Mico University's Romario Prendergast a positive influence for unattached youth

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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Bob Marley once famously said, “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and ability to affect those around him positively.” If there is any truth to these words, fellow Trench Town resident and youth advocate Romario Prendergast is well on his way to greatness.

The 26-year-old wears many hats. He is secretary of the Trench Town Community Development Committee, a motivational voice to unattached young people who need to be presented with options for bettering themselves, and a student at The Mico University College, where he says he was gifted with a platform through Mico's Pre-University Men's Programme (PUMP).

“From a tender age I just knew I wanted to defend the rights of those who were marginalised, oppressed and dispossessed,” Prendergast told that Jamaica Observer. “I actually wanted to be a lawyer.”

But a series of unfortunate events interrupted his original plans.

“I was in high school and at one of the college fairs I realised that I could not afford to do law. So, I had to step back and assess my options. I had a passion for foods,” he said, adding that pursuing this passion brought its own set of challenges. His father refused to continue to support him through high school, telling him, “I never send you go to school to go do foods like gyal.” Not one to sit aside and allow circumstances to overcome him, he continued through school with the help of his mother, grandmother and pure grit. During this time, he also faced what he says was discrimination from his community.

“Growing up in Trench Town is not easy. If you're not sitting on a corner like a thug, or you're not rubbing out your hand, you're not a man. Once you try to see a way for yourself and try to encourage others to better themselves you're a 'nerd' or a 'fish' to them,” he said, making references to the action of preparing marijuana in one's palm for smoking, and the colloquial label often ascribed to homosexuals.

In spite of the financial and social challenges, Prendergast managed to finish high school with a focus on food and nutrition. He later received a Diploma in Food and Beverage Management from the Boy's Town Vocational Centre. And, while continuing in his role on the Community Development Committee, he also did various courses offered at the community development centres.

Later he landed a job at local fast food chain Island Grill and soon learned about PUMP, which targets young, unattached men who have some, but not all the requirements to attend college. The year-long programme helps them acquire the prerequisites with a promise of a guaranteed spot at the university college at a discounted cost.

“Someone at work told me about the Pre-University Men's Programme at the Mico and I applied,” Prendergast told Career & Education.

Having completed the PUMP programme at the top of his class, Prendergast successfully matriculated into the university college programme with a full scholarship and is pursuing studies in the area of family and consumer science.

He says: “In communities like mine there is a resistance to positive influences for development because it's not the norm. I remember a batchmate of mine who was [previously] actually before the courts on a gun charge. So, you see, programmes like this allow you to leave negative environments and come into a space where you are empowered and can change the status quo.”

He is convinced that when unattached youth are gainfully occupied for hours at a time in spaces where they are being empowered, educated and learning new skills, they will not engage in antisocial, violent and unproductive behaviours. And having seen PUMP change the lives of at-risk young men across the island, directing them to lead better lives and contribute positively to society, he intends to inspire other young men in need to enrol.

“I'm excited that the programme is growing. The great thing about the degree that I'm getting from Mico is that I am not limited to teaching in a classroom. I can enter the industry and still use my voice to try to empower others who come from situations like mine to make something of themselves,” Prendergast says.

The Mico PUMP is celebrating its 10th year of helping young unattached men lead more positive lives.

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