In August of 1962, the colony of Jamaica gained its political independence from Great Britain. After 300-plus years of colonization, a group of 17 parliamentarians that included former prime ministers–Michael Manley, Alexander Bustamante, and Edward Seaga–created the Jamaican Constitution that guaranteed “equitable and humane treatment” for all Jamaicans.
Since 1962, Jamaicans have gone on to excel in many sectors of the world including politics, fashion, music, and sports. We spoke with a few current and former athletes from the Jamaican diaspora about their careers, their heritage, and what it means to them.
Born in Jamaica in 1962, White migrated to Harlem, NY when he was nine years old. White excelled in Major League Baseball for 17 seasons as an outfielder playing for teams like the Angels, Blue Jays and Marlins. “Devo” earned three All-Star selections, three World Series titles, and seven Gold Glove awards during his career.
On adjusting from Cricket to Baseball:
“Everything was a learning experience because in Cricket you hold the bat down and in baseball, you hold the bat up over your head. It’s the same eye-hand coordination and if you have that, it helps a lot. To transform into a baseball player, you have to learn the rules. It takes a while but young players pick up on things a lot quicker than older people. It wasn’t too much of a puzzle or a disadvantage for me.”
On his years in Toronto:
“It’s a very large Jamaican community here. They did know that I was Jamaican, so if I did go out or I was at a Jamaican restaurant, they did recognize who I was and the word was ‘respect, respect mon.’”
His favorite things about Jamaican culture:
“We have lived so we take it for granted. People enjoy our food and I enjoy going to Jamaica. My favorite food is Oxtail. Oxtail, Rice and Peas, and Plantain. [My kids] tell everybody that they’re Jamaican, but I tease them and tell them they’re not Jamaican. They’re very honored and respectable when it comes to Jamaicans. They tell everybody I’m Jamaican and I can’t change that. That’s the way they feel and that’s the way they think.”
Born in Jamaica in 1972, Edwards began playing basketball at 17 when a former University of Oklahoma basketball coach offered her a scholarship to play at OU. Edwards learned the game and went on to excel at Seminole State College and the University of Iowa. After spending years as a development player with the New York Liberty, Edwards finally got her shot and became the first Jamaican WNBA player on May 31, 2000, for the Seattle Storm. “The Jamaican Hurricane,” was an integral piece to the Storm’s WNBA championship run in 2004. Edwards is now the coordinator of the national youth basketball team for the Jamaica Basketball Association (JaBA).
On starting basketball at 17 years old:
“I didn’t have any coordination and I kept dribbling the ball off my feet. The sun was hot; I was outside on the barefoot because I didn’t have any basketball shoes or running shoes. It was frustrating.”
On winning a WNBA championship:
“Patrick [Ewing] didn’t get a ring, he got the good money but it’s the ring. You see the crowd and you see all those people cheering. It’s like you’re in a dream. It’s an amazing dream, you’re just there like I just won a WNBA championship.”
On creating the next crop of Jamaican basketball talent:
“Think about it, I started late and I’m a WNBA champion. Imagine what I’m going to do to these kids that start at an earlier age, how many can we get? I want to allow them to learn the game at the level they need to be just as competitive as the US, I want it to be like that.”
Her favorite parts of the culture:
“I’m just greedy, I just love our food. That’s the first thing that comes to mind is the food, I’m a foodie. If I didn’t work out, I’ll probably look like a foodie. To me, it’s the most beautiful country in the world and I’ve traveled. I’m not being biased. There are so many different things you can pull from but I just think our food is the best in the world. No matter where I go, I want Jamaican food. I always have the music; our music we’re so gifted with that. Those are the top two for me, I’ve played music and if I’m anywhere I cook my food.”
Born in 1988 to a Jamaican mother and Trinidadian father in Queens, NY, Charles has gone on to be one of the most decorated basketball players. Charles has collected two national titles at UConn, a John Wooden Award, the WNBA Rookie of the Year, and MVP along with seven All-Star selections and eight All-WNBA honors.
When she realized her upbringing was different from her peers:
“Just like culture, like lifestyle, just even eating food. I wouldn’t wake up and eat eggs and bacon, I would wake up and eat Ackee and Saltfish and fried dumpling. [My mom] always made sure her culture was present, she made sure I understood where she came from and where I came from. Growing up it was definitely a difference, I would go to school with my friends who were predominately American and just them telling me about what’s going on within their household and mine is totally night and day.”
On Spending Time in Jamaica:
“Jamaica is like my second home. To New Yorkers going to Jersey, you’re just getting on a bridge. That’s what it’s like going to Jamaica for me, it’s like going to Jersey as a New Yorker. I’m going to my grandmother’s house, going to see my grandfather, going to see my uncle and his kids. Maybe I’ll drive to MoBay(Montego Bay), maybe I’ll go to Ocho Rios or go to the beach. So to me going Jamaica, it’s like nothing.”
On Jamaican athletes excelling in professional sports:
“It’s really great to see the Jamaican athletes make a name for themselves. In America, we have resources to be great, we have access to so many things. Jamaica, being a smaller island and not having the same resources we have and for them to excel and take over different sports that’s what I love. As an American, your parents are from the West Indies, you’re always going to have the opportunity because that’s what America is, it’s about opportunity. It’s more power to those born and raised in Jamaica and make a name for themselves.”
On her favorite part of the culture:
“The love, just how genuine Jamaicans are. Just how real and how brass Jamaicans are. you’re going to know how they’re feeling. They’re not going to hold anything back. How helpful and how willing they are to assist when they can. I love the accent. A lot of people would say the food and the music but if you’ve gone as much as I have maybe over 30-40 times, you definitely take on the people and that’s something that I love.”
COVID-19 may be postponing the celebration but I’m sure Jamaicans worldwide will still find a way to celebrate.
Other notable Jamaicans are dominating in tons of other American Professional Sports, too
In the NBA there’s Patrick Ewing, Roy Hibbert, RJ Barrett, Andre Drummond, Tristan Thompson, Jamal Murray, Oshae Brissett, and Brandon Clarke. In the NFL there’s Ndamukong Suh, Patrick Chung, Nevin Lawson, Danielle Hunter, and Patrick Chung. Running bases in the NFL is Chilli Davis, Rolando Roomes, and Mike Morse. And the NHL’s got PK Subban, Malcolm Subban, Chris Stewart, and Jermaine Loewen.