A young man inspired by poverty
Maxfield's Shamar McGrowder credits single mom for degree; remembers cousin's murder, gang war
Shamar McGrowder, his mother Marie Tyndale, his older brother Rayaldo Francis, and cousin Malcolm Morris after his graduation ceremony at The UWI on Saturday. (Photo: Romardo Lyons)

Sizzla said it best: "They can't keep a good man down."

During Shamar McGrowder's second year at The University of the West Indies, Mona, he had to move on campus as a result of rampant gang violence in the Maxfield Avenue area in Kingston where he lived.

Calling Chancellor Hall home was a move out of caution and fear after internal area conflicts came disturbingly close — his cousin was murdered as a result of community violence the same year.

"I was seeing people who I grew up with being killed regularly, and that was affecting me mentally. So I made the decision without my mother to reside on Chancellor Hall, and she was happy that I was away from the madness," the 23-year-old, who graduated on Saturday, told the Jamaica Observer.

Shamar McGrowder is now the first in his family to hold a university degree. (Photo: Romardo Lyons)

But after his cousin's murder, he hit rock bottom. He still remembers January 29, 2021.

"Early the Friday morning I was called out of my sleep to hear the shocking news. At this point I wanted to give up on school, I wanted to throw all my university goals out the window. It was tempting me to take revenge in my own hands but I had strong support from my friends who convinced me this was not necessary because all that my mother had sacrificed for will be gone," he related.

"The year 2021 was a difficult year for me. I was numb, I could not feel any form of emotions, no sadness, no happiness; nothing. I was just living day by day and relying on alcohol to ease my pain. However, within me was still that belief that I could make a positive impact, more powerful than ever imaginable in this community and Jamaica," he continued.

McGrowder is now the first in his family to hold a college degree. He currently works as a project support officer at JN Group People and Culture, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Studies, while pursuing a pursuing a master's degree in human resource development.

Throughout university, he held quite a number of leadership positions. By the end of first year, he was public relations officer for the Banking League Club and later became the president, while serving on various Guild committees.

Not long after, he became the UWI Mona Guild commuting students' representative as well as the representative cohort leader.

Before everything, he grew up in Whitfield Town off Maxfield Avenue, in a single-parent household with his mother and older brother. His mother, Marie Tyndale, worked as a dressmaker and used her savings to finance the household and his education.

"Of course, it was a financial stress for the majority of the time growing up, as there were nights I had to sleep without having something to eat, and some mornings when she had to find money to send me to school. But my brother and I understood the reality and we accepted it. In addition to that, I've been surrounded by violence ever since I've known myself, and this affected me straight up until my time in university," he told the Observer.

He maintained that the absence of a father figure built up strong resentment in his heart.

"The fact that I grew up without a father… at a very young age, I developed a hatred for him not for the fact that he wasn't there physically, and watching my mother carrying all these burdens."

McGrowder's academic journey started at Prophecy Basic School, off Maxfield, where he spent three years before heading to St Peter Claver Primary. After six years there, he did the Grade Six Achievement Test and was placed at Calabar High School "where I learned a few core values which moulded me into the young man I am today."

But he said what moulded him into the field he is currently in was poverty.

"For the majority of the time growing up, I wanted to pursue a career in either piloting or the army, but as I got older, I started to understand the reality of being broke and I was tired of struggling. So, I decided to pursue a career in the finance industry because I wanted to understand the flow of money and how I can use this knowledge to generate wealth for the people around me," he said.

But there were other roadblocks along the way, including the death of two childhood friends. One was killed, and the other collapsed a few days later.

"My friends' passing definitely had me traumatised. There was a video of the incident circulating on the net and, of course, I watched it, but then I realised it took a toll on me. I remember sitting in my classes and all I could be thinking about was the video. For that period of time I was unhappy and I was unable to focus in school, resulting in me failing a few courses," McGrowder recalled.

Ultimately, he told the Observer that pulling through and completing the degree is a big achievement not just for himself, but more so for his mother, his family, people in the community who have been cheering him on from the get go, and other "ghetto youths" who have ambitions.

"However, to earn a college degree is one way out of the ghetto, but it was the only way I knew... through education. I am the first in the family to achieve this and now I'm looking forward to mentoring other young individuals to remain positive and mentally stable to succeed in this life," he said.

"It is really a great feeling to see what my mother has worked and sacrificed come to fruition as she expected. Also, it brings me a sense of fulfilment to know that young ghetto youths are actually looking up to me as a role model as young as I am. I've witnessed my own friends being recruited, some killed or even in prison right now, but I have a mother who was protective of her two sons. I called her the mother who fathered me because everything I have achieved in this life is as result of her teachings and sacrifices. She's the hero behind my UWI success story."

BY ROMARDO LYONS Staff reporter lyonsr@jamaicaobserver.com

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