Youth working to change face of Tivoli

- by encouraging other young people

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 08, 2018

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A group of young people from Tivoli Gardens has formed a foundation to empower and uplift other young people in the community that has been referred to as “the mother of all garrisons”.

Members of the Youth for Change Foundation, who have all achieved some level of academic success, have set out to help the next generation realise that they, too, can attain tertiary-level education and become successful adults.

For the last five years, the foundation has been working with the community to alter the West Kingston community's reputation, which has been tarnished by crime and violence.

One Sunday afternoon in late summer, just before schools reopened, students who had done extremely well in the final sitting of the Grade Six Achievement Test and this year's Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) were feted.

As the sun began to set, the children and their parents flocked a playing field on Bustamante Highway in the vicinity of Top 10, which was decorated with banners from sponsors who had joined Youth for Change Foundation's mission.

Roland Banner, who was spearheading the initiative for the children, told the Jamaica Observer that the idea was born out of a Sunday link-up with youths who had done well at the tertiary level, some of whom still reside in the community.

“We were having a casual drink and we said to ourselves, 'We need to cut this drinking thing and entertain the kids,' so we went across the road to the ice-cream parlour and purchased one box of ice cream and a box of cones. Every child who passed, we gave them ice cream.

“We thought to ourselves that, 'Hey, this can be something that can grow,' and so the second year we took money from our pockets until we started to look sponsors and here we are five years after,” he said as his voice went up several decibels to compete with the music that was blaring in the community.

Banner, while noting that the foundation is seeking additional sponsorship, said: “We are encouraging all our primary school students and our CSEC students to aim for the highest and if it is that you achieve, we are here to award you; we are here to show you that it can happen because we ourselves have done it.”

Banner said the students were selected based on their averages.

“When GSAT results comes out, living in the garrison, you will hear, 'Him pass for Kingston College; she pass for St Hugh's,' you will hear. So we hear them and we go to their parents. What we try to do is have as much gift baskets as possible; however, we will pick a top five or a top six or so, and we will get those averages. The top five or top 10 averages will get something more than the rest. It is not discouraging to those who don't get, but it's more of a 'well done' to those who got the highest,” he continued.

By this time, the three students who attended the treat in 2017 and had vowed to do well in their GSAT had arrived.

“When I study I feel good about myself because one of the things I always tell myself is that I have to make it in life to help my mommy and let my community feel good, and I have always had confidence in myself,” Abigay Powell, who is now in first form at the Convent of Mercy “Alpha” Academy told the Observer under the watchful eyes of her mother.

“Without education you are nothing, because education is the key to success,” she added.

Clutching her other daughter, Abigay's mother Kenishia Pitter could not conceal how proud she is of her daughter's achievement.

A teary-eyed Pitter said that Abigay, 12, is hungry for success.

“I always try to do my best. I have a little sweetie stall that mi use to send her to school. Sometimes mi nuh have it [money] and she guh school without. Sometimes mi see people [walk] past and I would ask them for a thing (donation). She's a good track star, too, but sometimes I can't maintain her to get breakfast and so, but me give thanks to the Top 10 youth them. Last year when I was here and mi say it, mi say, 'Mi daughter, you have to deh up there so [receiving an award] and you have to do what you can do',” the mother said.

As the children danced to their favourite songs, jumped on the trampoline and enjoyed a variety of snacks, Banner, who had experienced the good, the bad and the indifferent while living in Tivoli Gardens for 32 years, said despite the crime and violence, he, and other residents have risen above the stigma associated with the community.

“Time and time again we were plagued with violence and I must say we held our heads high, we had good parents, good role models, not only our parents but our friends, our aunts, uncles and neighbours. It takes a village to raise a child. Growing up [here], it makes us strong; it encouraged us to not want these children to always be plagued with violence. We are working alongside the councillors, the Member of Parliament, to try to bring back the community, and this is one of the initiatives we are using to bring back the community. If it was not for this, who to tell what they would have been up to today on a Sunday.

“This is how we engage them, we try to tell them our stories. We grew up here, we went to high school, we got our grades, we went to university, graduated and we are here giving back. We live here, grow here, so we are showing them that it can be done and so they can tell a story in the future that they are products of the community and not everything negative spoken about the community is true. Because people have seen us in the streets, not knowing where we are from, and would not think that we are from here, then they say, 'No way', because they are looking for a certain kind of person coming from here. The moment they see somebody not fitting that stereotype, it is unbelievable,” Banner continued.

In 2010, the police and military carried out an operation aimed at nabbing convicted crime lord and area leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was wanted in the United States.

On May 24, the security forces entered Tivoli Gardens to execute an arrest warrant for Coke and to restore stability to the community after gunmen barricaded the entrances to the community and launched coordinated gun attacks on the police in West Kingston and other sections of the city. Two policemen were killed in one of those attacks on Mountain View Avenue in St Andrew the night before the security forces entered Tivoli. A soldier was also killed in the three days of clashes that resulted in the deaths of 73 people, among them a soldier.

Coke was eventually apprehended and extradited to the United States where he was slapped with the maximum 23-year prison term in a Manhattan, New York federal court in 2012 by Judge Robert P Patterson.

He was sentenced on conspiracy to traffic drugs and firearms — for which he will serve the maximum 20 years — and conspiracy to assault, for which he was sentenced to three years, which are to run consecutively.

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