IN observance of International Men's Day on November 19, 2023 the Ministry of National Security's We Transform Youth Empowerment Programme, in collaboration with the Department of Correctional Services, conducted Boys to Men rap sessions last Thursday at the Metcalfe Street and Rio Cobre juvenile centres.
The groundbreaking initiative focused on fostering positive dialogue with male wards within the juvenile correctional centres; addressing their social, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being; and how their actions can be influenced in a positive way going forward instead of them choosing a life of crime.
The rap sessions, featuring influential figures from the corporate and entertainment sectors, were held at key locations — Metcalfe Street Secure Juvenile Centre in Hannah Town, Kingston; and Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre (medium and maximum security) in Thompson Pen, Spanish Town, St Catherine.
The sessions provided a crucial platform for juvenile wards to engage in open discussions with these positive male figures. The goal was to empower them with knowledge, insight, and essential coping skills, fostering an environment conducive to personal growth and resilience. Motivational speaker Andrew Folkes, acclaimed author of The Power of Pain: My Pain, My Breakthrough, was invited to serve as the keynote speaker for the initiative. During the event he recounted his teenage years, navigating perilous encounters such as involvement in gangs, associating with the wrong crowd, and enduring abuse.
Folkes candidly shared his transformative journey, detailing how he successfully transitioned from adversity to redemption, illustrating the resilience and determination required to overcome life's challenges. Collaborating with lawyer and businessman Ron Young and businessman Zachary Harding, they established Trailblazing Entertainment Ltd. The company is committed to transformative initiatives, specifically geared towards guiding young men from diverse backgrounds away from the perils of a criminal lifestyle.
By engaging in projects that inspire change the company seeks to instil motivation, encouraging these young men to develop into admirable contributors to society.
Ella Ghartey, policy director and project manager at the Ministry of National Security, emphasised the significance of the Boys to Men rap sessions, stating, "These sessions provide a unique platform for our young wards to engage with positive male figures, addressing critical aspects of their well-being. Through open dialogue and mentorship we aim to empower them with the tools necessary for personal growth and resilience."
The distinguished men who participated in the sessions at the Metcalfe facility included Ron Young, Lt Col Carl Clarke, Ian Bourne, Miguel "Steppa" Williams, Elon Parkinson, