We all deserve better, Jamaica!
TODAY, the day after we celebrate the birthday of our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, we are still asking why the teachings of this great man are not part of our school curriculum. Garvey produced numerous books. Academics and authors like Professor Rupert Lewis, Professor Robert Hill, Ken Jones, and Geoffrey Philp have explored his work and philosophy. And there is a wealth of information that can be shared with children at every stage of their lives. How I would love to hear our schoolchildren recite, "Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!"
Garvey's passion for learning, enterprise and self-respect is what we need now more than ever. If our leaders, educators, police officers had been brought up reciting his words, we would have reached so much further as a country. This issue of self-respect goes deeper than we realise, because if we do not respect ourselves, we will have but a minus quantity of respect for anyone who looks like us.
A successful professional lady told me that she was afraid for her son's life and would rather he lived abroad than in Jamaica after he was pulled over and roughed up by the police. She had loaned her handsome cool-black son her Mercedes Benz. "They accused him of stealing the car and refused to listen to him when he tried to explain it was his mother's car," she said bitterly. She said her son was very shaken up by the incident. I understand that the young man now lives in a country where he is part of a small minority of blacks, yet he has experienced virtually no disrespect in that country.
Marcus Garvey would have wept over the Mario Deane story. He would have wept not only for the suffering and loss of a young man in the full flower of his life, but also for his damaged cellmates and our spiritually wounded police force. Paul Reid's report in last Thursday's Observer that Deane was locked up over a mere ganja cigarette and was kept in a cell with a schizophrenic exposes a system with wide cracks through which too many are falling.
Even as we welcome amendments to our laws, particularly the recent passage of the Disabilities Act, we are aware that there are so many laws to protect our citizens that are not being enforced. We need to love ourselves more, we deserve better but we have to believe that we do.
My family is a multi-racial one, and when my son — of African ancestry — reached 'party age' I died many deaths waiting for him to get home safely in the wee hours. When I think of the terrible thoughts I have had as I counted the minutes, I cannot even imagine how the family of Mario Deane is coping.
There was also a report that the sister of one of the cellmates accused of Deane's murder had reported him missing to the police several weeks before the incident, and only discovered the whereabouts of her brother when she heard the news report.
The words of Shakespeare's Mark Antony at Julius Caesar's funeral ring in my head: "O kinsmen, we have fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason." Clearly, those of us who call ourselves 'well-thinking Jamaicans' have dropped the ball. Have we been so cosetted by our tight social circles that we feel immune to the depravity around us? Our Christianity is being tested. The pious politicians who read lessons at funeral services are being tested. We need more Jamaicans to walk in the light and cease those activities in the dark of night.
This system has forced good police to do wrong under threat of demotion and even loss of jobs. Some have become thugs — the confession of a dying policeman, as related to me by a health worker, would make your skin crawl. Others have learned to "see and blind, hear and deaf". One senior officer, now departed, was threatened by his colleagues because he turned in all of the millions of dollars he had found during an operation. He came to me in terror begging me to identify for him someone in the high command that I felt he could trust to share his plight. I did, but it seems the threats did not stop, and the poor man worried himself to a premature death.
If we do not resolve to choose a path of righteousness, we will all be affected, and some who consider themselves safe will find themselves wringing their hands in grief.
This Jamaican Babel
As I listened to Jamaicans in civil society, private sector and academia quarrelling over lessons, letters, ivory towers, and reality, I realised that our spiritual centre is not holding. There is a level of sophistry in some of the arguments which makes one wonder if there are invisible puppeteers or if everything is about the almighty dollar, whether through sponsorship, salary, or social standing. Or is it just that people have been getting away with low IQs by wearing good clothes and quoting from the right books?
As we approach the new academic year, the Jamaica Teachers' Association seems to be more concerned about a leadership challenge than the challenges of a system that is turning out illiterate unemployables. Parents are struggling to find funds for those long booklists that have still not been shortened, despite efforts of the Ministry of Education that have been met with resistance from teachers.
Decent, well-thinking, God-fearing? If that is how you describe yourself, you have a lot of work to do in this Jamaican Babel. We have enough battles to fight, what with chikungunya and climate change. Let us not make it worse for ourselves.
PJFJ keep their promise
What a joy it is to end this column on a positive note: the annual presentation of scholarships by the Professional Jamaicans for Jamaica (PJFJ), founded in 2010 by US-based Horace 'Shad' Daley.
With the collaboration of his wife Sharon, Vice-President Dr Clover Baker-Brown and a membership of 2,600, they have donated scholarships totalling $49 million over the past four years. At this year's ceremony, 20 children received scholarships, and Kingston College fourth former Oshnell Bryan was the winner of the PJFJ Esme L Walters Essay Competition, sponsored by Dr Baker-Brown in memory of her mother.
The choice of speakers was superb. Keynote speaker Janice Holness, executive director of the Financial Services Commission, reminded us that the Jamaican practice of looking out for neighbours and watching each other's children was a tradition to be cherished. She encouraged us to celebrate the many attributes of our country and our people. Guest speaker Karl Graham, CEO of FullGram Enterprises, urged the children to hold fast to their dreams.
PJFJ is committed to improving the lives of Jamaicans by supporting the education of our less fortunate children. Please visit their dynamic social media sites.