Mission JA Makes its Debut as an official Student Organization

Mission JA poses at general body meeting as they usher in new era of club Photo credit: @missionja.um on Instagram

In efforts to invite the University of Miami community into the “indescribable experience” that is Jamaican culture, Mission Jamaica (Mission JA) made its debut in August as an official student organization.

“When I heard about it [Mission JA] I was so excited,” said Jamaica native and fundraising and outreach co-chair Kaila Ashlye. “I rushed to be on the executive board because I haven’t been home in four years and I just miss the community of people.”

“Even though we have the Caribbean Students Association, I still felt like there was a disconnect, because it’s not personal to Jamaica,” she added.

President and vice president Asheka Newman and Collette Thomas, respectively, along with their executive board, breathed life into Mission JA after the originator graduated before being able to start the club due to the pandemic.

“It’s not really a brand new club,” Ashlye said. “It’s a renewed club. So we brought it back to life.”

Newman said she has observed the Jamaican population on campus grow exponentially and perceives Mission Jamaica to be a resourceful outlet for students.

“When I came to the United States, it was my first time leaving Jamaica and leaving my parents,” Newman said. “I know how hard it is adjusting to a new culture. So just kind of having that space for those coming in to know that, ‘hey, we’ve done this before, we can relate and we are here for you.’”

Though the organization is centered around Jamaican pride, Newman clarifies that Mission Jamaica is open to the entire student body.

“We don’t want people to just think of Jamaica and think, Bob Marley or jerk chicken, ” Newman said. “We want them to experience it. We want them to know that we have a lot of social issues that affect us. For people who have never visited the island, or who don’t know that much about it, this is a great way to immerse yourself without taking a trip.”

At its initial tabling in August, Newman expressed her delight in the diverse blend of students intrigued by Mission Jamaica.

“It was a good combination of people interested in having space for the culture as well as those who were curious,” Newman said. “There was so much excitement and we had a lot of non-Jamaicans who wanted to try our snacks, so that was great.”

While Mission JA is still in its infancy, the organization has had a spew of successful events during the past semester. These include monthly general body meetings, a Thanksgiving dinner and World Cup watch party for students who were unable to go home, and a volunteering collaboration with the African Students Union during homecoming.

“This is for Jamaican students who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and won’t be able to return home to get an authentic Jamaican dinner, ” Newman said about the watch party. “Then also just students who never had any kind of authentic Jamaican cuisine, or who are interested in trying it out,”

According to Newman, the Mission JA’s values are a mixture of “social and service.” The organization is currently in the process of launching one of its defining initiatives named “Canes to Yard.”

With “yard” being a moniker for Jamaica, the initiative serves to help educate Jamaicans interested in attending UM, about the nature of school in the United States.

Tutoring services and receiving information about the college application process and travel documentation are some of the primary focuses.

“Those kinds of information they might not have access to because it costs money to get it, ” Ashlyle said. “We can be a bridge or direct connection, to get them to know about the different universities and possibly get them to come to our university and experience what we get to experience as students studying abroad.”