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Jamaican Consul General Geneive Brown Metzger Visits Hartford

By CHARLES PROCTOR | Courant Staff Writer

April 07, 2008

When the prime minister of Jamaica asked Geneive Brown Metzger to be the island nation's newest consul general in New York City, she was surprised. She was, after all, a public relations executive in Westchester County, not a career diplomat.

But while she was mulling it over, she remembered all the complaints she had heard from Jamaican immigrants about issues they faced in the U.S. and in their homeland.

And she realized there was really only one answer she could give. "This was my opportunity not to just complain, but to do something about it," said Brown Metzger in an interview.

Brown Metzger, who became consul general in early March, was the special guest Sunday afternoon at a town meeting at the West Indian Social Club in Hartford.

About 60 people including Mayor Eddie Perez and City Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson, herself a Jamaican native gathered at the Main Street building to meet Brown Metzger and quiz her on the problems she plans to address, like immigration and community outreach.

The Hartford area boasts one of the largest Jamaican communities in the country, with estimates of its population ranging as high as 300,000, said Lenworth Walker, the club's president. Sunday's audience included people from Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven.

The questions the audience had for Brown Metzger were wide-ranging, from her hometown (Kingston, the Jamaican capital) to deportation of immigrants and education reforms in Jamaica.

Several audience members asked whether the Jamaican consulate planned to open an office again in the Hartford area to help residents navigate issues such as passport problems and document mix-ups.

The consulate used to have an office that was open twice a month on Albany Avenue. Since it closed, residents have had to drive or catch the train to the New York consulate for help.

Brown Metzger said the sheer size of her constituency she serves Jamaicans in 33 states made putting offices in every district difficult.

But she also said outreach to diaspora communities was one of her priorities. She said in future visits she might bring resources and set aside time to help Jamaicans who needed the consulate's help.

Later, Airey-Wilson said she and other local leaders would lobby the consulate to have an office open in Hartford. "It would be such a great service to the community," she said.

One woman who said she had been in the medical field for 18 years asked Brown Metzger what plans she had to streamline the process of donating items such as medical supplies to Jamaica.

The woman said she had been frustrated in the past with the amount of red tape she had to cut through to get donations to the island, especially after a major disaster. "I find the most difficult place to send something is my own country," she said.

Brown Metzger agreed that "the transportation of equipment [to Jamaica] is historically a nightmare." She said the government was working on restructuring the process to speed it along.

After the event, some audience members said they appreciated Brown Metzger's willingness to talk about issues and her down-to-earth approach. But some also came away wanting more.

Rosemarie Tate, 54, asked one of the first questions of the event, inquiring what sort of outreach the consulate planned to do for adults.

Tate said Brown Metzger's response that she wanted to build stronger partnerships between the consulate and local communities was good but not great. Tate said she wants to see more events and seminars that educate local Jamaicans about their heritage and history.

"While we as groups in Connecticut try to do some of it, I feel the consulate could be a great resource," said Tate, a dietitian from West Hartford who originally hails from Kingston, like the new consul general.

But, Tate added, "I think [Brown Metzger] answered my question to the best of her abilities, seeing as she's new."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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