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  1. World
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18 October 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

He who feels it knows it

In his final blog, Tony Randon relates how he was initiated into Rastafari, and what it did for him

By Tony Randon

I was born and raised in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. My parents were both from the parish of Hanover, Jamaica, and the company of my mother’s Jamaican friends made our childhood very enjoyable.

Every weekend there was a dance, a party, a christening or a wedding. Me and most other children of Jamaican parentage grew up so close to Jamaican culture that it was understandable why people, when they heard us talk, thought we had actually been born there.

As in Jamaica, the Saturday night festivities were usually followed by Sunday in church. To this day, Jamaica still has more churches per person, than anywhere else in the world.

Wolverhampton was the political stronghold of one of Britain’s most controversial MP’s- Enoch Powell. His constituency had the highest ratio of immigrants to indigenous people in the country.

He had been instrumental in inviting immigrants to Britain. He now foresaw problems, as most of the newly arrived workers were having children in the country.

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His famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech encouraged the notion that Africans and Asians had come to change the British way of life. The fear he provoked led to some people developing racist and paranoid attitudes.

Skinheads who had initially loved Jamaican music were now at the forefront of the right wing agenda to make our stay in the country as uncomfortable as possible.

We were very defensive when racially abused, but had little knowledge of our ancestry or culture. For us, our history started from slavery. Before that, was a void. School had failed to fill in the gaps, teaching us that we had been civilised by the Europeans.

Basically, we were growing up as the black equivalent of the racist we were fighting- without any sense of direction or self respect.

Around this time, after a big racial altercation in the town centre, my black friends and I met members of an organisation based in London, called Harambee. They had come to Wolverhampton, on request, to address the issues that led to the daily battles. In their delegation were several Rastas.

Organisations like Harambee were committed to educating the young blacks that were growing up in the country, without any sense of who they where. True, we knew about Jamaican culture, but that was basically an extension of the British colonial system.

My parents, like many other rural born Jamaicans, detested Rasta for no other reason than the fact that they were taught to. Ganja was seen as a drug which led to madness. Marcus Garvey was an idiot.

It was listening to the members of Harambee, which first gave me an understanding of what Bob Marley’s lyrics meant. Contrary to our parents views, Rasta had a lot to offer children born in the United Kingdom.

His lyrics voiced a socially explicit diagnosis of the local and world situation. Constantly exposing the myth of free society.

I now testify that, had Rasta not given me my identity, my life would have been very different. I would have been forever lost, swimming in a sea of confusion, not knowing which way to turn.

When I moved to London, I was privileged to meet and learn from Jah bones. He was born in Kingston and had been a colleague of Mortimer Planno’s. Jah bones headed the R.U.Z (Rasta Universal Zion) organisation located in Tottenham, North London.

It provided sport, music and recreational facilities for the many unemployed teenagers in the area, and above all, it was a place were British born blacks could meet vistors from Jamaica.

Our experiences were simultaneously similar and different to those of our Jamaican counterparts. The persecution they had suffered, had been mostly at the hands of their own Afro Jamaican people.

They encouraged us to be part of the country, to contribute to the development of our community, and to learn as much as we could, so as to benefit others, should we ever leave to settle in Africa or the Caribbean.

Above all, they emphasised His Imperial Majesty’s advice to the Rastas in Jamaica, during his 1966 visit: That we should ORGANISE and CENTRALISE.

Every victim of the system, regardless of race, creed or background has gained inspiration from reggae music. It is the cry of the poor people, particularly the young, who are recognising that humanistic values are being undermined by animalistic values.

A sense of identity brings freedom. I have met people from all walks of life, who claimed that reggae music helped them through low points in their lives.

Hatred, if not addressed, can last for generations. Rasta has done much to alleviate society of the hate I grew up surrounded by. The racist is no longer my enemy- he needs help just as much as I did, when I was lost and angry.

Ask the Irishman, ask the European Jew, ask the Native American.

Their resolve comes from an inner strength which reminds them constantly of the sacrifices their ancestors made, to keep their culture and way of life alive.

This is the debt I owe to those who ensured that the spirit would live on, manifested in everything they lived, worked and died for. My inner peace comes from living and carrying on that resolve.

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