OK, so now our fifty years are behind us, Jamaica. What of the next fifty years? For the remainder of the year, this blog is planning to focus on a regular basis on our youth. In case the (mostly) old men currently governing our country did not realize, we must hand over the future of Jamaica to our young people. Our next fifty years belong to them.
Listen to them. Engage them. Empower them. Let them create our future. Trust them!
I am starting with a speech by Jamaican youth advocate Jaevion Nelson, who is speaking in the context of HIV/AIDS. Jaevion is a great role model and an example of how our bright Jamaican young people can really make a difference – through their words and actions. More to come in future blog posts!
Speech by Jaevion Nelson, Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, delivered at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. during a Regional Session on Sustainability and HIV.
- Adolescents map HIV risks, part of a holistic approach to treating HIV/AIDS in Haiti. (zedie.wordpress.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/listen-to-the-youth-no-stop-really-listen-please/ (Listen to the youth: Petchary’s blog April 28, 2012)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/african-postman-the-mandela-connection-and-our-children/ (Mandela and our Children: Petchary’s blog July 27, 2012)
- Young People Navigate Relationships, Romance and HIV (voanews.com)
- Youth Want Voice at AIDS 2012 (voanews.com)
- As global AIDS conference gets under way, Jamaican activists seek more robust focus (miamiherald.com)
- CHC Career Profile: Orain Edwards, Jamaica (caribbeanhealth.org)
- Teenagers living with HIV show what life’s like in their shoes (guardian.co.uk)
- HIV awareness ‘dropped off radar’ (bbc.co.uk)
- HIV And Young Black Gay Men: New Study Shows Group To Be Most At Risk (huffingtonpost.com)
On Wednesday morning, just as the rush hour traffic was building up about five minutes away from our house, two dead bodies were found on a scruffy open lot – one of those that is fenced, but does not really keep people out. One man was lying on his back, the other face down with a huge gash in his forehead a few feet away. Someone had attacked them with a machete, and had injured a third man, who reportedly alerted the police. Out came that familiar yellow tape. A long row of curious people lined up along the median in the middle of the road, arms folded, faces glum or completely devoid of expression.
At the time that I am writing this blog, the men had not been identified. They were non-people. No names except two nicknames, Avatar and Jermaine. But we soon realized that these were, in fact, two of those nameless, helpless young men who trail up and down the relatively well-heeled streets of New Kingston in small, bedraggled groups. They are commercial sex workers, they are gay, they are drug addicts, they are homeless; they are in one, two, three or all four of these categories. They may suffer from HIV/AIDS; they may suffer from mental illness.
They are human beings.
Some Jamaicans, it seems, do not see them as human. First, they dehumanize these groups; after that, it is that much easier to persecute them. Just as Hitler did with the Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and black people. They are not like you and I; they are subhuman, these Jamaicans believe. They are raped, they are beaten, they are chased away. They hide in the corners of these open lots, where the grass is high, and live with the rats and scrawny street dogs, in the open air. They hide there until someone finds out where they are living, and chases them away, or calls the police, or worse. In this case, worse.
One early media report suggested that the young men may have died because of a lovers’ quarrel. This is a common way of explaining away homophobic murders in Jamaica. Once it is established that the victim is gay, it is put out there (with the media complicit in much of this) that “Oh, you know, gays get very jealous and they are very violent by nature, and this was a love affair gone bad.” They enjoy as many lurid details as they can get their hands on – whether backed up by any facts it doesn’t matter too much. I don’t really see how two men can hack and stone each other to death; these are the preferred instruments of mob killers.
Well, a man is reportedly in custody, and in this case we shall see what explanation there is. But nothing will change. This drifting population of the homeless, the helpless, the marginalized will continue on its weary way, hiding where it can, begging for help where it dares.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) put out a statement today, noting that there have been eight gay murders in the past three months. But listen, does anybody care? No, most Jamaicans are obsessed with politics, with the corrupt and conniving political parties, with taxes, the inflation rate (just on the rise), with the Jamaican Dollar (now slipping), with fashion shows and parties and scandals and online porn and church meetings. Defenders of the Jamaican citizen’s right to life, dignity and respect are seen as whining, or they have a political agenda, or they are trying to drag society down into the mire of a kind of “free for all,” liberal society such as that espoused by President Barack Obama (yes,it is ironic that Jamaicans all profess to support President Obama; but they would never support his policies – if U.S. political parties were . It is the opposite.
