EVELYN Brown's New Year's wish is to see a safer Jamaica where young men 'hold up their heads' defiantly against the lure of crime.
Crime put her in a wheelchair eight years ago at age 82, when she was left crippled by gunmen's bullets.
The incident occurred in Jones Town, said Brown, as she slumped in her chair, bobbing her head to gospel tunes at a New Year's dinner put on in that Kingston community last Friday, which saw more than 300 elderly persons attending.
"That time I was selling... I use to sell orange, ripe banana and yam," she said softly. It was hard to imagine that at 90 years old, her wrinkled, thin body still has three bullets lodged within it from the shooting.
"A young man, one of the boys in the community, came up to me to buy something and I said to him that him must stop keep bad company," recalled the woman. "I said to him 'hold up your head and don't look down, drop all the bad company that you have because you don't live no life yet. You is a little boy coming up," she continued, noting that the youth, showing regard for her words, had sat down on a bench beside her as she spoke.
But no sooner had he done so, another gangster from a warring faction spotted him and summoned his cronies to the area.
About three of them returned, she said.
"When dem come, I said 'you going to kill me?' and the other one said to him 'leave her alone, don't fire any shots there'," she recounted.
"Him still fire the shot and three of them ketch me in my leg and run come down here so," she continued, pointing to her right groin.
The youngster to whom she had been offering her advice was killed on the spot, Brown said, and their attackers ran away.
Days later, doctors told her that she would never walk again, a reality the elderly woman still struggles to come to grips with today.
"I feel bad, I feel funny, because all now... sometimes I have to bend back so," she said, leaning in her wheelchair. "Three shots I have into me. I use to do selling but I can't do nothing more again."
"If you come on and you give me $100, thank you. But otherwise, I have a daughter and is she try her best with me," said the woman, reiterating her wish for Jamaica. "I want to see Jamaica nicer, because it can be nicer," she said. "No more crime".
Brown's wish was shared by many of the seniors who gathered inside the Inner-city for Christ Ministries on West Road, feasting happily. More stories like hers need to be told, noted Dr Henley Morgan, founder of the Agency for Inner-city Renewal, and more respect shown to senior citizens if Jamaica is to become a better nation.
"We are losing one of our African traditions where we show a certain level of respect, support and love for the generation that is advanced in age," said Morgan, whose organisation sponsored the feast.
"We think that old is not fashionable; old is not productive; old does not have anything to contribute; old is always talking about old-time things like values and truths, and behaviour. I think that we have to close that gap if Jamaica is going to prosper," said Morgan.
His view was shared by programme co-ordinator at Boys Town Trevor Spence.
"The elders are the ones who have all the experience. They know when we had an orderly society. They have paid their dues; they have knowledge, the expertise, the skills," said Spence.
"Any society that does not show respect and draw on the knowledge of the elderly is going to be doomed for life, because we are not starting over building a society. We talk about Jamaica at 50 but very few of us were around at that time. All the people inside there (the dinner) were around during independence. We have to learn from them," he insisted, adding that the event was about more than sharing food. He said it was also about giving the elderly and indigent persons in the community an opportunity to 'cross borders' and socialise.
This year, the dinner was chiefly sponsored by First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, which donated approximately $150,000, said Dale Dixon, senior branch manager at the credit union. The senior citizens were also given bags of food such as flour, sugar, and tinned items.
Asked her wish for the new year, 94-year-old Icylin Francis, also a resident of Jones Town, responded: "I want to see everybody live in peace and no war, no killings, and I ask the Lord to keep us, guide us and protect us," she said. Francis has been living in Jones Town since she left St Mary in 1942.
Estella Banton, 72, from 'Havana' in Arnett Gardens said she wanted to see more jobs created for young people this year.
"I want to see a lot of jobs for young people because that is their cry every day; they can't get any work. I want to see better schooling," she said. "And when it comes on to the elderly, I want to see more support because a lot of young people don't have any respect for us," she continued.
Her views were echoed by 67-year-old Karl Morant, also of Jones Town.
"The boys on the corner have nothing to do and idleness cause crime and violence. If the Government do not do that then crime and violence is going to continue," he warned.
In the meantime, Lloyd Ankel, 73, wants the Government to focus more on exposing students to science in a bid to cope with the changing technologies and the effects of global warming. This, in tandem with cultivating a renewed respect for life among Jamaicans, he said.
"The elderly have already laid the foundation for the younger ones that are now coming up. They should know that lawlessness will never be accepted whether you are high, middle or low class, all persons must be treated as human beings, and Government should respect freedom, liberty and justice for all," he said.