There we were having a good time at a party on September 1, when a friend arrived with a worried look. "Madness just happened in St Thomas," she said. We sat there together, shaking our heads as she related what she had heard. It was indeed "madness": a few choice Jamaican bad words, a reprimand from a policeman, shots fired, resulting in the shocking death of 27-year-old Kayann Lamont who was eight months pregnant, the injury of her sister and the restraining of a policeman by his colleagues.
It is because of situations like this that visionary Jamaicans are barely getting enough sleep as they use every atom of mind, body and spirit, trying to get Jamaica on a course of justice, peace and productivity. As I read the words of colleague columnist Dr Henley Morgan last Wednesday, I was almost moved to tears. How proud would be his beautiful wife Dr Sandra Morgan, had she lived to see the opening of his special dream, the Jamaica Music Institute (JaMIN), with the assistance of the USAID, celebrating their 50 years of partnership with Jamaica. Located in Trench Town, the home of Bob Marley, JaMIN has one of the best equipped music studios in the island.
Eight years ago Dr Morgan, who describes himself as a "social activist", moved his successful business from the neat streets of New Kingston to Trench Town, where his father had started a branch of his church many years before. Henley and his wife Sandra expanded the church, serving not only the material but also the spiritual needs of the community. His company, Caribbean Applied Technology Centre (CATC), has trained and subcontracted over 1,000 residents to various private sector companies.
His business incubator AIR (Agency for Inner City Renewal) operates a banana chip factory, a juice factory and an early childhood centre. I am particularly delighted with JaMIN, as in my book Souldance, I urged Jamaica to "claim reggae for prosperity". With trailblazers like Alton Ellis, Byron Lee, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, the reggae capital of the world must now capitalise on its musical clout. Not only can we develop our endless local talent, but we can also become a well-organised training ground for aspiring international reggae artistes.
As dynamic as he is, Henley Morgan cannot do it alone. Our other private sector heroes who are creating thousands of jobs cannot do it on their own. Our hundreds of outreach workers who choose to care for the most handicapped and destitute among us cannot do it alone. We need a bright and proactive government to work along with us to serve God's people in the way He decreed they should be served. It is hard to balance the foot-dragging and bureaucracy in government with the prominence of politicians at church services. Surely, we need to translate loving of neighbour as self into giving honest work for salaries and perks funded by the sweat of taxpayers.
"Justice delayed is justice denied", and in a country where thousands of murderers are walking unconvicted, rubbing shoulders with us in public places, it is no wonder that we have such an angry society, where people pepper their ordinary conversations with bad words.
I remember part of a bitter poem by Surinamese Dobru (Robin Ravales) who performed at Carifesta 76:
"I want to hate somebody today
I feel it in my bones
I feel it in the sun
I must hate somebody today
rain must fall
heaven must cool this thing
otherwise I'll kill someone today ...
it burns my skin
itches my fingers
it has got to come out..."
The latest news is that two more pregnant women were killed by gangsters in Montego Bay. If our leaders do not move purposefully to heal our wounded nation, they are putting every single citizen at risk.
'How long shall we kill our prophets...?'
One of our CCRP Legacy award recipients this year was the legendary Beverley Anderson Duncan, a powerful activist for women's rights in the 1970s. The former wife of the late Prime Minister Michael Manley, she was instrumental in the formation of the Women's Bureau and worked closely with him in the advancement of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. At last week's South Africa Women's Day commemoration, I introduced her to High Commissioner Mathu Joyini whose eyes lit up in admiration of our Jamaican icon. She introduced her to the guest of honour, gifted author and poet Mmatshilo Motsei.
Motsei helped us to understand our Jamaican struggles, insisting that political power should never be self-serving. Underlining the importance of gender equality in governance, she used a common expression in a surprisingly eloquent way: "One hand washes the other, and in the process, both emerge clean."
"We haven't really tried to achieve a world of balance and contentment," she noted. "We are like athletes who have never extended themselves, and so we function below our potential for love and justice to create a good world."
As she quoted Bob Marley's words, "How long shall we kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?" I cast my eyes over at Beverley Anderson Duncan. How long, indeed, before she receives a national honour? When we fail to recognise the shoulders on which we stand, we easily lose our balance. Affirmation brings healing.