“Resilience” is a popular word these days. We apply it to many things: climate change, economic decline, hurricanes and other disasters.
Looking back at our Emancipation/Independence Day holidays, that was what it was all about. Amidst the online celebrations, the usual good wishes and Jamaican colors on social media, the underlying theme was just that: Let’s get through this, and let’s smile as we stand firm. Believe me, Jamaicans are good at this. We “tek serious ting, mek laugh” – in other words, we laugh in the face of the hardest challenges.
Because resilience doesn’t have to be grim-faced and dark, although these days are uncertain and troubling.
What better example could there be than the efforts of our National Librarian Beverley Lashley to revive the flagging spirits of her staff during the holiday period and during the pandemic. August in Kingston, Jamaica is a long, hot month at the best of times. Our energy starts to fade. But there’s nothing like an injection of humor – and a not-too-serious competition – to cheer people up.
For the past three Fridays, NLJ staff have been competing for prizes of goodies. And we all like goodies. The competitions to date have been “Tie and Sneakers Day,” “Hat Day,” and “Independence Day Outfit.” There is gender equality; each week one man and one woman receive prizes. The nail-biting contest will run until the end of the month, when the staff member who has acquired the most points will be awarded the grand prize.
Now, let me introduce a footballing note (please don’t tune out, non-football fans; this is a great personal story). Remember the Reggae Boyz’ mascot, “Reggae Tiger”? On August 7, the Tiger himself joined Independence Day celebrations at the National Library of Jamaica. The previous week, he had been passing by the building and admired the decorations that the staff were working on at the entrance. He was duly invited. The day after Independence Day, decked out in what can only be called vibrant – and yes, at times somewhat eccentric – outfits, the staff took it in turns to be photographed with the astonishingly tall Mr. Wally Walters. The results were stunning.
Mr. Walters is Jamaica’s first national mascot since 1997. He made his first appearance as an unofficial mascot on November 10, 1996, when Jamaica played against St. Vincent at the National Stadium for the World Cup qualifier; he was wearing his own outfits. On November 16, 1997 Jamaica qualified against Mexico for the World Cup 1998 in France. On that day, the late Captain Horace Burrell, then President of the Jamaica Football Federation, named Wally Walters as the official Jamaican mascot.
With local sponsorship, the “ Reggae Tiger” travelled with the team both home and abroad. Unlike most real-life Tigers, he found himself in the United States and Europe (France, the UK, Holland and Spain).
Since 2018, Mr. Walters has served as the Jamaica Football Federation’s official mascot for the Reggae Girls (you see – there is gender equality again). His very cool outfit displays the official coaching Staff for the Reggae Girls, the Reggae Girls Team and the Jamaican flag. Did I mention that I really love the Reggae Girls? Or is it Girlz?
Here is more about Mr. Walters. He is the father of six children – two boys and four girls. He grew up in Olympic Gardens, Kingston 11 and attended Denham Town High School. Naturally, he has a love for football, which he played throughout his school years. He also played for the Olympic Gardens Police Youth Club and was the Captain for the team for 10 years. For his craft he accumulated many valuable trophies; but November 14, 2001 was a sad day, when he lost them all in a fire. He still plays football and is a member of the GraceKennedy Football Team, which has reached the finals of the business house football competition on many occasions. I can just imagine he would be quite formidable on the football pitch, as tall footballers often are (like Arsenal’s former player Per Mertesacker, who is six feet five inches tall. Yes, I am an Arsenal fan).
But I digress. Due to the COVID pandemic no games will be played this year.
Thoughts of a Reggae Tiger
Mr. Walters has some upbeat messages for our youth. “If you are interested in having a career, work hard,” he says. “People will like what you do if you do what you love, you do your best. Try to remain focused,” he adds. There’s no getting around the work ethic; he put in a lot of hard work for over a year before he started getting paid, but “it was worth it.” While he entertains people, he says he can take the criticism – in fact it is necessary. “Put everything behind and try to focus on what you want in life,” he advises young people. He grew up in a tough neighborhood, where violence is commonplace; but he “took the street on the best side.” The road less traveled.
Mr. Walters has a delightfully humorous personality, and this is what he uses to entertain. The Jamaican mascot is available for music videos, making appearances at community treats, even as Santa. He is the current Santa for Western Union.
The Tiger enjoyed his time with the NLJ staff. As you can see, the photo ops show his great character. Mr. Walters called the staff “well organized and well put together” (well, those outfits!) and found the staff generous and kind, including the photographer.
Back to that word, resilience. Our Reggae Tiger is a powerful example of that Jamaican strength that I have always admired. It is unwitting, almost instinctive. It almost comes naturally. It is that great Jamaican resilience that I so admire.
Many thanks to National Librarian Beverley Lashley and her staff for telling me this story. And the outfits are wonderful. May the best man or woman win!
For more information on Wally Walters contact the National Library of Jamaica, which has preserved biographical notes on him. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.