae singers.
She is hoping to use some of that network to help the association attract more Montrealers to its fold.
Another newcomer is vice president Mark Henry, who is an up-and-coming Evangelist, entrepreneur, sales professional and youth worker. He brings a heavy package of strengths to the executive.
He says one of their aspirations has to be getting a building for the association.
“But that’s down the road. Right now our immediate task is to consolidate on the excellent work that has been done by Mr. Alexander and his team and see how we build on it.”
A sentiment echoed by treasurer Sharon Nelson, who added that the association must continue to provide support to Jamaicans in Montreal and to be there when needed by other members of our community.
She says as of now the future looks good for the organization because its solid track record and transparency ensure that it will continue to receive government funding.
“So another task is to continue to earn that trust and respect.”
Sitting in on the meeting, Alexander says he is still getting accustomed to not being central to much of the planning and activities of the association, but acknowledges the changing of the guard with high expectation.
“I think from what I know of these people and what I’ve seen so far, looking down the road a few years from now…. the community will be proud of them and the Jamaican association.