Sharper Yet: The Hurdles Crew and Youth Inspiring Positive Change

It’s not often that I can be found sipping coffee in the company of a large group of young volunteers and their partners and sponsors on a Sunday morning. But so it was today, in a cool tent at the lovely Terra Nova Hotel in the heart of steamy, warm Kingston.

The Positive Organisation (Youths Inspiring Positive Change) founded by Neville Charlton five years ago was holding its very first Positive Awards 2018. Like many award ceremonies, it was a fairly lengthy affair; but once the initial stiffness was overcome, cheerful and illuminating in many ways. The incomparable Emprezz Golding, in a long, summery, shoulderless gown, guided things along in her usual effortless manner; she always seems to know when the audience is losing concentration and ups the “vibes” with a happy rallying call.

I also learned quite a bit about The Hurdles Crew – a special group of youth who volunteer at athletics meets (and keep fit doing so, apparently!) Their motto is just two words: Sharper Yet. I also learned about the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN), one of the partners of the event; Neville Charlton is the Jamaica coordinator for CYPAN. In this connection, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, CMG (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) spoke on The Impact of Volunteerism Throughout the Commonwealth. He noted that the simple act of pulling a fishing boat up on the beach is a voluntary act and as such an expression of the human spirit.

Other partners were the Christelle Harris Charity Foundation, the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association, and the GraceKennedy Foundation. In fact, the Positive Organisation/Hurdles Crew have partnered with many different organizations (including the Council for Voluntary Social Services – CVSS), racking up over 50,000 volunteer hours collectively. Terra Nova All Suite Hotel, Heavy Mannaz, The Release, Digicel Foundation, JN Foundation, VR Summit Jamaica and the National Bakery Company Foundation were all sponsors of the Awards event.

By the way, I was especially impressed by the volunteers’ recent support for Tivoli Gardens (on Good Deeds Day, April 15 – a day founded in 2007 by an Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist). Even younger boys got involved in cleaning up, painting and planting in the Peace Park there. You can see more photos on the Positive Organization’s Facebook page. Shikara Dockery, who heads the Tivoli Gardens Police Youth Club, pointed to challenges: parents are often reluctant to allow their children to be associated with the police, because of the terrible experience of the “Tivoli incursion” of 2010. She also noted that the Club is in dire need of furniture, a computer, and some electric fans; yes, it is hot.

While all the contributions during the morning were thoughtful (including, hopefully, my own!) for me the highlight of the event was Saffrey Brown’s substantial and challenging keynote speech, wearing her hat as Chair of CVSS. I asked her for a copy, and am posting it below. As she points out, the delivery is everything (and it was well delivered) – and that is lost in the text. However, I hope you will find the messages of interest, and I believe you will want to share them with others, dear readers. The photo gallery below also, hopefully, conveys a sense of the occasion.

Meanwhile, congratulations and hugs to all the wonderful young Jamaicans in that cool white tent today. You inspired us. In particular, I could see from Neville Charlton’s expression – at times nervous, at times gratified – that this was a memorable day for him. He is the hardest worker I know!

Here is Saffrey Brown’s speech:

Good morning.

I want to talk to you all about your life’s work, and when I reference work, I do not differentiate between paid work or free work. I look at all my work as an overall indication of what I represent. And my value system is what guides the body of work I do.

So I have a question for you: What do you represent?

Who among you is going to become my PrimeMinister one day?

  • Which one of you will lead the World Bank; or, go on to Chair the ICC?
  • How many of you will become CEO’s, or entrepreneurial innovators?
  • What about global adventurers, change makers, or social activists?
  • How many of you will contribute to making things better for our world, and for our children?
  • And, how many of you would have made things worse?

There is an age-old saying – “To whom much is given…much is expected…”.  This speaks volumes. And much doesn’t mean a lot. It simply means a little more than someone else, whether it’s through education, your heritage, your DNA or your family, we all are very different and we all have much that we can share with someone else.

You see, when we are young, we like to think that we are all going to change the world for the better– but too many of us not only don’t do that – we, in fact, do the complete opposite.

I was invited here to give you words of encouragement, to tell you that anything is possible, that what lays ahead is nothing but potential, that our life is what we make it. But is that true?

You will discover that there are too many people in the world operating for their own good. There are many young people, old people and in-between, who think only about their own personal goals, without any recognition, or acknowledgment, of how their actions and decisions impact others, impact society, impact Jamaica or impact the world.

We often accept that the end justifies the means and that personal gain and satisfaction is human nature. We allow the titans of industry to dominate the global economy, and to dictate our place in this world. We allow others to dictate labor movements, and to have power over our small nations.

We trust that FirstWorld countries make the right decisions and do what’s best for us all. However, that is just our attempt to absolve ourselves of any responsibility in the state of the world. The truth is: we can all play a part in driving progress – real progress so that there is a benefit to others.

All of you are here today because you understand the immense responsibility of being a citizen of this world. You understand so clearly, the need to create the building blocks for the future you hope to see one day. But how do you ensure that your entire life is one that is about creating positive impact? How do you ensure that your friends understand their responsibilities? How do you create a career and life that fits within your value system of making society better?

From the time we were small, we have been told that we need to become well-rounded adults. I am sure you all remember being told that at some point. That we need to be academically strong, and play an instrument well, and participate in sport, and volunteer. And, most of all, to be good citizens, and become financially independent, and never disappoint anyone.

Yet when we spend our lives meeting the demands of others or living up to their expectations, then we risk missing out on the most important part of our own lives – our purpose. Ones purpose is our reason for being, it is why we exist, and in order to fulfill that purpose, we must have time and space, and leeway to find it.

That’s what being young is all about.

I am lucky enough in my field of work to meet young people like you, on a regular basis – young people who have a sense of your place in this world, and in how you are going to add value to this small circle called Earth.

  • You see, if you have no purpose, then how do you hold on to what’s important?
  • How do you determine what is unimportant?
  • During times of adversity, what is it that guides you if not your sense of purpose?

And yet, so many of us when we are young try to follow in the footsteps of others instead of charting our own course.

For our young volunteers in this room today, the work you do is about giving without charge for a service in terms of your time, skill, support and participation. And we see in Jamaica the concept of volunteerism almost every single day – all of you here today are representative of this.

Our much loved Labour Day, where Jamaicans come out and support some sort of voluntary activity needs to be recognized for what it really is – a National Day of Volunteering.

You can hardly find a Jamaican who is not somehow involved in the area of volunteerism.

If we look to Jamaica’s own volunteer experience, we will find one that is deep and rich, one that goes way back to some of the legacies of our past and many of those early institutions that were set up in this country.

We are talking about organizations like the Salvation Army, the St. John’s Ambulance, the Scouts movement and the formation of the Council of Voluntary Social Services. Many of these organizations were inherited from the UK.

It was truly a representation of the efforts of those who had something, whether skills or money, to help to make a difference in this young developing nation.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were some of our most courageous decades as Jamaica moved forward with a very clear sense of the need to have adequate national welfare and service programmes.

The Council of Voluntary Social Services, formed in 1940, was a part of this welfare movement, as Norman Washington Manley sought to create an umbrella organization for voluntary social welfare organizations.

78 years on, and the CVSS is still focused on growing the voluntary sector, and supporting volunteers like yourselves, to create sustainable and impactful change in your communities.

The UNDP Human Development Report of 1990 states that “People are the real wealth of a nation”. People like all of you in this room today, all being celebrated for your selflessness and commitment to nation building.

Volunteerism is often hailed as one of the most basic expressions of human interactions. It expresses and fulfills people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel a sense of belonging. A United Nations Volunteer report states that “the ethos of volunteering is infused with values including

  • solidarity,
  • reciprocity,
  • mutual trust,
  • belonging and
  • empowerment,

all of which contribute significantly to the quality of life”.

