Born and raised in Jamaica, Joseph’s father was a contractor who believed his sons should be responsible for their own land and be able to manage work on a farm. When they came of age, Joseph and his three brothers had to show they could do this work, but Joseph was more interested in music and athletics.
He became a science and technology teacher in Kingston, Jamaica and it was at this school that he would meet people from Northern Ireland, a meeting, which led to frequent visits to Northern Ireland. “It was very green and interesting, I did some studies and also came here to do some work, I had to think hard about leaving Jamaica. At first I thought Northern Ireland was very crazy, you would hear about bombings. One year I came over to visit I think it was 1998 there was a big bomb here”
“I ended up liking the place, it was more laid back, closer to Jamaica than the likes of London, places where it’s hustle and bustle, every day”
One of the first things Joseph noticed on arrival in Belfast was how close the houses were to each other. He thought it strange how people didn’t seem to know their neighbours. “That’s something that I find strange, you might live next to somebody but you don’t know who they are.”
Joseph explains how he was careful to distance himself from any political discussion on the Troubles. “When you come to a new place you have to observe, because you have to understand what the conflict was about, so that I should know what to say, or what not to say, or where to go or not to go.”
He found work teaching at Hazelwood Integrated College. Integrated education is something Joseph is very interested in. “When you go into the work place, you work with people from everywhere, you work with Protestants, Catholics, Rastafarians, Jamaicans, Africans, Chinese, so therefore I think school should also reflect an integrated education where people from all races and cultures learn together. It prepares you for the work place. If schools were integrated, you don’t have institutional racism.”
It was after suffering from racist abuse that Joseph felt compelled to create more awareness of racism. “At that time, there was no organisation that addressed the concerns about black people in Northern Ireland. Out of a consultation, a few groups of people met together and I was invited as well and from there ACSONI was born.”
The African and Caribbean Community Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI) was formed in 2003, as an independent community organisation to address the needs and aspirations of people who are from the continent of Africa and African descendent nations. “It was a lot of work by a lot of very hard working people, it was very very hard, trying to develop a new organisation. First you have to be known by other organisations, you have to be trusted, trusted by the people on the ground, but through all of these challenges, we tried to maintain certain concepts and the integrity of the organisation and the community.”
Joseph is proud of the organisation’s many achievements. “One of the biggest achievements is in being able to address racist issues and stereotyping, and also to be able to hold events with other communities.”
“One of the main things should be the ability to impact peoples lives, to care about people, that’s one of the qualities of being a community worker.”
Over the last 12 years, Joseph believes progress has been made and peoples’ attitudes to other cultures and races have matured. “The response we get from local people and local organisations is that people want to engage and they have a genuine interest in the issues which people face.”
A love for the guitar has stayed with him from his school days when he played in various bands. When he came to Belfast, he started playing in church bands, and eventually this led to creating his own music label and bringing Caribbean music into schools. “We try to bring reggae music into Northern Ireland.”
What Joseph finds most rewarding with work he’s achieved, is simply doing something well. “When something is done to a good quality and done well, it can actually be of benefit to others. I’m not the type of person for riches and money and fame, I just want to be comfortable and my work to be of a good standard that it benefits others” .