'Give me Jamaica or I die!'


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Anyone who dares to change an institution, a community, or a country to bring it out of darkness into light, to seek some higher purpose, advance some moral value, or achieve some greater good, such an individual must have uncommon courage, an iron-clad will, and a resolve as tough as steel.

Throughout history there have been such men and women. Sixteenth-century Scottish protestant reformist John Knox was one such person. His revolutionary spirit and indomitable will had a wilting effect on opposing forces. His was the passionate plea of a man willing to die for a cause. Known for his incessant and fervent praying, Knox once famously prayed, “Lord, give me Scotland or I die.”

Possibly the greatest complement ever paid to Knox was by his adversary and nemesis, Mary, queen of Scots. Weary from their many verbal battles, she is quoted as having said: “I fear the prayer of John Knox more than the assembled armies of Europe.”

The desecration of the personhood and brutal murder of 14-year-old Yetanya “Princess” Francis, which has been widely reported in the press, calls for more than the wringing of hands. Those who, according to Isaiah 58: 12, King James Version, are called to be the “repairers of the breach and the restorers of the path to live in” must adopt the conviction and resolve of John Knox and say. “Give me Arnett Gardens, give me Tivoli, give me Flanker, give me Jamaica or I die!”

Jamaica will not be saved by those whose only interest is in sensationalising incidents that scar a community, but who under-report the good occurring there. Neither will it be saved by those timid souls who from the safety of their verandas point a stigmatising finger at tough neighbourhoods as they invest in more security systems to keep the invading culture out, or by those who retreat to safer quarters in gated communities or to foreign land, throwing the proverbial stone behind them as they go.

Jamaica will be saved by those who believe there is something worth fighting and dying for, and so are willing to engage with underserved and marginalised communities of our making — the other Jamaica.

All across Jamaica, in our once peaceful neighbourhoods, our inner-city communities and our rural villages, where crime, violence, and hopelessness have taken up residence, there are the lion-hearted who could be best described by words first written by Alexander Pope way back in 1711: “Like fools they rush in where angels fear to tread.” One could also add; they rush in where the Government has abdicated its responsibility (for the welfare and security of people who have a vote but no voice). They take the wasted human assets and sacrificially work to bring them into their God-assigned purpose. Without them — the unsung heroes — the woeful situation confronting the nation would be tenfold worse than what it is and Jamaica would truly be 'paradise lost'.

On September 1 a nine-night was held for Yetanya in the community in which she lived. Defined by Wikipedia as a “funerary tradition practised in the Caribbean”, the nine-night is not what it used to be. The modern version is more like a party and the celebration is limited to just one night, not sustained over nine nights as it was back in the day. Believed to be born out of African religious tradition, the practice, which is intended to help mourners get past the loss, remains strong in Jamaica.

Nine-day wonder is another term associated with death in Jamaica; particularly the death of someone under tragic circumstances. Dating back to the 14th century, the term is used to refer to an event which gets boring or is forgotten after nine days.

There is more than a coincidence between nine-night and nine-day wonder. In Jamaica, forgetting a horrendous act soon after it occurs is almost inevitable. Since Yetanya's death there have been criminal acts, almost as gory, which have dislodged it from the front page of newspapers, pushing it towards the back pages, where the obituaries are to be found, and eventually into the recesses of our mind.

It is hard in circumstances in which crime is like a rising tsunami for the one who would stand against it — working tirelessly to protect and give hope to the young and vulnerable — not to feel overwhelmed; thinking the good he or she does is like the ripple caused by a pebble thrown into a vast ocean.

My advice to anyone involved in work to transform a community who finds himself or herself at a point of despair and about to give up because of the continuing mayhem is that you pray like John Knox, believing everything depends on God, but continue to work as if you are all that he has to use.

Let those who love Jamaica and righteousness more than life itself resolve: I am in it to the end, and I am in it to win.


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