QUESTION: Why are we wasting psychic energy on quarrelling over a subject which is bringing us no profit, which is doing nothing more than stereotyping the nation with the unwelcome stamp of "homophobic", a label which brings us no benefit in a world which demands equal rights and justice for all, despite their lifestyle?
There is no evidence that the world is a better place for all the songs we have sung to articulate our distaste for same-sex relationships. This crusade continues with not always approval for our zeal. The humiliating experience of some of our top artistes, having to bow to international pressure to save their livelihood, has not been our finest hour but here we are again, caught up one more time in the same battle — ignoring the struggle to pay bus fares, equip children to get back to school, settle the national debt, and rid us of as many other ills which beset us.
If we weren't so dependent on linkages to the world beyond our shores, it wouldn't matter what they thought about us. As an old proverb assures however, "mout mek fi talk". What it didn't say is, there's a price to pay.
When Queen Ifrica, one of our most compelling singers, male or female, used her performance at the Independence Gala on August 6 to denounce same-sex relationships, she started another fire which blazed not only on home ground but overseas. A group of J'can-born gays, away from home in Canada, have tried to have Ifrica barred from entering that country to "eat a bread". The flames have been fanned more and more, and once again we make the headlines. We speak a lot about Brand Jamaica and how we can benefit from the world recognising it. All too sadly, the Brand suffers because we're so embroiled in controversy. Were it not for the flashes of brilliance which we display from time to time, all could really be lost.
What are we gaining from the latest international shouting match? While the various speakers are talking and talking about saving this nation from moral decay - talking but not much doing - let us spare a thought for the savvy of sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who saved the nation by quick diplomacy while the Moscow Games were in progress. Asked to comment on a controversy about gays and Jamaica, our girl dismissed the attempt to "draw her tongue" by offering as smart a reply as you can hope to get: "That's not an issue which I know or speak about as I have to concentrate on my team and myself." Thank you, ma'am.
As for Sister Ifrica I continue to be an admirer of her artistic talent. That smoky quality to her voice, her gift of clarity in articulating her words, her shadings and emphasis sensitively placed — the lady has style. She also has a right to express her own opinions on what she believes, but guard well your gifts, I beg you. Don't get sidetracked by the chatting game. Remember the "Lioness on the Rise" (one of the most exciting Ifrica songs).
HALF EMPTY - HALF FULL: The GSAT results are out, and the back-to-school stampede will soon begin. The minister of education is on the move, facing challenges head-on, preaching "the gospel of educate — educate and never stop". Not even the wrath of those persons allergic to change is slowing him down. What a great day it would be if education could become bi-partisan territory, exempt from the futile quarrelling and squabbling. Imagine if we could replace dissension with consultation, complaining with action, fighting with peaceful co-existence, putting the children first and the adult "pomps and pride" after. The JTA also should give ear to the call to mend fences and opt for co-operation instead of alienation. The future demands it.
On Wednesday I was invited to the annual tribute to GSAT "graduates" from schools in Dr Omar Davies' constituency of South St Andrew. A remarkable number of students have performed exceptionally well this year and are heading for some of the most-respected high schools. The youngsters reside in some of the socially challenged communities not usually associated with academic achievement. But, under sensitive leadership, they have survived amidst senseless violence and hopelessness to create new records for their communities.
They have triumphed through work and discipline and partnership of home and school, earning cash awards made possible by corporate donors whose generosity will give parents with some of the much-needed backative to meet the cost of schooling. Instead of "pity the poor" and the "nothing good can come out of those neighbourhoods", every award was the result of hard work by students, parents and teachers alike.
What if more national effort could be put into more programmes of the kind to save all our children? Imagine what the future would hold. One thing, for sure, there is the need to emancipate our minds and free us to work together. We're too divided. I was pleasantly surprised to see Opposition spokesperson on education Marisa Dalrymple-Phillibert among the guests. It was not a time for rivalry, but rather a time to encourage the young achievers.
We're so accustomed to the tradition of political divisiveness that it seemed hard to believe there could be reaching out across the aisle. But such is the power of education. What better example than this to demonstrate to the children that they are part of a new age, and we will build together. The challenges are everywhere, be it Trelawny or St Andrew. We can all learn a lesson.
WHO REMEMBERS 1976, when in the midst of a State of Emergency, Jamaica hosted the second CARIFESTA, the Caribbean Festival of Arts, designed to bring people of the Caribbean and Latin America together to share their distinctive cultural attributes. The festival came out of a vision that the sought-after and elusive unity, which bedevils our part of the world, could be found by sharing the creative spirit.
The first gathering was held in Guyana in 1972, hosted by Forbes Burnham, then the leader who is recorded as the organiser of CARIFESTA. The second round was here in Jamaica in 1976 where, despite a State of Emergency, the festival was carried off with distinction, overcoming the difficult times. Many thought Jamaica could not manage, but manage we did. The second CARIFESTA has remained a hallmark of excellence in Caribbean culture which some say has never been re-captured.
The accomplishments organised and carried out by an incredible team marshalled by the late Wycliffe Bennett is still talked about among those who had the good fortune to have been part of the journey. Was it too simplistic to believe that the original CARIFESTA spirit would last forever, that the idealistic goals would be maintained?
The spirit of commitment has not disappeared entirely. Over the years, fiscal challenges have affected the contribution of various governments. Most times, the festival comes and goes, known only to a select few on the inside track. At the moment, CARIFESTA has been going on in Suriname. It is, for us, the best-kept secret in the Caribbean. Do you have any idea what is happening? Who represents us and how? Do you know? Do you even care?