Boys’ Town at 75: Building Human Beings

“We Build.”

This is the motto of Boys’ Town, an institution on Collie Smith Drive, Trench Town that has attained close to legendary status. It has now reached the grand age of seventy-five, and a special event at the Spanish Court Hotel last week recognized this fact. The discussion was lengthy, and yet it seemed much more could have been said. Building a community – and building human beings – is a complex business.

CEO Trevor Spence (left) gave us a fascinating history of Boys' Town. Seated to his right is Christopher Issa. Private sector support for the institution remains strong. (My photo)
CEO Trevor Spence (left) gave us a fascinating history of Boys’ Town. Seated to his right is Christopher Issa. Private sector support for the institution remains strong. (My photo)


We know the name, but what do we know about Boys’ Town’s history? CEO Trevor Spence gave us a wide-ranging talk, seated at a long head table that perhaps reflected the range of activities that Boys’ Town embraces. He took us on a “journey” in time, starting back in 1940, when the Jamaican Government founded the “Kingston Boys Club” as it was then called, along with the Kingston YMCA and the Methodist Church. Its first home was actually the Jones Town Baptist Church; it moved to its current location, on the border between Denham Town and Trench Town, in 1942. At that time, Mr. Spence said, Trench Town consisted of animal pens and poor zinc and board housing. The remainder was “bush.” The children did not want holidays from classes, because that meant they did not get the regular meals provided. During the 1930s, Britain’s colonies in the West Indies were facing deplorable social conditions and labor riots had spread across the region. The establishment of Boys’ Town was in accordance with one of the recommendations of the Moyne Report of 1939 (not published in full until 1945): for more education and training for boys. It was, and remains a great example of what we now call “public-private partnerships,” including the all-important involvement of the surrounding community. Since the 1960s it has also encompassed girls’ education.

Rev. Hugh Sherlock apparently had a terrific sense of humor.
Rev. Hugh Sherlock (1905 – 1998) was born in Portland. He apparently had a terrific sense of humor.

The founding Director, Rev. the Hon. Dr. Hugh Braham Sherlock, O.J., to give him his full title (but he was Father Sherlock” to most) was an inspiration. His primary goals were to create good citizens – or, in his words, “Jamaican gentlemen” – not simply to educate the boys. The core values of Boys’ Town, instilled by Father Sherlock, were a “lack of selfishness” and care for the community.  Among the less visible aspects of Boys’ Town, Mr. Spence told us, were his weekly Bible Study Group and his Sunday School, which continued unbroken over forty years. Boys’ Town was about “producing the best human being,” said Mr. Spence.

Was Boys’ Town established as a reform school? No, it was not. Nor was it residential. Nor was it a community. Yet, in many ways, it was a “home” to the boys. Such was the atmosphere of empowerment.

Boys’ Town has benefited enormously from private sector support. Representatives of the Issa and Facey families were at the anniversary launch, and they have been and remain staunch supporters.

Percival "Percy" Hayles was a boxer coming out of Trench Town, who won the British Commonwealth Lightweight title. He died in a traffic accident in Kingston in 1978, aged 37.
Percival “Percy” Hayles was a boxer coming out of Trench Town, who won the British Commonwealth Lightweight title. He died in a traffic accident in Kingston in 1978, aged 37.

Now, Father Sherlock loved sports. Firstly, cricket was his great love. He later embraced football as it became more popular. He saw it as a way to help the boys’  physical and mental development. This led to the steady growth of Boys’ Town as a sporting center of great acclaim, starting with Collie Smith (after whom Collie Smith Drive is named) – “the beloved world class cricketer and mentor extraordinaire” as Mr. Spence called him. Over 150 prominent Jamaican sportsmen came out of Boys’ Town: cricketers, footballers – and boxers.

Junior Lincoln, a dedicated “Trench Town man,” pointed to another area in which Boys’ Town, and the area in general, became famous. He eloquently described Jamaica’s emerging music in the 1960s, encouraged by the Beatles era in the UK and a flowering of black music in the United States. Between First and Seventh Streets, around 30 or 40 musicians – a steady flow of musical talent – grew up, including famous names like Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, and of course Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who grew up in the “Culture Yard” on First Street. As we entered the pristine white hotel room for the launch event, I heard the mellow tones of Mr. Boothe, and smiled. I recalled meeting him at a party in Kingston some years ago; instead of telling him what a marvelously soulful singer he was, I just stared awkwardly at his shoes (I can see them now, with square toes and very shiny).

But I digress. As the Chair of the meeting James Samuels reminded us, there is a rich history and a wealth of talent in Boys’ Town and its environs that could well be generating income in the form of community, sports and cultural tourism. Despite the onset of political divisiveness (and it stands on a dividing line) and the resulting insecurity, that vibrancy remains. As the discussion developed, the question arose: Where is Boys’ Town now, and where is it heading? Is it a sports club, a community center – or more? While sports continues to uplift the community (although the program is currently in need of funds to improve infrastructure) all those present affirmed that Boys’ Town remained true to those core values on which it was founded. Education, nation-building and upliftment come first, through the Boys’ Town Infant and Primary School, the Youth Development Program, Vocational Training Centre (Heart Trust NTA), religious activities, a mentorship program, computer lab and scholarship support for students – besides the sports and cultural activities.

Mr. Junior Lincoln is passionate about the cultural legacy of Boys' Town and the Trench Town area. (My photo)
Mr. Junior Lincoln is passionate about the cultural legacy of Boys’ Town and the Trench Town area. (My photo)

“Give us vision, lest we perish.” Father Sherlock, who composed the words for Jamaica’s beautiful National Anthem in a hotel room in Bogotá, Colombia, had a simple, yet profound vision for Jamaica that we still aspire to.

“We Build.” Although Boys’ Town’s remarkable work has been eroded by political tribalism in recent years, those hard-working and committed Jamaican men and women who continue to carry its banner are confident that they will continue building, brick by brick. The foundation remains solid, after 75 years. As Father Sherlock wrote in the National Anthem:

Strengthen us the weak to cherish
Give us vision lest we perish

Here’s to another 75 years of achievement – and more – for Boys’ Town.

Boys’ Town in association with CEO SPACE International invites you to participate in a discussion on “Co-operative Capitalism: Key to Effective Corporate Social Responsibility” led by Bernhard Dohrmann, Chairman of CEO SPACE International on Saturday, November 14 at 7:00 p.m. at the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston. Admission is FREE. For more details call: (876) 378-5610.

Please visit the Boys’ Town website at

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