If we cannot care for the weakest among us, we are not a civilized society. I could quote some Bible verse from the New Testament for the Christians among us; but I certainly do recall that Jesus sat down by the roadside and talked to prostitutes and others who were considered beyond the pale by the “upright citizens” of society in those days. Am I correct, or not? My husband has witnessed with his own eyes people coming out of church and stepping over and around a man lying on the sidewalk; he was having a fit. Here in “one love” Jamaica.
Meanwhile, there are other horrors, incredible grief, mourning and inconsolable loss. A teacher and the daughter of a Trinidadian Mayor is missing; two farmers found a charred body in a cane field, but it has not yet been identified. That is the high-profile crime story, but there are many others, week after week after week. For example:
- Hundreds of children have been missing since last year; an advocacy group, Hear the Children’s Cry puts out weekly lists and photographs.
- A night club owner was shot dead while playing dominoes outside his club in Montego Bay. An evening game of dominoes with friends is a dangerous occupation, these days.
- A former Kiwanis Club president and Jamaica Defence Force Major was found murdered at his home recently.
- Daily reports of middle-aged men molesting young family members or other young people – nine-year-old girls, a three year-old sexually abused and murdered, etc.
- A man stabbed a woman to death during an argument in the quiet Blue Mountains, nearly decapitating her. It hardly made a headline anywhere, just a quick news item, move on…
- The numerous deaths of young men in inner-city communities, mostly unsolved.
- The deaths of many Jamaican citizens (mostly the above-mentioned young men in inner-city communities) at the hands of the police force, agents of the State.
- http://www.jflag.org/2012/06/gays-saddened-by-recent-murders-call-on-prime-minister-to-act/: J-FLAG press release
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/where-are-they-now/: Jamaica’s missing children
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/innocence-and-loss/: Innocence and loss
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/: Rights and Wrongs
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/: Jamaicans for Justice website
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3444: Too many still dying at the hands of the police
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican Women Write! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 – the dark side (repeatingislands.com)
- Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bodies-of-two-men-found-in-New-Kingston_11695979: Bodies of two men found in New Kingston
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-community–saddened–by-recent-murders: Gay community saddened by recent murders
- Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican cop charged with beheading witness in corruption probe (theprovince.com)
- Reflections on being homeless, Part 3 (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Vulnerable groups claim being denied EU funding (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
- http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=37867#.T9oj7SoiOtI.facebook: HIV positive man arrested for allegedly raping daughter’s friend
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com) – a very important article by Jamaican youth activist Jaevion Nelson
Last week, all was to be revealed in the overdue Budget, which was tabled in the Lower House on Thursday. But before we got to that, the week opened with a stunner.
Mr. David Smith is a Jamaican now serving a few years behind bars in the Turks & Caicos Islands, after being found guilty of cheating thousands of Jamaicans, Americans and others of their hard-earned cash (at least US$220 million) through his “unregistered financial scheme,” Olint, which offered fantastically high rates of interest rates. The already-rich and powerful, and others less so, initially benefited; but like all Ponzi schemes, inevitably, Olint collapsed. After a relatively short stint in the Caribbean, Mr. Smith will move for a considerably longer period to a prison in the United States, where he was indicted on 23 charges of wire fraud and money laundering last summer. Meanwhile, he has informed prosecutors that he donated money to both Jamaican political parties as well as some individuals. Confiscation orders have been issued in the Turks & Caicos; these are now regarded as “tainted gifts”. The ruling People’s National Party (US$1.3 million) has prevaricated somewhat, saying it has no record of such a payment, but will look into it. Former People’s National Party Prime Minister PJ Patterson (US$1 million) speedily denied receiving any such thing. The Jamaica Labour Party (US$5 million) conceded that it did receive money from Smith/Olint, but is not sure if it was that much. Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz (US$50,000) said yes, he did receive money but called it a “political contribution to the constituency.” A fellow party member, political candidate Sally Porteous (US$100,000) has also been candid. All this was prior to the 2007 general elections, by the way, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith were welcome guests at top-class cocktail parties across the island, and appeared in the newspapers almost every day in a highly positive light.
How times have changed. And we shall wait and see.
As for the budget itself, which increased by fourteen per cent, debt repayments took the lion’s share as expected. Finance Minister Peter Phillips, who returned from an important trip to Washington, DC recently, had already warned us to make “sacrifices.” Is this the “bitter medicine” of which former Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke just a few months ago? Sounds like it to me. Painfully, justice, education, national security and health all took cuts. What could be more important than these?
