Boonoonoonoos in Miramar
The legacy of the matriarch of Jamaican culture, Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately called ‘Miss Lou’, is being carried on in no small way by a group of Jamaicans based in the city of Miramar in South Florida.
Inspired by Bennett-Coverley’s extensive body of work, a group of Jamaican nationals formed a non-profit organisation in February 2007 – the Louise Bennett-Coverley Heritage Council – after her passing. Now 14 years later, the council has embarked on charitable ventures aimed at spreading and keeping alive Jamaican culture and vernacular.
Council president, Colin Smith, says work on keeping Miss Lou’s legacy alive and kicking has been unceasing.
“Miss Lou was a pioneer, a forerunner. The council was set up to honour her works and vision and give younger Jamaicans who share that vision a chance to express it to the world. She was our first dub poet and used dub poetry from the 1940s. She was the first to record Jamaican music,” Smith told The Gleaner.
Now, the council has been actively funding scholarships exclusively to students from the Louise Bennett All Age School in Gordon Town, St Andrew, to matriculate to her alma mater Excelsior High School.
Miss Lou resided in Gordon Town while she lived in Jamaica, and a statue has been erected in the town square in her honour.
The council has so far offered 35 Louise Bennett scholarships to students to attend the Edna Manley College and a college in Broward County, Florida, which is home to perhaps the largest population of Jamaicans in the diaspora. The council has also donated tablets and other educational supplies to needy students in Jamaica.
“These scholarships will ensure that the works and legacy of Miss Lou are firmly ingrained in the psyche of the recipients, who we know will go forward with the vision of exposing the positive effects of the Jamaican culture, language and expressions,” Smith said.
In addition to its contribution to education, the Heritage Council also hosts the Louise Bennett-Coverley Poetry Reading fFstival in Broward County, Florida, as part of Black History Month celebrations in the US.
“Many people do not know that Miss Lou was a Garveyite who performed poetry and gave speeches at Liberty Hall in Harlem. She was very big on black culture and empowerment,” he said.
The council is also dedicated to providing “‘edutainment’ – education through cultural entertainment” as a way of giving back to the next generation, Smith said. As part of that drive, the council has invited the iconic group, the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC), to perform at venues in the US, as part of Jamaica’s 60th year Independence celebrations.
“We are committed to the works of Miss Lou and ensuring that the younger generation of Jamaicans and their children are aware of the major impact Miss Lou had on culture, and to be proud of their Jamaican heritage,” Smith said.
“Part of Miss Lou’s heritage was to encourage people to use Patois as a means of communication,” he said.
The Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley was born on September 7, 1919. She died on July 26, 2006. She was conferred with the Order of Jamaica in 1974 and declared ambassador-at-large during Independence Day celebrations in 2006.