Mon | Mar 18, 2019

Sharon Gordon: A defender of reggae, culture

Published:Friday | January 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMAubrey Campbell/ Gleaner Writer
Sharon Gordon
Gordon
Sharon Gordon (left) accepting her award on Saturday, December 30 from the president of JON-J, Debbie Simms.
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In recent times, Sharon Gordon has taken up residence in Seventh Heaven and has been walking on rarified air. And she has not only been walking the walk, but talking the talk, as well, and for a long time, too!

Neither can it be just a matter of sheer coincidence that mere hours after a community organisation in New Jersey - the Jamaica Organisation of New Jersey (JON-J) - decided to recognise her for her many years of sociopolitical advocacy and activism in the USA and only three months since the New York-based True Tribute Organization recognised her for her "selfless commitment and pioneering contribution to Jamaican music and culture", and for being "a stimulus and an originator for progressive growth and development", and for having provided "boundless opportunities from which many have benefited and exhibited Jamaica as a beacon for the future" that she now feels vindicated by one of the world's most powerful, cultural watchdogs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

To some, it can be considered divine intervention, and not a moment too soon for someone who has spent all her life 'Turning Solidarity into Opportunity', while embracing those around her with positivity.

 

Cultural Standards

 

Imagine, then, the kind of emotion that greeted the announcement, in mid-November, that Jamaica's popular culture, reggae, had been added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List, meaning that the genre has made it on the list of worldwide cultural standards that will now be protected and preserved!

"I feel completely vindicated by this announcement. Thirteen years ago, when we (Carlyle, McKetty and Gordon) founded Coalition to Preserve Reggae, denouncing the rampant vulgarity in the music, many looked on us with scorn! Many asked, 'Why you need to preserve reggae?' in addition to a lot of other (colourful) negative things ... today, I am feeling vindicated!"

This is not to say that Gordon has been the only one charting the seemingly wayward migration of the music and the fact that the Jamaican base would soon lose control, but she was not scared to do something about it even if it meant just amplifying the noise and calling some attention to the apparent demise. Through her non-profit, CPR, she has been championing, and continues to champion, the cause.

What started more than three decades ago in the Greater New York area as some unscheduled roving community reports during the 'Gil & Pat Bailey Show', aired then on radio station WNWK, would blossom into organised fora and town-hall meetings with the singular objective of keeping the community at the table and in the conversation.

Gordon is the niece of Jamaican music legend Beres Hammond and considers herself an influencer, a badge she wears with pride and without prejudice. Her initiative to preserve reggae is a multifaceted one, allowing her to be seen and heard with some regularity.

When Sharon Gordon is not planning for a major cultural event, moulding young minds in a classroom, or being the master of ceremonies at an event, she can be seen and heard via CPRLive hosting her weekly Internet radio show 'Reggae Calling', a carefully crafted 'talkathon' that addresses the issues and concerns of a diaspora community on the move, using reggae as the soundtrack.

"Every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity, and as part of a community that's on the rise, we have to put ourselves in a position to exercise our right and be a force to be reckoned with," she said.

 

Pan-Africanist

 

Gordon prides herself on being a pan-Africanist whose role is to build bridges through culture. Her love for the culture of her people, especially the Caribbean, runs deep, and you only have to look at two of the many projects that she is associated with. She is intricately involved with the International African Arts Festival, staged over the fourth of July holiday weekend in Brooklyn, NY, and Reggae Culture Salute, a music-fest underpinned by celebrations commemorating the grand coronation of the Emperor of Ethiopia, His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, the First and Empress Menen.

"It's a celebration of the unique relationship between Rasta, reggae, Emperor Selassie, and Jamaica," said Sharon, who points out that "in the 20th century, Jamaica gave many gifts to the world, but Rasta and reggae are the two gifts that have kept on giving."

Gordon has also lectured as an adjunct professor of black history with a focus on black institutions and culture at her alma mater, Baruch College, City University of New York. She also teaches media literacy at the Paul Robeson Freedom School Summer programme in Brooklyn.

Sharon's footprint in the Jamaican diaspora and in the wider Caribbean community has not gone unnoticed. Many of her tried and proven 'guerilla' tactics as a stalwart publicist, promoter, street marketer, and reputable event coordinator have become templates for many successful reggae concerts in the Tri-State Area and beyond.

... Another honour in New Jersey

Sharon Gordon was the toast of the Jamaica Organisation of New Jersey (JON-J), at its Pre-New Year's Ball, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the organisation, a major stakeholder/partner of the Jamaica Diaspora USA/NE region. The event took place on December 29, 2018, at The Imperia, 1714 Easton Avenue, Somerset, New Jersey.

Hosted by the Essex and Middlesex County Chapters of JON-J, the event served as a fundraiser with the proceeds going toward the Organisation's Scholarship Fund and the science lab at The Queen's School in Kingston, Jamaica.

"We are delighted to recognise this milestone in the history of the organisation, especially since our theme this year is 'Honouring the Past, Embracing the Future'. We are also pleased to honour at this event, Ms Sharon Gordon, co-founder of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music (CPR)," said Debra Simms, president of the Board of Trustees for JON-J.