First, shall I tell you about Panos? Established in Washington, DC, in 1986, it is very much communication-oriented, in specific fields. With its head office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and its secondary office in Jamaica, Panos’ aim is to “help people participate in the development debate, in particular through the media.” Among other exciting projects, it has established youth journalist groups; a number of projects helping rural Jamaicans to cope with climate change, including“Voices for Climate Change“; has conducted research, offered fellowships and training in communicating HIV/AIDS-related issues; and in 2010 launched the ground-breaking“Oral Testimonies of Jamaican Sex Workers.” Panos is now working harder to amplify the voices of marginalized populations in Jamaica; and it was with this in mind that the Vancouver/Jamaica project came into being.
So, a group of seven Jamaicans (five journalists and two young politicians) recently visited Vancouver. The aim was to share experiences on discrimination against men having sex with men, which still exists in Vancouver, too; and to learn more about strategies to address the concerns of gays living with HIV/AIDS. Although Vancouver is a “gay-friendly” city, it took decades to reach where it is today, says Jean-Claude Louis, who accompanied the group in Canada; and it is not by any means typical of the rest of the country. Everywhere has its complexities and its unique social issues. But Vancouver has put in place legislation and safeguards. It has established procedures, systems and entities (both governmental and non-governmental) that will always lend a helping hand, support, advise. Heal.
Dr. Hamlet Nation is a medical doctor, and a member of the People’s National Party Youth Organization. Several key issues emerged for Dr. Nation during the week-long visit, from his discussions with those working in the health system in Vancouver. Firstly, there is the important role of leadership in Vancouver; not at first local politicians, who “jumped in later,” Dr. Nation noted. Community leaders helped foster dialogue, and encouraged openness and easier information-sharing – qualities he recognized and admired when he visited the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Dr. Nation also liked the STOP HIV/AIDS initiative piloted by Vancouver Coastal Health, which he regarded as proactive. Jamaica could easily adopt such a program of “treatment as prevention” and early testing, he thought, using social media outreach to find those most at risk. He also liked the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control’s “highly targeted” programs.
Naomi Francis is well-known on radio, with her cheerful morning voice on Nationwide News Network’s “This Morning.” Along with her co-host Emily Crooks, she packs a punch in incisive on-air interviews with politicians and public figures. She asked the question: How do marginalized Jamaicans tell their stories? Journalists love stories, of course. She felt the “stark” contrast in the way people communicate on human rights, noting that Vancouver was “proactive” in the way it works with First Nations people and other minorities, sexual or otherwise. Naomi met with Peer Navigators – HIV-positive gay men – at the Positive Living Society of British Columbia, who had “found ways” to tell their stories. For them, she said, the acronym LGBT translated as “Listen, Guide, Balance, Translate.” The Jamaican media is full of stories of “rampant violence” against gays, she says; but we are mostly looking at the symptoms of intolerance, anger, abuse. So, if those are the symptoms, then what is the root cause of discrimination against gays? “At the heart of it is an issue of poverty and abuse,” Naomi suggests.
Collin Virgo is General Secretary of G2K, the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party. Although he completely avoided the issue of homosexuality, Mr. Virgo had some sharp comments and perceptive insights. He called the program “an amazing eye-opener.” Now, Mr. Virgo is what I would call a “character” - in the nicest way; he likes to be a little controversial, even “brutally frank,” as he puts it. In Jamaica“we are just wasting a lot of time,” he observed, with a hint of impatience. “We don’t stay focused too long… We are always distracted by sideshows.” He contrasted this with what he saw in Vancouver – a culture of “seeing, feeling,” understanding and empathy. As well as what he called simply “common sense” solutions such as those offered by Insite – a supervised injection site for drug addicts. These simple solutions are not as easy as they seem to implement, Mr. Virgo observed; and politicians must “take note” of what he called “resistance from society” - which Insite also encountered when it was first established. “We cannot stay outside the system and help somebody,” Mr. Virgo added. “This is the dilemma of politicians.” Resistance from society. Something some politicians find hard to handle, it seems.
