The building of a leader

Monday, November 12, 2018

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People evolve into leaders in curious ways.

Take the case of Mr Ricardo Burke, founder and president of the Gregory Park-based Youth for Change Foundation which seeks to help people, especially children.

According to yesterday's Sunday Observer story, Mr Burke started the foundation while going through what he describes as the “worst time of my life”. He tells us he was caught up in depression “walking and talking to myself at nights and smoking”.

During that time he became acquainted with two children, a boy and a girl, who were always asking him for money. The children told him their mother had no money to send them to school.

The children's story shook Mr Burke out of his lethargy and life took on new meaning for him. He decided he “needed to start something now to help children go back to school, because I didn't take my education serious and I know that it is the same thing that is going to happen to them. And that was basically the start of Youth for Change Foundation”.

Mr Burke, who is now studying social work at Excelsior Community College, was well placed to understand the plight of the children since, in his words, he had been a “delinquent youth” who got expelled from school and ended up with one Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subject.

Mr Burke tells us that the Youth for Change Foundation first started under a tree, “then we ended up under a light post where we used to keep meetings. Then we were in a basic school, then we went to the Gregory Park Primary School”.

Today, the Youth for Change Foundation centre facilitates a children's breakfast programme, homework, recreation, and those needing to write job applications, resumes, and so forth. An average of 40 people, children and adults, use it daily.

As he sought to raise funds for education and community assistance projects, Mr Burke had to confront understandable suspicions and distrust about his motives. We are struck by his understanding of people's doubts and that it only motivated him. Says he: “Positive criticism, that's all good, but negative criticisms make you want to do better.”

As he and his colleagues strive to help others, they are also learning more about the harsh realities out there. Mr Burke tells us that on outreach charity missions some people sometimes “break down and cry when they see the living condition of other people”.

We dare to suggest that it would be a useful thing for so-called better-off Jamaicans to get a first-hand view — if even for a few minutes — of how so many of the less fortunate live.

Mr Burke recognises that community projects such as his can be a large part of the answer as Jamaica struggles to overcome social ills, including crime.

Says he: “I always say that our Government don't realise how the crime we are seeing now is caused by lack of development and lack of resources and empowerment. So, in terms of a national scale, community projects like these can pull young people to give them hope and give them something tangible…”

We urge Mr Burke to keep going and not shy away from his responsibility as leader and nation-builder. This newspaper will keep a watchful eye on his progress.

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