Another piece of news, this time from overseas stunned the Jamaican public last week: President Obama’s quiet declaration in an interview that his views on same-sex marriage have evolved to the point that he can now affirm his support for it. The reaction in Jamaica was largely negative, judging from comments on radio talk shows and letters to the Editor; although I think some quietly applauded his courage in breaking new ground. On radio, Ms. Gloudon had to fend off one or two bullying fundamentalists, one of whom accused her of being “sympathetic” to the gay rights cause because she had the absolute nerve to say that we should at least listen to others’ point of view on such matters. For those in religious straitjackets, I would suggest they consider phrases from the New Testament such as “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Or, perhaps, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” I am more than ever convinced that if Jamaicans were to vote on issues (which of course they don’t) and had to choose between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they would choose the former, despite their declared love for “America’s first black President” as the local media call him. I like the way Canada-based columnist Keeble McFarlane describes President Obama’s declaration: “A declaration of simple humanity.” Or as a Jamaican mother would say, “‘Im is somebody pickney too!”
By the way, I wonder how the Queen’s representative and Governor General felt while reading out the 2012/13 Throne Speech in Parliament on Budget Day? He calmly announced that a priority of the Jamaican Government is to basically abolish him, and to establish Jamaica as a Republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. No more Queenie, whom our Prime Minister has already described as a “wonderful lady,” but… The other priority is to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final Court of Appeal. One expects these two issues to be up there in flashing neon lights for the remainder of this year, and perhaps beyond, generating much political heat and noise. Will either of these developments, which the politicians appear quite excited about, impact the quality of life for Jamaicans in any way? I can’t answer that question. Let us see.
The third Friday of May – starting next week – will be National Children’s Day. Our Queen’s representative (for now), Governor General Sir Patrick Allen made this proclamation last week. The National Child Month Committee’s Dr. Pauline Mullings would like to see the day treated like Mother’s and Father’s Day. Any day for children is welcome – so balloons, sugar cakes and melting ice-cream treats are in order on May 18.
One hundred and sixty-seven years ago (on May 12, 1845) the first group of East Indian indentured laborers arrived at Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine. Their descendants, whom you can often meet in rural and sugar-growing areas of the island, celebrated Indian Arrival Day in the pouring rain last Sunday at Chedwin Park. A great deal of roti was consumed and delegations from Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and United Kingdom mingled with the locals. Well done, Dr. Winston Tolan of the National Council for Indian Culture for keeping this important part of Jamaican heritage alive. As he noted, ”We are Jamaicans first and foremost.”
Concerns: The third murder trial of Milton “Tony” Welsh, a known People’s National Party activist, was rescheduled last Monday and postponed until November 19 – for another six months! – just because the courtroom where it was scheduled to be held was being used. His $3.5 million bail was extended. His previous two trials ended in a “hung” jury. Charges will be dismissed if this happens again. Welsh is charged with the murder of 21-year-old Damion Hussey following a PNP rally in Golden Spring in January 2006. Will Mr. Welsh or the family of Mr. Hussey ever see justice done? Is this justice?
I don’t understand the people who write newspaper headlines. Why are they so often off the mark? Do they actually read the article itself? A small but irritating example came up in the entertainment pages of Monday’s “Gleaner.” The article, about an American band called The Dubplates, was headlined “Converting California” to their sound system-type music. The article described the band as “California-based,” then proceeded to quote a band member, who spoke at length about the challenges of being a dancehall/reggae band in South Carolina, the city of Charleston, etc. Is this sheer carelessness on the part of the writer, the headline writer, or both? I don’t know why these things annoy me so much. But they just do.
A couple of days after Teachers Day, a female high school student attacked a guidance counselor at Yallahs High School in St. Thomas, because she claimed he “didn’t like her.” Teachers work so hard in difficult conditions, and the children who come through the school gates in the morning bring with them a multitude of unknown grievances, psychological hurt and sadness. I heard Ms. Barbara Gloudon talking to a representative of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Ms. Ena Barclay, a marvelous primary school teacher, on her “Hot Line” program this week. Ms. Barclay reminded us that these deprived and needy children need love – at home and in the society. Many of them are getting precious little of that – why is it in such short supply? Anyway, kudos to the JTA for organizing a professional development seminar – and for Read Across Jamaica Day, an annual event which brings much happiness and pleasure. And talking about teachers…
A huge pat on the back to Ms. Jean Porter, Principal of Denbigh High School, for her sterling work since 2008, when she took over from Ms. Joan Wint who had served there for 23 years. I remember visiting Denbigh High a few years ago, and being very impressed by Ms. Wint’s stern focus on academic achievement, and by the atmosphere of concentration at the school. Ms. Porter credits the school’s success (it is one of the top ten high schools in Jamaica based on Caribbean Examinations Council results) to team work.
