It was a week of hope, starting with Yasus Afari's Jamaica Poetry Festival which sparkled with the classic poetry of Professor Edward Baugh, the youthful voice of octogenarian Boris Gardiner, and a surprise performance by our renaissance Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
Yasus had us chanting phrases such as "poetry can nyam!" — his response to his mother's criticism of his career choice — and "mek it 'tan deh" to those who would misappropriate people's money.
This year's festival, the 13th, was dedicated to legends Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett Coverley, Harry Belafonte, and Kahlil Gibran. Their biographies set the stage for the event, challenging us to bring excellence to the stage.
Ten-year-old Jazmin "Jazzy J" Headley wowed us with a grown-up This Woman's On Fire! and a capella Impossible Dream for an encore. We understand we will see her on the Hollywood big screen next year — she deserves it all — this child who raised a grand sum for the Jamaica Society for the Blind, the show's charity.
Professor Baugh had the audience in awe with his memories of Portland, his birth parish, and chuckling along with Carpenter's Complaint about "that mawga foot boy" who passed him by, despite building his father's house, to give the making of his late father's coffin to "that big belly crook who don't know him ass from a chisel". At the end of his performance we were on our feet with sustained applause.
Boris Gardner gave us the story of his world-famous song, Every N****r is a Star. He said it was the theme song for a movie of the same name which failed after two nights at the Carib Theatre. Then a few decades later he got a call from Kendrick Lamar who introduced his album with the song's chorus, which racked up 5 million in sales. But that was not the whole story. Seven years ago he got a call from a top Hollywood production house that wanted to use the song in a movie, that movie was Moonlight, which won eight Oscars, including Best Picture of the Year at the 2017 Academy Awards. Those are amazing royalties for the king of Jamaican balladeers.
Minister Bartlett took the opportunity to share a publication in which he contributed, discussing Jamaica's creation of a tourism resilience programme in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "I presented it at the UN," he said, "and before I was finished the endorsements were coming in from other countries. And at the end, 94 countries were signatories for what Jamaica has given to the world."
Hats off to all the performers — it was an honour to share the stage with (in order of appearance): master drummer Calvin Mitchell, poet Ossie Gee, singer Sotera, Prof Clinton Hutton, Dr Emerson Henry, and Ras Jaja.
The soft side of Law Enforcement
It was a morning of joy last Thursday when the Jamaica Constabulary Force, in collaboration with the Jamaica Defence Force; Jamaica Fire Brigade; Jamaica Customs Agency; Department of Corrections; and the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency handed over $4 million to Special Olympics Jamaica, collected during the three months of running with the Special Olympics Torch in the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) throughout every parish of Jamaica.
Lead representative of the Caribbean LETR, Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, reminded us that our law enforcement agencies have been dedicated to this project since 1986, raising tens of millions for our Special Olympians. JCF's head of Community Safety and Security Branch, Assistant Commissioner of Police Charmaine Shand, and Senior Superintendent Natalie Palmer Mair have given sterling service to the LETR over the years.
The video of the law enforcement officials starting each parish race shoulder to shoulder, then joined by citizens of every walk of life shows the genuine good-heartedness of Jamaicans for our special needs community. Special Olympics of Jamaica (SOJ) Chair Aldrick McNab and Executive Director Coleridge "Roy" Howell thanked the organisations profusely for the boost to SOJ's funds.
In turn, our Special Olympians have made Jamaica proud in the World Games, the most recent of which was in Berlin, where our United Team won the World Cup and gained 18 medals.
On a personal note, it was wonderful to see Jamaica Customs Agency Commissioner CEO Velma Ricketts Walker as we consider ourselves daughters of our mentor Sister Mary Benedict Chung. In true Convent of Mercy "Alpha" spirit, she vowed that she loved a challenge and was looking forward to contributing even more to next year's LETR.
The scale of the tragedy of the Maui fires kept growing over the past two weeks, and news reports showed the historic town of Lahaina literally burnt to the ground. The stories of families rescued from the ocean, the only place they could flee, were harrowing. We understand that some Jamaicans live on that island, and though they lost property, they are safe with family members in another area of the island that was spared.
The death toll at press time was 114, but Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives have estimated that over 1,000 people are unaccounted for. There has been criticism of the emergency management agency for not having sounded warning sirens earlier and also of the power company for not shutting down power lines. However, others believe that the speed of the fire, driven by hurricane winds, would have been inescapable.
Relief efforts have been compassionate, with citizens being given hotel accommodation for seven months and promises of assistance to rebuild their homes and businesses. Such tragedies are sobering reminders to small island states like Jamaica that disaster preparedness requires knowledgeable professionals and well-informed citizens to maximise our safety.
Gregory Park suffering
Natural disasters are heart-rending, but disasters wreaked by criminals against their fellow Jamaicans are infuriating. Now over 80 people are homeless because gang members firebombed their homes in the early hours nine days ago. Young children and the elderly have been injured in these fires, while one young man has lost his precious life.
I ask again, as this column keeps asking: What is the role of the Office of Disaster Preparedness (ODPEM) in such cases? These same designated shelters should be opened and a central operation established involving willing organisations, such as Food For the Poor and the Jamaica Red Cross, so that citizens can be housed and fed while permanent housing solutions are pursued.
Member of Parliament Alando Terrelonge has been working assiduously to bring relief, but it cannot be left on one person's shoulders when there is so much to be done.
All eyes on Budapest
Let's cheer on Team Jamaica as they give of their best in Budapest! Medals there will be as our top athletes arrive with season's best records. May they remain in good health throughout the World Games. Gratitude to our coaches, sports medicine experts, and organisers. Go Jamaica!
Jean Lowrie-Chin is executive chair of PROComm and CCRP. Send comments to