The first State of the World Volunteerism Report 2011 noted that we are at a point in history, when more than ever, there is great potential for people to be the primary actors rather than passive bystanders in the development of their communities.

And that’s really what volunteerism is about. It’s about people like yourselves, who refuse to stand by whilst society unravels, who refuse to complain day in day out that things are not as they should be. You refuse to absolve yourselves of the responsibilities of civic engagement and community development.

Never underestimate the power of encouragement. By just showing up and giving of your time– the most valuable asset we all have, you have indicated that your community matters, and that the work being done by other change makers –matters.

And volunteerism is something all of us can engage in, no matter our age or stage.

A 2011 report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies revealed that approximately 140 million people in 37 countries engage in volunteer work in a typical year. It is also estimated that volunteers contribute about $400 billion to the global economy annually.

My own volunteer journey started when I was 8 years old. My mother is an Interior Architect and was part of a group of historians and architects who were trying to prevent the demolition of a beautiful, historic landmark. For weeks, I would help to give water to the protestors who stood with placards outside this building. For those few weeks, 34 years ago, I was part of something bigger than myself. I was part of the change. And we saved that house, that beautiful historic landmark which still stands today. And I learned that change will only come if you stand up, if you stand out, if you volunteer!

And the wonderful thing about volunteering is that you can do it in so many different ways. There is no set rule on how one should volunteer, or what contribution one should make.

Those of you here today are our leading youth volunteers, and youth volunteers are often our future leaders, and as future leaders, you will one day need to understand what is called – a leadership credo. The purpose of a leadership credo is to allow you to communicate your personal values and principles as they manifest in your role as a leader in a way that engages the hearts and minds of others.

You do this by asking some simple yet often difficult questions –

  • Who am I as a leader?
    • What do I stand for?
    • What are my beliefs and values?
  • What is my vision for the work that I do?
    • Can I link the past, the present and the future state?
  • How will I get there and why is it important?

You see, when you understand your purpose, your credo gives you the moral compass to get through challenging and difficult periods.

A key component of your leadership credo is that of your values – Values drive our goals and directions and help identify what is or isn’t worthwhile for us.

And although you know you have values, if you don’t spend time thinking about what they really are and understanding why they are there, then you can’t really use them as an asset to help you do the right thing consistently and confidently. When you do bring them to “conscious competence” then they are a powerful tool.

I did this exercise myself a few years ago, and I found that my values at 30 were opportunity, growth, and innovation.

Later on, with the birth of my sons came honour, family, community, impact and joy– and as my core values evolve with the ever-changing seasons of my own life, I find that they remain aligned to the work that I do, and that my values are at the centre of my leadership credo, and that they were – and are, all aligned with the work that I do.

So here’s a little advice as you continue along your journey in life:

For those of you who will become CEO’s of large companies, make sure that your supply chain is on point.

For those of you who employ people, pay them a fair wage and give them benefits above what is the legal minimum.

Make space for employees with disabilities, or single parents who can only work until 3p.m.

Develop a green policy at home and at work– yes – go green. Believe in equity AND equality. Accept people’s rights to choose their own path, and respect people’s varying views and ideologies. Change the world!

Participate in protests against injustice; but, stay away from passing judgment. 

Be kind to people less able than yourself. Carpool. Show yourself the world. Below the seeming mayhem is a real world, which you can help to shape. And, then show it to your children.

Read about years gone by. Understand the dangers of global surveillance. Research the history of the Middle East, and come to grips with what continues to happen to Palestine.

Acknowledge that free speech is a right, and requires responsible diplomacy. Go to the beach, and the park, and the hills. See your world for yourself; and, tell others about it!

But, most importantly, fulfill your purpose in the most honest way you can. Stand up and be counted – it looks like you have all already started.

 In closing, my hope for all of you here today is that one day soon, if you haven’t found it already, that you find that purpose that aligns seamlessly with your values, and with your personal and professional credo – and that together – you continue to contribute to positive disruptive transformation!

Thank you for your commitment to the nation, and thank you for your courage and hope towards the future.


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