Other bouquets to be handed out to…
Jamaica’s lanky female hurdlers, Ms. Melaine Walker and Ms. Brigitte Foster-Hylton on their gold medals; to Mr. Asafa Powell, Ms. Kaliese Spencer and Ms. Veronica Campbell-Brown for their Silver medals; and to Mr. Lerone Clarke and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce for their Bronze medals, at the high-profile Diamond League athletics meet on Friday. I hope I haven’t missed anyone out. Congratulations also to U.S. athletes Justin Gatlin and Alyson Felix. It is only 75 days until the London Olympics begin, and Jamaican athletes are flexing their muscles and feeling the pressure. I wrote about this in my blog earlier this week; they are doing their best, working hard. Let us support them, even if they “lose” some races (by “lose” I mean winning a Silver or Bronze medal).
I loved the Gleaner’s special supplement this week – Trailblazers in Medical Sciences. This included a special feature on the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, founded by a British doctor of the same name in 1954 to deal with a terrible outbreak of poliomyelitis. It now helps children with cerebral palsy, adults with spinal cord injuries, and others. Brave and unrelenting work.
May I express my simple support for Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count, who has energetically taken up the bat for the education and stimulation of our young children; and for Ms. Maia Chung, mother of an autistic son, who set up the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation four years ago to lobby for and support Jamaica’s autistic children. The Foundation is now struggling and Maia has had to curtail outreach activities. She needs help and financial support! I am in awe of these two women – both of them an “army of one.” I wish for them every success in the world.
Another Jamaican, Philip Liu, founded Angels of Love about two and a half years ago. He works with the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, having adopted one of its wards. Kingstonians, next time you are at the Brick Oven buying cakes, at Cafe Blue indulging in your favorite cuppa, or at Little Tokyo for some sushi…remember to drop some change in their collection box. And they would welcome volunteers, too!
And Mr. Ricardo Williams, one unemployed youth who sought a solution in adversity. He has opened an Internet cafe in the troubled area of March Pen, Spanish Town. Ricardo graduated high school six years ago with one subject – Information Technology. He has one computer, the use of which he rents out for a small fee. Can someone donate some more computers? Read more about Ricardo’s efforts at the link below…
One online comment struck me this week: ”Jamaica can be a very “cold” place. If you are young, old or disabled in Jamaica you are in deep trouble. If you are young and also disabled, may the good Lord help you.”
Why bother: If I see one more full-page photo spread of politicians arriving at Parliament for the Throne Speech, dressed up to the nines, I will rip up the newspaper. The men were, according to the newspapers, “dapper,” “spiffy,” and “dashing.” The women were “stunning,” “stylish,” and and so on. The poor Mayor of Kingston, refusing to join the fashion parade, was severely criticized for wearing a perfectly normal outfit, rather than a designer ensemble. I am, quite frankly, much more concerned about the politicians’ work in Parliament – on behalf of the people – than I am in whether Senator so-and-so was wearing Dior, Escada or whatever. Please, no more!
I’m sorry to end on a sad note…. My condolences to the families of…
Senior Superintendent Dayton Henry, who headed the Clarendon Police Division. I met him once, and was struck by his open, candid disposition and his round-eyed, friendly face. SSP Henry died suddenly, and I know his colleagues are still in shock. Not only was he an efficient policeman, who helped to bring down crime levels in the parish – but he was also a kind-hearted man who supported many community projects.
…and of eleven-year-old Ricardo Dove, who was shot dead while sleeping in bed at his home in Bethel Town, Westmoreland. ”It would have been better if they had killed me,” said his father Robert, who was home at the time and found his son’s body soon after gunshots rang out. My heart goes out to you Mr. Dove, and to the family. Why?
And so the week comes to an end, as early summer starts to stoke up hot clouds in the sky. Hurricane season is a few weeks away…
Have a great week!
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120508/lead/lead1.html: Big Olint handouts
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Political-intentions-and-tainted-money_11433253: Column by Mark Wignal, Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100822/lead/lead2.html: Oh God! Oh no! Olint!
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
Claim Says Jamaica Crook Funded Political Parties (abcnews.go.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120510/lead/lead7.html: Phillips urges Jamaicans to prepare to make sacrifices
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120512/news/news42.html: Indian Arrival Day observed at Chedwin Park
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120509/lead/lead4.html Bethel Town child murdered in his sleep
Angels of Love http://angelsofloveja.org/
Crayons Count http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount
[Note to my faithful readers, wherever you are: The Petchary has been weary of late, and folded her feathers for a while. This is the first flutter, though... Coming back to life, slowly].
A word about sweetness. It does not come naturally to many people, because, perhaps, it’s not something that’s valued and it’s a silly, trivial thing. The Petchary has no recollection of her beloved grandfather ever smiling, for example. He just didn’t see the need to. But he must have been charming when he proposed to her beautiful grandmother… Or was he restrained and careful in that British way?