Dervan Malcolm is a highly experienced radio man – producer, presenter and program host extraordinaire. His program, “Both Sides of the Story,” addresses all kinds of topics on weekday afternoons on Power 106 FM (which is owned by the Gleaner Company, by the way). Dervan also chaired the last televised leadership debate during the 2011 election campaign in Jamaica. He has a fresh, open style; he is cool and he is impartial.
Now, Dervan reminded us of former Canadian Premier Pierre Trudeau‘s remark to journalists in 1967: “We take the position that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” M. Trudeau was actually echoing an editorial in the Toronto“Globe and Mail” from the day before. So, here perhaps, all those years ago, was an example of politicians and media working together towards a change of mindset, of culture. Of course, the process was a gradual one. Changing the way people think – introducing different ideas, sharing new insights, explaining, clarifying, suggesting… it is all a painfully slow and complex process. But M. Trudeau decided that his country had got to start somewhere, and there was in fact some legislation pending at that point to strengthen human rights for sexual minorities. So, it is most telling to note that the first time any Jamaican politician made a similar comment was when current Prime Minister Portia Simpson spoke during the televised debate that Dervan himself moderated on December 20, 2011. That is, almost forty-five years to the day after Prime Minister Trudeau made his remarks. What a very long time that is.
Dervan believes that the rule of law must take center stage, and “must protect every single citizen.” During a meeting with the police in Vancouver, he recognized the importance of respect in dealing with sexual minorities and other disadvantaged groups. He also stated what seems to me the obvious when dealing with issues of discrimination and caring for minorities: the most important element is people. Yes, Vancouver has more resources than Jamaica; but many of the issues, he suggests, are not about resources but, yes, people - “We are all citizens.” We must do away with labels, with name-calling, with bullying. He learnt more about the latter topic from the Out in Schools program, which started up in 2004 in Vancouver. And it’s a very real issue for Jamaica too. Dervan described several other meetings with individuals who gave him deeper insights. Director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Dr. Julio Montaner, is a remarkable leader, he believes: “Not a talker, a doer.” (I get the feeling that Dervan is sometimes impatient with the many talkers in Jamaica; but after all, he engages them all day long!)
The Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver is a remarkable institution, by all accounts. As its website notes, “Many of the people who come here have had lives marked by trauma and neglect. They have often been rejected by family, friends and society.” It is the legacy of Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, a young Vancouver physician who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. He established the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation just before his death in 1992. The Foundation began to collaborate and enlist the support of the Vancouver Health Department and several other health-related institutions. It has grown from strength to strength. But when Dr. Peter was too ill to practice any more, he did something remarkable that helped the Canadian people understand more about HIV/AIDS at a time when many did not understand. 111 episodes of the “Dr. Peter Diaries” - short pieces, honest, sometimes humorous, always human – were aired just before the CBC television news each evening. The impact was enormous. Yes, people living with HIV/AIDS are still…people.
And what were the lessons learned for Jamaica? Even more importantly, what actions may follow from this enlightening encounter?
Dr. Hamlet Nation sees the need for “greater discussion and dialogue.” He plans to meet with officials in the Ministry of Health’s HIV/STI Program to discuss and possibly partner with them on the issue of marginalized populations vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. He feels that anti-discrimination legislation needs to be looked at much more carefully. Naomi Francis believes that we need to remove our blinkers and speak “boldly, honestly, openly,” as she witnessed in Vancouver - “re-frame the dialogue.” Communication methods need to change. Politicians must play a greater role in delivering anti-discrimination messages, said Collin Virgo, with the media playing their part (in fact, he seemed to think that there should have been a higher ratio of politicians to journalists in the Jamaican group). The optimistic Dervan Malcolm believes that understanding is slowly growing in Jamaica. He would like to develop the contacts he made during his visit, and to use his program to encourage tolerance. He believes there should be much more outreach – Jamaican gays and those living with HIV/AIDS are not “over there.” We must reach them “where they are.”
