Wilmington leans into Bob Marley connection with plans for museum to promote cultural awareness

Bob Marley's cousin Judy Malcolm is spearheading the effort to create a Jamaican Heritage and Reggae Museum in Wilmington to empower culture and revive unity.

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Jamaican Reggae singer Bob Marley performs on stage during a concert in Bourget, Paris, on July 3, 1980. (AP Photo/Str)

Jamaican Reggae singer Bob Marley performs on stage during a concert in Bourget, Paris, on July 3, 1980. (AP Photo/Str)

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Approximately 6,000 Jamaicans live in Delaware, but there’s a noticeable lack of resources or a dedicated center for the community.

Meet Judy Malcolm, who’s working to close that void.

Malcolm arrived in the United States from St. Catherine, Jamaica, at the age of 15. She is the second cousin of Bob Marley. Driven by her passion for Jamaican heritage and reggae music, she’s actively working to build up resources and create the Jamaican Heritage and Reggae Museum. She hopes it will be a place to foster unity among Jamaicans in Delaware.

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When she first arrived in Delaware, she thought it was a time when Jamaicans and other people of color were more united than ever. It wasn’t until later on she realized what she thought was a sense of unity was actually the result of forced busing, where students from the city were sent out to increase diversity in suburban schools.

Judy Malcolm poses for a photo
Judy Malcolm received an award from the Pete Dupont Foundation Freedom for her work on the reinventing Delaware initiative after presenting the museum to the organization. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“I didn’t even know that it was busing until years later… they were busing us from Wilmington to Glasgow. That’s where I went to school,” she said. “I was so busy trying to just acclimate to say, ‘I’m okay. I’m in a new place. I’m not with my mom. I’m not in a very familiar place.’”

Regardless of the reason, Malcolm said it genuinely felt like unity among Jamaicans. She fondly recalls a time when they all spoke Patois, a lyrical, English-based Creole language with influences from West Africa.

“We came here as a small community. Our culture was very, very strong, we spoke Patois, we were able to go to a Jamaican club which no longer exists,” she said. “Everybody was tight, but what has happened is that everybody kind of filtered out over the generations and time.”

She aims to revive unity and establish a safe space for the Jamaican community.

“That was the reason why I felt that this particular area in Wilmington [needs] to have a heritage center. Not only can people come and learn about our culture, but our own Jamaicans, we need to harness and get people to come back together,” she said.

Reflecting on her own experiences as a parent, she couldn’t help but question if her children could identify the current prime minister of Jamaica. The realization that they might not know highlighted the vital role of the museum.

The museum’s goal is to enlighten visitors about Jamaican culture and its influence through cultural events, exhibits and educational workshops. It could also serve as an educational institution for children to tour and even take Patois classes.

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One of the museum’s attractions is its dedicated feature on the reggae genre, originating in the late 1960s, highlighting influential figures such as Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and Toots and the Maytals.

While Malcolm’s intentions extend beyond her connection to Bob Marley, his influence on the world’s music scene can’t be denied. His connection to Wilmignton is also an influence on interest in her plans.

“You can’t say reggae music without Bob Marley,” she said. “All people want to talk about is Bob.”

Marley lived with his mother on Tatnall Street in 1966. He worked as a lab assistant at DuPont and on the assembly line at the former Chrysler plant in Newark under the alias “Donald Marley” in order to raise money to start his own record label in Jamaica.

A park across the street from the Marleys’ home was renamed “One Love Park” after Marley’s 1977 hit with the Wailers, “One Love/People Get Ready.”

Malcolm recently led other family members to see the new movie “Bob Marley: One Love” as they embraced the memory of Marley, his mother Cedella Booker, and other family members who have died.

The Malcom family poses for a photo together
The Malcolm family attended the premiere of the “Bob Marley: One Love” movie in Christiana, Delaware. (Courtesy of Judy Malcolm)

“Part of [what] I would like to see happen, is the remaining Bob Marley family, I would really like to bring the next family generation, that’s still here in Wilmington, I would like to take them with me to see the movie and capture it and let that be a part of the museum,” she said.

Considering the distance and diverse locations of everyone, she anticipated a relatively small meet-up. To her astonishment, more than 100 family members gathered at the Cinemark in  Christiana. Malcolm said the family gathering will be commemorated with a frame on the wall of the Jamaican Heritage and Reggae Museum.

There’s still a long way to go.

Malcolm is working to find the right location for the museum and secure funding. She eventually hopes to have the museum positioned at the Wilmington Riverfront.

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