On the University of Technology campus, schools from around the country converged to state their bid for the title of Champion. The launch of the #AFiWiRepublic Secondary Schools Debate Competition set the tone for what’s to come. Moot points, arguments, rebuttals, and the like await the teams as they vie for the number one spot. By the turnout yesterday and the vibe of the lecture hall, the competition will be “Fiya”. To ensure the competition is interesting, engaging, and fun, the participants with the most ‘hype’ will get a much-needed boost in their bidding.
The Advocates Network (AN) teamed with the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowerment (JADE) to create a space for youth to engage. Furthermore, the competition will break many barriers thanks to the sponsorship support of Cerulean Stars, Sagicor, The Joan Duncan Foundation, and Ipomea Vitae. This is JADE’s first time participating in a debating competition with such financial support. The President and CEO of JADE, Germain Barrett, expressed that this competition is unprecedented. In his explanation of the purpose of JADE, he used three “signature expressions”.
- “Fortifying the mind” indicates that these debates will demand that each team incorporate a great deal of thought, intellect, and consideration “to cover the wide-ranging views and perspectives that exist in the world”. Creating compelling arguments for a new constitution requires intense research, focus, and forward-thinking. At stake is the look and feel of Jamaica’s new constitution, which will govern the same debaters for years.
- “Enhancing Expression”. Debating is not only about gathering a plethora of knowledge. Subsequently, it is about what is said and how it is said. “Expression is an important part of that which builds persuasion.”
- “Advancing Humanity” represents each debater’s need to demonstrate their representation of improving Jamaica and the world.
What JADE Expects
Mr Barrett challenged the teams to make their points so good that the Constitution Reform Committee would consider them. In his greetings, Co-Chair of the Advocates Network, Robert Stephens, conveyed that the AN seeks awesome things from each team. “What we want is for all of you to recognize that this is something […] that many people fought and lost their lives over. You had our heroes that have all gone before us. They have fought for us to have the right to have a say in how we are managed as a country. It’s very important for you to take that right seriously.”
Constitutional Reform Committee
Dr Nadeen Spence, the Constitutional Reform Committee’s civil society representative, addressed the room with a smile. “I’m excited to see that the Advocates Network has taken up the charge and is pushing the debate in secondary schools. Hopefully, at some point, we can perhaps partner again for even tertiary institutions.” For this reason, she stated, “The constitutional reform conversation has exploded across Jamaica. I’m so excited by the thought Jamaicans are giving to it. And the diversity of views and opinions that are emerging.” She emphasized that we all should start the conversations in our groups about “what is it that I want to see in the constitution”? She also urged young people to come up with their proposals and submit them to the Constitutional Reform Committee.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Wayne Robertson, addressed the room with a full heart. His excitement was evident as he spoke about the importance of the competition. He told the youth in the room that the hashtag #AFiWiRepublic is appropriate. Similarly, his words demonstrated the urgency of each youth understanding why. He stated, “It is imperative that, as young people, you own this process. Certainly, #AFiWiRepublic resonates strongly with me and with us at the ministry. Because the ‘FiWi’ represents ownership. You, young people, must own this. It is not the ministry’s constitution, the Constitutional Reform Committee’s constitution, or the government’s constitution. It is our constitution.”
Co-chair of the Advocates Network, Dr Rosalea Hamilton, started her charge to the students by quoting Thomas Payne of the United States. He said, “A constitution is not an act of government. But, it’s a people constituting a government.” She also pointed out that in 1962, Jamaica’s constitution was an act of government with hardly any people involvement. In contrast, she revealed the current situation of AN working with JADE and other civil societies working with the government to increase public participation as an example of the people constituting the government.
She went on, “This is beyond a debate. This is a national conversation about ideas, ideals about where you want to see your country in the future”. “It’s been a battle for ideas and Ideals. Ideals that ‘freedom’, self-determination, regaining our humanity, and the dignity of human beings. Those are profound ideas. The struggle to make them real continues today. And so, you are a part of that. And you, in your engagement, will be helping to craft this new constitution, to make it a living, breathing document.”
Not wanting to mince words or have a sense of ambiguity, Professor Hamilton got straight to the point. “It will require you to be bold. Be confident. That confidence comes from your deep understanding of what you’re talking about. Not fancy rhetoric for debating, but your profound understanding of these ideas. And your capacity to convince others that these are ideas worth reflecting on. You have to be tenacious, committed, resound, and ready to ’emancipate yourself from mental slavery’. Free your mind of the old ways of thinking about government and governance. Renew liberated ideas about the possibility of the future. And I urge you to share those ideas with others.”
It’s Now in Your Hands
Up to thirty-two schools can register for the debating competition. Already the number of registered teams is over twenty-five. The work starts now.
The competition begins with zonal matches on July 12–14 and ends with the 3rd place playoff and grand finals on August 10. The competition will host a social media fan favourite competition and a school jingle competition to encourage broad participation. The public will also decide on debate matches. Watch for the competition in our local, traditional media spaces.
We are looking forward to the ‘A game’ each team brings. We are confident that they all are ready to take home the trophy. Please ensure you play your part by staying tuned to each match and voting for your favourite team.
About The Advocates Network Jamaica
The Advocates Network is an unincorporated, non-partisan alliance of individuals and organisations advocating for human rights and good governance to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people of Jamaica and transform lives. Its core objective is to forge a meaningful, broad-based collaboration of individuals and civil society organisations to support human rights & good governance issues.
About the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowerment (JADE) Limited
Fueled by a desire to serve as agents of positive societal change, a group of expert public speakers and debate enthusiasts, led by Germaine Barrett, formed a national umbrella organisation for advancing debating, public speaking and critical thinking in Jamaica. This Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) came into being in 2014 as the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowerment (JADE) Limited, or JADE for short.