I confess to being disappointed that more members of the media – especially print media – were not present at the Panos press briefing – although, perhaps, this was not so surprising. Two members of the Jamaican group – the Jamaica Observer’s Ingrid Brown and Carol Francis of Jamaica News Network – were regrettably also absent. However, young broadcast journalist Kathy-Ann Yetman joined the discussion after the presentations. Almost immediately, the issue of “The Church” came up (it is always described this way, like one huge, immovable monolith). It is a brave pastor or church leader who will try to confront the issue of homosexuality head-on, everyone agreed. Kathy-Ann, who produces CVM Television’s excellent “Live at Seven,” noted that the program would be talking to Reverend Peter Garth – a fundamentalist church man with strong views – on the matter. Some churches, it was noted, were more progressive in their thinking. So there is always hope. Perhaps Panos could have invited one or two church leaders on the program, someone suggested.
And the other almost immovable group, the politicians? Investment in older politicians is all but “wasted.” The burden is on the younger politicians to influence, to use different language, to lighten and sharpen the dialogue, to turn a laser-sharp focus on the issues that we are trying to avoid. The Jamaican people who we are trying to pretend don’t exist, or aren’t as important as certain other Jamaican citizens.
Why is this program so important? It’s not an academic exercise. It is an inspiration that will hopefully be a springboard for action. I congratulate all those who participated, and in particular the dedicated people at Panos for giving them this opportunity. I only feel sad for the many individuals and organizations who declined to participate in the Vancouver Exchange, once they learned what the focus was. Perhaps they might like to do a similar tour in Jamaica, instead. That would open their eyes, too.
Dervan Malcolm commented during his presentation, “Leaders must lead.” Or as management guru Peter Drucker said,
Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.
Let’s get to it. Let’s make a change for the better. Thank you, Panos.
POST SCRIPT: Meanwhile, I just learned on television that no government representative attended the funeral of Vanessa Wint today. I guess they had better things to do on a lovely, sunny Saturday. Vanessa, a sixteen-year-old in the care of the State, committed suicide in an adult prison (where she should not have been held). But then, Vanessa was just a poor teenager with psychological problems, who was deemed “unruly.” Another of those Jamaicans whose lives are, somehow, less valuable. Politicians. Businessmen/women. Leaders. Followers. Can we all please try to care a little more, this year?
Related articles and websites
Love and Peace (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jamaica paper publish anti-gay hate cartoon for Christmas (repeatingislands.com)
Sex survey finds alarming trend among young people (antiguaobserver.com)
A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://cfenet.ubc.ca (British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS website)
http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/about-us/team/montaner-j (Dr. Julio Montaner)
http://www.positivelivingbc.org/services/peer-navigator-services (Positive Living Society of British Columbia: Peer Navigators)
http://cfenet.ubc.ca/news/in-the-news/hiv-care-transformed-dr-peter’s-legacy (HIV care transformed by Dr. Peter’s legacy)
http://www.vch.ca/403/7676/?program_id=12944 (Vancouver Coastal Health: STOP HIV/AIDS)
http://www.bccdc.ca/default.htm (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control)
http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca (Vancouver Coastal Health: Insite)
http://bccla.org (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association)
http://www.drpeter.org (Dr. Peter Centre)
This is a back-dated blog post. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was overwhelming. While the United States is just beginning to feel the effects, we in the Caribbean gritted our teeth and got through it all last week. But of course, the storm itself is not the thing. It’s the aftermath that really gets you. Like a bite from a rabid dog. It hurts at the time; but afterwards you have to get the shots, which is worse…
And let’s not forget this: dengue fever is still a concern, with another death reported today and a sharp increase in suspected cases (now officially at 2,198). The Ministry of Health says it has stepped up its vector control efforts, which is good news. We have yet to see or hear that droning fogging truck emitting its fumes in our neighborhood, however. We have resorted to plastic “mosquito zappers” with rechargeable batteries, made in China. Highly recommended. They look like harmless little badminton rackets in bright colors…but they bring with them a deadly charge. The air smells of the sizzling flesh of mosquitoes and any other flying insect that is stupid enough to get “in harm’s way”…
But seriously…Due to the huge rains we had last week, mosquito breeding sites have multiplied. I have been touring our yard, sweeping and cleaning up; even a leaf holding a small amount of water can breed a few mosquitoes in a day or two. And it will be up to us to keep things clean. As usual after a storm (or in fact at any time) there is a “severe shortage” of trucks to clean up, according to the Ministry of Local Government. So don’t expect the garbage truck any time soon. And let’s be careful.
We are all quite comfortable in the Kingston area, I believe; and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) reports 90 per cent of power is restored in Kingston/St. Andrew. But tales of woe have been pouring in from elsewhere since last week, with hundreds still cut off in several communities in St. Thomas – the eastern side of the island, which was most badly hit. It’s clear that JPS is facing some pretty major challenges in two or three parishes. The television screens last night showed huge damage, roads still blocked by trees, debris… and fallen light poles. And the light poles (and, by extension, the lack of maintenance) have been a major topic of discussion in relation to our monopoly power company. Meanwhile, the humorous Mr. Robert Lalah observed wryly, regarding the complaining uptowners who had no power for a day or two: “It’s tough having to charge our smartphones at the office and missing the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians , but all will be back to normal soon enough.”
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission has not yet grasped the value of social media, Twitter etc, it seems. It has informed us that over 100,000 of its customers are still without water, five days after the storm. Sorry, not impressed – but I do know this is partly dependent on the restoration of power. Still, I think Jamaicans might have appreciated a rather higher level of communication on the part of the government agency.
Be that as it may, I have posted several photos from local media below; as well as the most recent reports on the situation on our beleaguered island, post-Sandy. There are the usual reports of widespread damage to agriculture (the banana crops are always the first to go, virtually flattened – but they are the first to grow back); people who have lost their homes and belongings – clothing, books and furniture, all sadly spread out in the sun to dry, zinc sheets and plywood scattered; roads and bridges torn away by swollen rivers, with curious residents on the river banks seemingly hypnotized by the churning brown waters. Oh, and five people escaped from a police lock-up in Portmore. One, who has been charged with shooting with intent, is curiously nicknamed “Pastor.”
Fortunately, however, we had only one death related to the storm: an old gentleman in Bedward Gardens, August Town was hit by a boulder. By comparison, the death toll in Haiti keeps rising, although unlike Jamaica they did not get a “direct hit.”
Now, with a mixture of jaded cynicism (we’ve been there, done that, many times), curiosity and somewhat muted sympathy we watch those living on the east coast of the United States evacuating and preparing and trying not to panic. Hurricane Sandy does seem to have grown horribly since she gave Jamaica a direct hit last Wednesday. And of course, there are many thousands of Jamaicans over that side, especially in New York City. So they are in our thoughts. No doubt, once Sandy has done her worst over there, there will be comparisons of how the mighty United States held up, compared to our very small island.
And what of the impact of natural disasters on politicians? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official trip to Canada last week to return to Jamaica when the warnings of Sandy’s approach began. This was generally praised as a good move. She also made an announcement about being prepared, etc. And then came a somewhat strange and curious interview with one of our leading broadcast journalists, Cliff Hughes, on Nationwide News Network (more about them, later). The Prime Minister does not often do live radio interviews – in fact, any kind of unscripted interaction between her and the media is quite unusual. Mr. Hughes handled the Prime Minister with kid gloves, enquiring several times about her health and general well-being, and throwing some soft questions her way. Then, almost imperceptibly, the conversation turned to the sensitive matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the worrying signs of Jamaica’s economic vulnerability. One could sense the discomfort at the other end of the phone line. The responses became a little confused – at least, I was confused. By my recollection, the Prime Minister said that she could not tell the Jamaican people exactly what was happening regarding the status of the IMF agreement; how could she, if she herself did not know what was happening? (Did I hear this right? Can’t she tell us anything at all?) She then fell back on her defensive mantra: She has ministers to do the work in their respective portfolios, and she expects them to do it well. She does not interfere with their work (but hold on, don’t they report to her, as prime minister?)
Sorry, but I don’t really understand this. Really, I don’t. Especially when the PM added that she realizes Jamaicans are “used to” Prime Ministers who talk about every issue affecting the country; but she has a different approach. She has her ministers.
So now, the Cabinet met today to consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – the cost, of course, being a major factor. How will this affect the IMF negotiations (and is it entirely correct to call them negotiations, at this stage)? I believe the government has sent a letter to the IMF and is waiting to see what happens next. Anyway, the day before Sandy the Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw took on the issue in Parliament, suggesting that the possible deadline for the possible signing of an agreement with the men in Washington is a bit of a moving target. Meanwhile, the Gleaner is getting fidgety again, worried about a “lack of urgency” on the part of the Government.
More on this in the weeks to follow, one predicts. The IMF all tangled up with Sandy. What a muddle we are in, once again.
I will end with a major drumroll: for all the emergency services, both governmental and non-governmental, for their sterling work before, during and after Hurricane Sandy passed, with surprising efficiency and speed, across our island (although I was never quite sure whether it was east to west or north to south?) The police imposed curfews, resulting in no reports of looting (so far as I am aware) – and also resulting in the number of murdered Jamaicans being reduced, as you can see from the list below. The Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) did a good job of keeping us informed, and prepared. Non-governmental organizations like the Jamaica Red Cross, Salvation Army and others responded effectively, despite their always limited resources. Food for the Poor and the YB Afraid Foundation of Olympic medalist Yohan Blake also brought much-needed help (food and other supplies) to residents of Portland. Some Members of Parliament (notably Damion Crawford in the much-afflicted East Rural St. Andrew) and local councillors appeared to be working hard on the ground.
Perhaps… perhaps, the stars of the show were the often much-maligned Jamaica Public Service Company. Yes, I know many of you Jamaicans may not agree (especially those who are still without power). But their engineers worked hard for hours on the broken light post down the road from us, in the pouring rain last Thursday night; and did not stop until they had restored light to our little area at around 1:30 a.m. Their hard work was much appreciated. And their public relations effort – their continuous flow of information throughout the period – was/is laudable. Ms. Kelly Tomblin, the President, appeared on Television Jamaica’s popular morning magazine program, neatly attired in jeans and leather boots, to provide an update. She has been incredibly accessible and is speaking on the radio as I write this. As for Ms. Winsome Callum, the firm’s head of communications…She is a master (mistress?) of public relations practice. Her combination of sincerity, clarity, empathy, professionalism and sheer cool is unrivaled in Jamaica. Congratulations, Ms. Callum, on receiving my Order of the Petchary Award this week. It’s my second highest award, I would say, and it comes with a hearty pat on the back. I was, actually, informed and reassured after her excellent interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR a few days ago.
Now, back to Nationwide News Network, whom I also really appreciated last week – Mr. Cliff Hughes, Mr. Vernon Darby and the whole supporting crew of reporters and producers, who did a fine job throughout the storm. They kept us continuously informed, fielding phone calls from anxious and stressed Jamaicans, when other radio stations were playing “soothing” music. Thanks Nationwide!
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN has put on his World War II voice, while intrepid reporters stand ankle-deep on flooded roads, and hang on to their hats in the windiest spot they can find. Somehow, coverage of a natural disaster (or potential disaster) becomes dull and repetitive after a while… Nevertheless, fingers crossed and take care to all our friends on the east coast.
Here’s to calmer waters.
Jamaicans killed by the police:
Dwayne Anthony Reid, 31, Mandeville, Manchester
Unidentified man, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
…and by others:
Sarvan Morrison, 24, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Donna Collen, 53, Tawes Pen, St. Catherine
Rayon Anthony Champagnie, Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Unidentified man, Ivy Green Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Montpelier, St. James
Courtney Edwards, 35, Coronation Market, Kingston
Christopher Lawrence, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Restoration-slowest-in-Eastern-parishes–JPS_12862589 (Restoration slowest in eastern parishes – JPS)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead1.html (Road to recovery: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/news/news1.html (11,000 farmers affected by Sandy)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/sandy-between-our-toes/ (Sandy Between Our Toes: petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Scribble: October 21, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121025/news/news2.html (IMF in limbo: Jamaica Gleaner)
Soggy Jamaica cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy (miamiherald.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Now-for-the-post-Sandy-recovery_12836191 (Now for the post-Sandy recovery: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Blackout from Sandy most vexing/Robert Lalah: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121028/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Where is the Government? Missing the point of the critics: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Sister-P-s-Canadian-love-in_12845822 (Sister P’s Canadian love-in/Keeble McFarlane: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Has-Sandy-complicated-Government-s-path-to-new-IMF-deal-_12854867 (Has Sandy complicated Government’s path to a new IMF deal?/Claude Robinson)
A fellow-blogger who wrote a list for Canada, where she now lives, challenged me to do the same for Jamaica. I hesitated, not wishing to generalize too much or to be so specific as to offend anyone. So, please do not take this list too seriously. You might think of some better ones. Here goes:
- When giving your name over the phone, you are asked, “Mrs or Miss?” (if you are a woman, of course). I usually say, “It doesn’t matter.” But I know – correct titles (especially “Dr.”) do matter. And unlike in the UK, dentists and surgeons are called “Dr.” as well.
- You tune in to the radio, and hear the announcer read out funeral arrangements for Miss Tiny, who has eight children, twenty-two grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren, and will be buried in the family plot.
- Wanted men are known only by their nicknames – “Nose,” “Indian,” “Dog Paw,” “Ants Man” etc… or scary ones like “Satan,” “Glock” or “Bullet.” In fact, nicknames are big in Jamaica. A man christened “Zephaniah,” for example, might have been called “Randy” since childhood, and that name sticks. Usually only family members and close friends know the childhood nicknames, obviously. But the wanted men’s nicknames are more “street names” – those that they are known by in the community – and often their friends and neighbors have never known their real names.
- If someone says “Good night” to you at seven o’clock in the evening, it does not mean you are all about to go to bed. It is a greeting.
- No self-respecting PR event is complete without the presence of at least one ever-smiling beauty queen, posing and getting lots of photo-ops.
- Every radio and television ad includes a song extolling the virtues of canned sausage, for example. A soulful female will sing passionately – even romantically – about a soft drink or an insurance plan.
- When you hear a cacophony of car horns; but you must translate them. A sharp toot can mean “I am waiting for you to turn out of your wretched front gate, get on with it,”; a gentle toot and flutter of the hand means “thank you,” when you give way to another vehicle; and of course cab drivers have a language all their own – mostly consisting of angry blasts, one arm hanging out of the window that is used to convey the level of impatience; and of course, the bad language, which usually has something to do with a piece of material. My advice: Smile sweetly, and think of something very beautiful.
- When, as soon as you enter a government office, you are told to sit down, immediately.
- Water is always referred to as “the precious commodity.” ”People” become “persons.”
- While browsing the morning newspapers, you will be startled to read headlines such as “My penis is too large.”
- At least two types of chicken are on every menu. And, by the way, there is a packaged soup called “Cock Soup.” Visiting English friends shrieked with laughter when they saw this, and took several packets home to give to their friends.
- When someone enters your yard during mango season, their immediate instinct is to look up at the trees. It’s a sort of knee-jerk – or rather, neck-jerk – reaction.
- When you see people wearing hoodies when the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrrr!
- When phrases such as “soon come,” “not far,” “a few chains down the road,” “I’m on my way,” “be there in five minutes,” etc. need to be approached with caution. Measurements of time and distance are very elastic…
- When, almost everywhere you go, you look up and see green hills or folded mountains on the horizon, with clouds piled up on them; or look down, and see the Caribbean Sea, glittering in the sun.
I think that’s fifteen! Please feel free to send me your own contributions…
- What Is Driving Jamaica’s Solar Growth? (solarfeeds.com)
- Skatalites’ bassist Lloyd Brevett dies in Jamaica at 80 (thegrio.com)
- I Like Goats (journey4mj.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica moving to reduce energy costs (caribbean360.com)
- Mystic Bowie’s “Sweet Jamaica” Celebrates Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary (repeatingislands.com)
- The Harder They Come showcased Jamaica’s culture (repeatingislands.com)
- Jamaica! (about.me)
- Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- In Praise of Jamaica and Jamaican Politicians on World Press Freedom Day (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 could make or break Lisa Hanna. Which will it be? (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Veggie Jamaican Patties at Jamaica Kitchen in South Miami, FL (vegontherun.com)
The Petchary was recently kindly invited to a film show at the Canadian High Commission. The film was called “The Mighty Jerome,” and was selected to recognize Black History Month. (Now, Jamaicans too recognize – or half-recognize – this month. Paying lip service to the need to understand one’s roots. Commenting sourly, “But it’s an American thing, and we don’t need to celebrate it,” or “Of course, it’s the shortest month of the year” – without understanding that February was chosen – by an African American – because it included the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. But all that is for another discussion).
Anyway, back to the film. I had, I confess, never heard of Harry Jerome, the subject of this subtle and complex documentary – all in black and white, until the final scene or two. But then, I have not heard of many athletes, as it is not an area that has really got me excited. These runners and jumpers are interesting, though, in a physical sense. These days, they have powerful chests and pumped-up shoulders from all those gym workouts, but in Jerome’s day this was not done. They were muscular but skinny – not a bulging bicep in evidence. Although Jerome, when he was rehabilitating himself after a terrible injury that almost wrecked his career, did start using weights and was one of the first athletes to do so. The weight room at the University of Oregon, which nurtured his talents, is named after him.
Let’s put Mr. Jerome in context. He was born in the war years (1940) in Saskatchewan and at age eighteen broke the Canadian record for the 220-yard sprint (don’t ask me what that is in meters – 200??) But it was never smooth sailing (or rather, running) for Harry. Injuries forced him to pull out of a couple of very important races, and the media – who had built him up as Canada’s Great Black Hope for athletics – started calling him a “quitter.” The headlines then were fairly cruel. As we have seen many times, the young head that wears the surprisingly flimsy crown of fame is not necessarily comfortable wearing it. He had novelty value, but of course also wore another very heavy cloak – that of racism – that was very hard to shrug off. Some of his critics seemed almost to take pleasure in wrenching him from his pedestal, having pushed him up onto it in the first place.
Harry married a white girl, and they encountered considerable hostility as a result (as is normally the case, she was more reviled than he, and being a woman didn’t help – it never does). His wife’s commentary throughout the film is honest, wry and regretful, spoken with a half-smile (they divorced, it was suggested, because Harry could not resist the pressure of adoring girl fans. Such is fame). Their daughter also spoke at length, and without sentimentality, but described him as a good, if distant father.
But it was Harry’s mother’s remarks that struck me, spoken rather creakily and with an odd accent. She talked about her son’s marriage, and his personal troubles, with sharp clarity and a certain amount of irony. If she had spoken throughout the documentary, we would probably have learnt much more about Harry, who appears in all the footage permanently surrounded by clean-cut white Canadians of all ages (except for one photograph of him chatting with the ever-ebullient Muhammad Ali (maybe he was still Cassius Clay, at the time). Unlike the Black Power, fist-raising American athletes of the era, their Canadian counterpart appeared rather diffident, self-conscious and not in the least assertive. When interviewed about his more militant rivals across the border, he appeared ambivalent. In a rather extraordinary Canadian TV interview, he was even challenged by a white Canadian fellow athlete, who was unable to understand why Harry did not take his cue, and start a one-man civil rights campaign in Canada. Harry backed off.
His mother pointed out that Americans were always much more “up front” than African Canadians, who were more hesitant to join the fray. But that was not to say that racism was not prevalent among the black and white suburban homes of Vancouver and beyond. It was there, all right, said Mom. It was just that “in Canada, these things are more…hush-hush.”
Well, Harry became a hero again, competing in three Olympic games in the 1960s and winning a bronze for Canada in 1964, having recovered from injury. He was incredibly determined, gritted his teeth, learned to walk and then run again, triumphed over adversity. He received national honors and a Canadian sports award is named after him. He has been “immortalized” in media parlance. Sadly, he died very suddenly from a brain aneurism at the age of 42.
Black History Month is all about chronicling the struggles and achievements of black men and women, the world over (although in Jamaica and elsewhere, black Africans seem to get little attention). This film was another illustration of this struggle. Harry was portrayed as a somewhat flawed character – well, who is perfect? But his remarkable determination after a major, difficult and ground-breaking surgery – the big muscle at the front of his leg literally tore in two – was awe-inspiring.
However, another part of the film resonated with me, at a deeper level. The images of Canada in the 1960′s reminded me a little of the conservative England that I grew up in – the England of my parents, when everyone wore a hat and no one wore jeans or T shirts as a matter of course, and people smiled politely, laughed simultaneously, slicked their hair back and hid their true feelings.
But England in the later 60s was changing rapidly. I got the feeling that Canada, perhaps like many of the former colonies, took a while to catch up.
It seems like another world; and tall, dark Harry sped through it. The fastest man in the world in 1960, and then gone.