But I digress. What is the essence of sweetness in a human being, as opposed to a cupcake, a rose, a small puppy? It is all about a gentle quality, a kindness, a connection.
And what is inspiration? Breathing in, of course, literally and metaphorically. Holding in that sweetness, then slowly letting go. If you really have to.
There are two things which, in the Petchary’s book, are sweetness and inspiration combined: good music, and the people who play that good music.
Such is Brent Birckhead, a saxophonist with jazz as his first love, and music slipping off his fingertips.
Sweetness comes more naturally (if it comes at all), in young people, and Brent is only twenty-five years old. It all flows naturally with him, along with the inspiration. And the two merged into a deliciously rich and nourishing river of goodness, like the Blue and the White Nile, at a workshop at the Jamaica School of Music in Kingston, Jamaica last week. The youthful participants bathed in that river of delicious jazz, swam in it, splashed around happily. Several dived straight in, emerging refreshed at the end of two hours of teaching, collaboration and learning.
I use the image of the two Niles merging advisedly, since that majestic waterway is the longest river in Africa. As Brent said at the workshop, “Any time we go back where we came from, it’s a good thing.” When asked what he thought about reggae music, he commented, as if everyone must understand this, “It’s all linked. It’s all African music.” (He also described reggae music as “off the hook,” an expression the ageing Petchary had never heard before, but it sounded like a compliment). He told the young Jamaicans present about Congo Square in New Orleans, the African wellspring of jazz. He told them about how jazz moved northwards to Chicago and Kansas City, and the flourishing of the music in New York City.
Brent was born in 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland. He told his new young friends that parental support was critical for him. His parents matched every dollar he saved with one of their own. And when his passion for the saxophone became clear, his grandfather bought him one from a pawn shop. So he took on the instrument at age ten, and clearly never looked back for one second. He has a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Howard University and just got his master’s in Jazz Studies. He lives in Washington, DC, and was named best blues/pop/rock soloist by the illustrious Downbeat magazine as part of its 33rd annual Student Awards.
The most important thing about Brent is his spiritual connection to the music – “You must have the feeling,” he said. Sheldon Griffiths’ eloquent trumpet version of “No Woman No Cry” had the feeling. So did his friend Jesse Jones on saxophone. Both are from the gritty inner-city area of Seaview Gardens in Kingston, with so much focus and steel in their eyes and a gentle strength in their playing. Both played the evening after the workshop at the U.S. Embassy-sponsored “Blues on the Green” concert in Kingston’s Emancipation Park with Brent, in the finale – “One Love.” The feelings flowed all around.
Another young Jamaican who grasped that feeling and shook it around quite a bit was a girl saxophonist from the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force Band and Drums. She played fiercely and without flinching, leaning back with eyes closed with the jazz player’s stance. Standing among a group of about fifteen young men and Brent on stage, her spirit rose with every note she played.
Back to inspiration again. Jamaicans do love a vote of thanks. It’s a (sometimes) short and (often) overly formal speech at the end of an event; a bit like a version of the Oscars thank you speech where you dare not leave anyone out – and including the bit about thanking God, too. That “giving thanks” is so important here on this island. And I mean that sincerely.
But no fancy speechifying for our girl saxophonist. She got straight to the point. ”You have inspired me,” she said, adding with great emphasis, “Believe me… One day I will be the best.”
As if taking his cue, Brent told the shining and satisfied faces of young instrumentalists from the Sam Sharpe Community Band in Montego Bay, Charlemont High School in Clarendon, all over Kingston, St. Jago High School in Spanish Town, “Music can save your life…and inspire your life.”
“Saving” is something Brent spoke a lot about. The kids understood that in a split second. Music, indeed, can and does save lives in the frayed, undone environment that is Kingston’s inner city. And, for that matter, in rural Jamaica, too. ”Music saved my life” may sound far-fetched, even whimsical and pretentious. But not for these young men and women. It is, literally, true.
And the other stream of consciousness that flowed through the workshop was, as noted earlier… “I must go back to my roots… Spend time,” Brent urged, “Spend time going back.” African-ness.
Yes, Brent may well be an old soul – that sweetness and kindness and maturity is of one who has gone before. (The Petchary thinks – knows – she is a newish one herself). And his music stands shining above it all.
“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Yes, Friedrich Nietzsche said that. Truly.
[My next post on Mr. Birckhead will be much shorter and with more photos. And hey, Maurice Gordon is a supportive and brilliant musician himself. More next time]
Mining the Audio Motherlode, Volume 94 (wfmu.org)