A Jamaican Connection to the Parkland Shooting, and A Letter to the Students

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is haunting us all in Jamaica, as well as across the United States and around the world. We are so close (geographically, and otherwise) to that particular state that we feel touched by anything that happens there. There are over 200,000 Jamaicans living in Florida, which is sometimes jokingly given the postal address “Kingston 21” (our city has up to 2o areas). 

One of the lovely young people who died in Parkland on Valentine’s Day, Helena Ramsey, was of Jamaican ancestry. Please see the release from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, below.

NB. Jamaican parents and students felt nervous today on the discovery of a voice note from a young man at Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, in which he threatened to attack the school. The 17 year-old was reportedly suffering from depression. He has been questioned by police, and I hope he gets as much help as he needs.

Florida student Emma Gonzalez speaks after the Parkland shooting. (Photo: Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

What a strange, unnerving world we live in! Many of our own children are on edge, just like those in Florida. I watched the passionate speech by a survivor of the Parkland massacre, Emma Gonzalez. If you missed it, read and listen, here.

As the American poet Stanley Kunitz observed:

‘The universe is a continuous web. Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers.’

I am also sharing with you thoughts from a Jamaican American, Dr. Anne Bailey, addressed to the Parkland students.

Please…reach out to a young person, today. Our youth need our support, our protection and our love.

February 19, 2018


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT) regrets to learn that 17 year-old Helena Ramsey, one of the 17 victims of the tragic mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was of Jamaican ancestry.

This information comes following constant communication between the Consulate General of Jamaica in Miami and the Country and Federal offices.

“We extend deepest condolences to our Jamaican brothers and sisters and the families and friends of all victims as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. We continue to pray that the students, faculty and families who have been affected will find strength to overcome this traumatic and horrific experience,” says Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

Parkland, a largely residential area to the west of Broward County, has a small population of Jamaicans or persons of Jamaican heritage.

Based on the last official census conducted by the United States Bureau, there are some 201,665 Jamaicans in Florida.

Contact: Ann-Margaret Lim:499-0625

Students are taken from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

From Anne C. Bailey’s blog. Read the article online here

Letter to Parkland Students

Dear Parkland Students,

I have been a teacher most of my adult life and it’s a role I cherish. I cherish it because of what I teach –African, African American and Caribbean history – but mostly because of young people, young people like you.

I cannot tell you how much I admire you for standing up for the change you want to see.  You are channeling your grief in the best way you know how and  I believe we will all be the better for it.

I am sorry, though, that this must be your burden, as you are children. What I have seen and watched over the years is that our nation’s schools have turned into battlegrounds, and little has been done to change that. We spend billions of dollars fighting wars abroad and yet are losing the war at home.  We are concerned with peaceful protesters such as those who protest the deaths of unarmed Black teens, think Trayvon Martin, but the random slaughter of children in our schools hardly moves the needle.

But you give me hope.

You know, there were some children like you in the 50’s and the 60’s; they were brave too.  You may have learned about them in your school because I can see that Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a very good school. Those children were Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine and others like them who dressed in their Sunday finest and braved hateful words and violent mobs just because they wanted an education.

They dared to integrate our schools when half the country wanted them to stay home.  They needed Federal Marshals to escort them to school, some for as long as a year, but they were undaunted.

And you know what happened?  Justice and righteousness prevailed and their schools got integrated and that is the legacy they bequeathed to you.  You are a beautiful multicultural group, and from what I can tell, you could not imagine it any other way.

So brave hearts, know that you are not alone. Be inspired by the past but carve out your own path and help this sleeping public to hear your voice when you say:

Enough is enough to gun violence.  Never again for another school, for another set of students.

Finally, I want say one last thing.  I was at a conference this weekend and there were many students there trying to think through other difficult challenges like diversifying their campus and reducing racial conflict.  We had really productive dialogue, but at one point, a friend and fellow teacher said to the group:

“We are so sorry. We failed you. Our generation failed you. “

Parkland, I am saying the same to you right now.

We failed you. We didn’t protect you.  We squabbled over politics.  We made excuses.  We put our wants above your needs.  Please forgive us.

This time, we will have your back.

Godspeed in all you do.

Anne B.


US Marshals with young Ruby Bridges on school steps, Public Domain. (from Anne Bailey’s blog)


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