Raised in East Chicago, Anastacia C.C. Davis wasn’t surrounded by reminders of her Jamaican lineage.
“I grew up wanting a quinceañera for crying out loud,” Davis said.
But the 2012 East Chicago Central High School graduate found herself immersed deeply in Jamaican culture, as she was one of just four people chosen to take part in this year’s GraceKennedy Jamaican Birthright Programme.
The program lets university students of Jamaican lineage from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom learn about the land of their parents’ or grandparents’ birth while taking part in paid internships and cultural activities.
Davis’ grandparents on her father’s side were from Jamaica.
“This entire program is about bridging the gap with the children of the diaspora,” Davis said. “It’s more so a program to link you and then anchor you in your roots.”
All expenses were paid and the program was sponsored by GraceKennedy, which is one of the largest food and finance corporate entities in the Caribbean.
Davis graduated from Alabama State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts and is currently a Master of Fine Arts student at Full Sail University in Florida.
Some of the qualifications for acceptance into the Birthright Programme were that applicants had to be between the ages of 18 and 25, pursuing a college degree and maintaining a B average or higher.
“I just wanted to be able to get that experience, to learn more about myself and also just to make sure that I, as a filmmaker, have stories that I can tell from my people,” Davis said.
She stayed on the campus of the University of the West Indies and worked at the head office of Hi-Lo Food Stores Jamaica, where digital marketing and creating social media content were among her job assignments.
On weekends, Davis traveled the country on Heritage Pathways, in which she had various memorable experiences that included hiking, lake tours, visits to the Bob Marley Museum, the National Gallery of Jamaica and the King’s House, as well as a courtesy call with the Governor-General.
Davis learned much about Jamaica through her experience, far beyond just culinary differences.
“Being there, you actually see that Jamaican women are the leading population in the workforce and in education,” Davis said.
Davis also got to know her three fellow participants, one each from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“I remember the first few days we had first met each other we would just stay up all night just talking about the differences in our cultures,” Davis said. “All of us have such different backgrounds when it comes to our Jamaican roots.”
Davis enjoyed talking about East Chicago with those she met and hopes to be an inspiration to others from her city.
She said it was intimidating going up against Ivy League students to secure the invite into the program, but she succeeded on her second try, both times requiring her to drive to Miami for an interview.
“It’s definitely about resilience, because had I not tried again I wouldn’t have gotten it,” Davis said.
Davis is the daughter of Michael Davis and Valrie Kemp-Davis and she credits her mother with making sure she stayed connected to her Jamaican heritage as a child.
“I hope that she doesn’t just embrace her Jamaican heritage, but that she just is an ambassador of the world,” Kemp-Davis said. “That she is an ambassador that embraces all cultures and is open to learning about different people.”
Davis also credits her former choir teacher at E.C. Central, Leon Kendrick, with wanting her to know about the world.
“He was well-traveled and he kind of opened us up at a young age to know how to be professional,” Davis said. “And that type of foundation is what’s lead me on the path to be here representing E.C. today.”
She said Kendrick told students there was more out there than what they see on a daily basis.
“I always told him when I was in high school that if I ever did anything grand, if I ever made it, I would always, always mention his name,” Davis said.