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*The birth of Verene Shepherd is celebrated on this date in 1951. She is an Afro Jamaican academic and professor.
Verene Albertha Shepherd was born in Hopewell, Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica, one of the ten children of Ruthlyn and Alfred Lazarus. She attended Huffstead Basic School, Rosebank Primary School, and St. Mary High School and then completed a teaching certificate at Shortwood Teachers' College. Shepherd completed a B.A. in history in 1976 and an M. Phil at the University of the West Indies. in history in 1982. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1988 for her thesis on the economic history of colonial Jamaica.
In 1988, Shepherd joined the Department of History at the University of the West Indies. She became a full professor in 2001 and, in 2010, was appointed director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. She has served as the Association of Caribbean Historians president, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust chair, and the Jamaica National Bicentenary Committee. Shepherd specializes in Jamaican social history and diaspora studies. She is an advocate of reparations for slavery and, in 2016, was appointed co-chair of Jamaica's National Council on Reparations.
Shepherd has also held several positions within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, serving as a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. She was chair of WGEPAD from 2011 to 2014 and lobbied for creating the International Decade for People of African Descent.
In 2013, in her role as chair of WGEPAD, Shepherd was asked to inquire into Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"). She authored a letter, "headed, official U.N. high commission for human rights paper" to the Dutch government proposing it move towards ending the tradition. In a later interview, she described the character as "a throwback to slavery." Her remark complicated and further polarized an ongoing national debate, accompanied by protests and social media campaigns, as she was supposedly speaking on behalf of the U.N. when this was not the case.
Several public figures spoke out in defense of Zwarte Piet. A Belgian UNESCO official later claimed that Shepherd had no authority to speak on behalf of the U.N. and was "abusing the name of the U.N. to bring her agenda to the media ."She is the director of the university's Institute for Gender and Development Studies and specializes in Jamaican social history and diaspora studies.
She has published prolifically in journals and books on Jamaican economic history during slavery, the Indian experience in Jamaica, migration, diasporas, and Caribbean women's history. She is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa.