Today is Malcolm X’s birthday; he would have been 88 years old. Tragically, his young grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, was murdered on May 9 at a Mexico City nightclub. But here’s a little Caribbean connection: Malcolm X’s mother Louise was born in Grenada - but she had a very sad life, too.
Well, with that useful and important fact stored away, let’s look at the last few days in Jamaica…
The voice of morality: Our pious Minister of Education, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, told Parliament this week that he is not going to allow young Jamaican students to be “groomed” towards homosexuality (demonstrating his own mistaken beliefs on the subject); and that although he approves of (the right kind of) sex education, condoms in schools are out. None of us were surprised at this, were we – after all, the Minister’s Catholic faith strongly influences his prescriptions for our youth. The television program All Angles confronted the issue of condoms in schools last week with youth activist/commentator Jaevion Nelson, retired school principal Esther Tyson and the head of the guidance counseling association. The latter two both toed the Minister’s line as expected; were confused by the statistics Mr. Nelson produced to strengthen his case for contraceptive assistance in schools; and clumsily tried to catch him out, once or twice.
But a big, big silver lining: The same Minister folded his hands, turned his eyes to heaven and announced a change in government policy towards pregnant teens in school. Amendments to the Education Act and Regulations attached thereto will ensure that schools will keep open a space for a child who has had to leave due to pregnancy, so that she may continue her education afterwards. Huge kudos to Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith for her strong lobbying on this issue; and to the Minister for seeing the sense and fairness of it. The Minister also announced a couple of pending measures that have ruffled the feathers of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association; more on that, probably, later. I don’t always agree with our overly preachy Minister; but at least he is trying to right some of the hundreds of wrongs afflicting our education system, one by one. He has some tricky issues to tackle, indeed.
“I’m so frustrated by this experience”: A quote from CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company Kelly Tomblin on the seemingly very long and slow deliberations by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) on who should receive the contract for a new 350 mw power plant. I can imagine how she feels. I often fail to see whether government agencies like the OUR, the Bureau of Standards (of toilet tissue infamy), the Urban Development Corporation and others do any good for the Jamaican people. I guess they provide jobs. How else do they serve our interests?
The truth is swimming away: In an enlightening radio interview with a frequently stuttering Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies on Thursday morning, it transpired that Davies’ junior minister Richard Azan told him two different stories about whether or not he knew that rental money was being collected at his (Azan’s) own constituency office for illegally constructed shops. There actually appear to be three different versions of this conversation, all aired on broadcast media. However, clearly Minister Davies seems to think that his junior minister means well, even if he has broken the law. He is eager to do good in the community, so let’s “give him a bligh,” nuh. The grammatically challenged Junior Minister had told Nationwide in an earlier interview, “Yes, I make a mistake for building the shops” (sic). But saying “My bad” sometimes has consequences, right?
This is a true patriot, Rev. Redwood: As I noted in my last blog post, the now-departed-on-a-jet-plane Senate President Reverend Stanley Redwood only dug a deeper hole for himself by responding to the cutting criticism of a Gleaner column in a letter to the newspaper. He actually called himself a patriotic Jamaican. The acerbic columnist Gordon Robinson today gives us a better idea of a patriotic Jamaican – one who has no choice but to struggle through our ramshackle health, justice and education systems with no special privileges, but who tries to help his fellow Jamaicans and ensure his family thrives.
Fresh face: Members of the 51% Coalition (including myself) are delighted at the appointment of a young attorney-at-law, Sophia Frazer-Binns. Great to see another woman in the Senate, and we look forward to her contribution. We note also that Ms. Frazer-Binns has some experience of working with youth. Good, too.
Two key meetings: J-FLAG and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) had two key meetings this week: in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, J-FLAG held a forum on homelessness and forced migration among the LGBT population; and the JCSC launched two publications arising from its lengthy series of consultations with communities on “People Participation in the National Budget Making Process.” Congratulations to both organizations for their efforts to keep seeking solutions to some of Jamaican society’s most intractable problems. I will be writing more on these meetings in the next week – in particular, on the “disconnects” between Jamaicans and Jamaicans. Need to overcome these…
Rooting for the children: Huge big-ups to the JN Foundation for providing desperately-needed funding for the Spanish Town-based non-governmental organization Children First. I had the honor of working with this organization on several occasions and have always been impressed by founder Claudette Richardson-Pious’ deep understanding of and clear-eyed focus on the complex and difficult lives of youth at risk. Since it is still Child Month, here are two other individuals who are quietly working on behalf of children: Deika Morrison of Crayons Count; and youth advocate Kemesha Kelly, who works with young people in St. Ann. Great role models.
Collecting: And Help JA Children, the lobby group formed one year ago, is busy collecting items for children in state care this month. Take your food, toiletries, clothes, books, magazines and other goodies to Kia Motors c/o HJC, 2 Chelsea Ave, Kgn 10. Tel: 920-5000. It will be hugely appreciated!
Kudos to Vaz: It’s Labour Day on Wednesday, when people undertake all kinds of tasks to make life better for their fellow-Jamaicans. One of former Prime Minister Michael Manley‘s better ideas, I think. Across the island, the infirmaries that are funded by local parish councils are in a terrible state of repair – often colonial-era buildings that have seen much better days. Now, a couple of months ago Member of Parliament for East Portland Daryl Vaz announced that he was going to give up five per cent of his salary, as a gesture of sacrifice in these tough times. He was praised in a half-hearted way by some. But now he has met with Port Antonio’s Mayor and decided the money he gives up will be earmarked for the Portland Infirmary, which is in a bad state. I really do like this. Did any other political representative follow Mr. Vaz’ example? I think not…
A waste of space: I am sometimes baffled by the sheer inanity and trivia that gets published in the newspapers each week. The random thoughts of commentators with nothing meaningful to say; the grinning men and women with wineglasses in their hands at an uptown party; yet another PR piece about some reggae/dancehall singer who is “making waves” overseas (playing in tiny clubs in the suburbs of big cities). If it’s online, at least with a click you can forget/delete it. But good trees are chopped down for this worthless nonsense.
Jamaican bloggers, sharpen your keyboards! Wednesday, May 23 – the third anniversary of the Tivoli Gardens Massacre – is Jamaica Blog Day, a “Day of Action for Jamaican bloggers on police and security force abuses.” The great little (growing) blogging community on the island, including myself, will be researching and writing and photographing on this subject. It’s going to be meaningful stuff. Do read and support our bloggers!
Coming up fast and not to be missed! The Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology will hold its 2013 Conference on Global Health in Montego Bay from May 24-27. It is open to the public. Important themes covered will be: Public Policy, Law and Economics in healthcare; Public Health and the Impact of Technology and Social Media; Emerging & Reemerging Infectious Diseases; Education, Sport and Wellness; Environmental Health (Global water supply & safety, Climate Change, Urban planning, engineering); and Human Sexuality. Visit the conference website at
And while I’m at it, big shout-out to all the fabulous Jamaican Fulbrighters (including Marcia Forbes, who will be presenting at the conference)… You make us proud!
I am relieved that the week, which started off so badly with homicides, has ended (hopefully) on a more peaceful note. However, my sympathies go out to the families and friends of Kenneth Kerr and Abasco Foster, who are grieving at this time. I hope that Mr. Foster’s companion recovers from serious injuries.
Kenneth Kerr, 54, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Abasco Foster, 27, George’s Plain, Westmoreland
Related articles/links and local blogs in purple:
Economy contracts in March quarter: Gleaner
Kelly speaks her mind: Urges speedy decision on new power supplier: Sunday Gleaner
Stadium built with Chinese money in ruins: Sunday Observer
Jamaica: Three years on, state of emergency still an open wound: Amnesty International
”Act on Tivoli”: Gleaner
The methods of war have failed: Claude Clarke column/Sunday Gleaner
INDECOM needs more power: Letter of the Day/Gleaner
Cops to be charged for schoolgirl’s murder: Gleaner
Cop dodges court as DNA shatters lie: Jamaica Observer
Senate elects first visually impaired President: Jamaica Information Service
Attorney-at-law appointed to the Senate: Jamaica Information Service
Contribution to 2013 Sectoral Debate: Mikael Phillips, MP: Jamaica Information Service
Of patriots and sellouts: Gordon Robinson column/Sunday Gleaner
Saying goodbye and diaspora relations: Christopher Tufton op-ed/Sunday Gleaner
”Jamaica not grooming students for same sex unions, marriage is between a man and a woman”: chatychaty.com
Teen mothers to be reintegrated in school system: RJR News
The little wine that hurt somebody; or, soca and the bad-behaving gays of Jamaica: Under the Saltire Flag blog
”I give up!” Some parents no longer care about their runaway children: Gleaner
Cruel by choice: Thousands of Jamaican children intentionally injured by adults annually: Sunday Gleaner
Young and loveless: Teenage prostitute pushing for a fresh start: Sunday Gleaner
Condoms in schools: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
Ananda Alert to be displayed on billboards: Gleaner
Rescue for Children First: JN Foundation comes to the assistance of charity set up to help Jamaica’s most needy youths: Sunday Gleaner
Portland infirmary to get Vaz salary cut: Sunday Gleaner
Suspected dengue cases climb to 475, two confirmed deaths: Gleaner
Moneague Primary & Junior High cops LASCO environmental award: Gleaner
Caribbean talks conservation on Branson’s island: AP
Public gets say in Cockpit Country boundary debate: Gleaner
Eleven-year-old escapes croc attack, reptile snatches dog instead: Jamaica Star
KSAC, handcart men agree on registration fee: Gleaner
Balancing the act: Crawford seeks compromise between “want to eat” and “want to sleep”: Sunday Gleaner
An IDAHO State of Mind (petchary.wordpress.com)
May 15, 2013 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Good things happened around the world last week in the name of Mr. Nelson Mandela, former President of the Republic of South Africa, who reached his 94th birthday on July 18, 2012. Born in Mvezo in the Transkei region, his Xhosa given name was Rolihlahla, meaning “stirring up trouble.” Very appropriate. His English teacher named him Nelson (I wonder why), and he was afterwards known by several names: Madiba, his clan name, which is quite an honorific one; Tata, meaning “father,” an affectionate name used by many South Africans; Khulu, or “Great One,” which is also a shortened version of the Xhosa word for “grandfather”; and Dalibhunga, a name given to Xhosa youth after their initiation into manhood at age sixteen,which actually means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue.” Some mighty names, befitting his stature. But his grandchildren probably just call him “Grandpa.”
There are a couple of reasons why Mr. Mandela really moves my heart and mind in a personal way. When I was a student at Oxford University, the apartheid system in South Africa was in full sway. Mr. Mandela had already been in prison for more than ten years on Robben Island, and was to serve many more years. The anti-apartheid movement in the UK, the United States and many other countries was getting up some steam; in the U.S., Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. formed the National African Liberation Support Committee, a coalition between the Congressional Black Caucus and community-based black activist groups. There were regular anti-apartheid marches in London and other towns in the UK, and in Oxford we were also quite militant, staging many protests. In London, I was influenced by Mr. Peter Hain, a white South African whose family were living in self-imposed exile. As head of the Young Liberals, Mr. Hain was an enthusiastic and outspoken opponent of the apartheid system, and I recall intense meetings in his parents’ sprawling living room. Mr. Hain is now Member of Parliament for Neath in South Wales, and I guess maybe he has lost his accent. According to his website, he is an avid fan of Chelsea Football Club; which is most disappointing to me (a die-hard Arsenal fan, in case you didn’t know). And Mr. Hain describes himself on his website as a “libertarian socialist.”
So, when Mr. Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, I thought of Peter and his family. In a birthday message last week, he said, “Nelson Mandela seems to encompass all that is best about us on our best day. He represents democracy, tolerance, humanity, courage, leadership. We would all like to live up to those standards in our everyday life. Very few of us manage to.” Very well put.
Secondly, I recall, with mixed emotions, Mr. Mandela’s visit to Jamaica with his then wife Winnie, just one year after his release. This was a time when he was negotiating with then President F.W. de Klerk for South Africa’s very first inclusive and multi-racial elections (which eventually took place four years later). We all went down to the National Stadium for a rally in the Mandelas’ honor, waiting for many hours for their arrival. This was exactly twenty-one years ago – the visit was July 24-25, 1991. I remember the atmosphere of barely-controlled, chaotic celebration, with members of the crowd continually jumping over the barriers to reach the open-topped car which slowly circulated the stadium. I remember feeling nervous for the Mandelas – and then for the crowd. The hot, still evening – just like this evening – was full of drama and pathos, but also an extraordinary, almost theatrical kind of joy. It was a historic moment, and the weight of it nearly crushed us all. I wish I had photos, but cannot find any.
So, last Wednesday, Jamaica celebrated Nelson Mandela Day, which was inaugurated a few years ago on his birthday. The aim of the day is “to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Ultimately it seeks to empower communities everywhere.” The emphasis is on service to our fellow human beings – one way to create the more just society that Mr. Mandela fought for all his life.
The Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation partnered on the day with the YMCA in Kingston and the non-governmental organization Children First in Spanish Town to provide a health and culture day for at-risk youth. At the YMCA, it was hectic, hot and the children were energetic and engaged. YMCA director Sarah Newland Martin had to be very stern with them, but eventually got them together for devotions, to start the day on the right note. We all got busy after that… Please see a few photos I took with my android phone (the glorious Samsung Galaxy, no less!) – my first real effort to take photos via this medium, and they didn’t come out too badly – though I say so myself.
In the afternoon, I visited the Trench Town Reading Centre, where the summer school was still in full swing. I told the children about Mr. Mandela; he was already President by the time they were born, and unfortunately most had not heard of him. We looked at two or three books about Nelson Mandela in the Centre’s excellent library, and we perused several of these. The children liked the photo above best – of Madiba, in tribal dress.
In the evening, the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice celebrated Nelson Mandela Day in a remarkable and unique way. Again, the focus was on children, and children’s rights – a topic I have addressed several times before in this blog. This was a unique, awareness-raising event. JFJ described its vision for the evening thus: “On Nelson Mandela Day, July 18, you are invited to a 67 minute call to action forum at St. Margaret’s Church Hall commencing at 6pm. Jamaicans for Justice will honour this day by raising awareness about challenges our children in state care face. It is a call for Jamaicans to unite, as we did for Nelson Mandela, and insist that our children be removed from adult prisons and police lockups. In 2009, Nelson Mandela’s birthday was declared by the United Nations as an international day devoted to Nelson Mandela’s life work. On this day, individuals are asked to donate 67 minutes of their time, one minute for every year of Mandela’s service to humanity. The day is a global call to action to inspire individuals to change the world for the better. Mandela Day provides us with the opportunity to allow Jamaicans to do something for our country, in line with Mandela’s vision for a just society. In this the 50th year of our independence, it seems appropriate to use this day to reflect on our children, the future of Jamaica as, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’.” It is very hard to pick two or three photographs from their extraordinary exhibition of photographs of Jamaicans of all ages holding up messages reflecting this theme…but you can find them all on the Jamaicans for Justice Facebook page – “Free our Children” – Nelson Mandela Day photo collection in their photo albums. Support JFJ in their fight for the rights of ALL Jamaicans, in the spirit of Mr. Mandela…!
I am going to close with a quote from Mr. Mandela which so closely relates to the lives of too many of our precious Jamaican children: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Jamaican leaders, Jamaican citizens all, are you listening?
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Peter Hain, M.P.
(JNBS Foundation: Nelson Mandela Day)
(JNBS Foundation Flickr photostream: Resolution Project)
(Jamaica to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day by giving to children – Jamaica Information Service)
(Message from Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
(Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister’s message on Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)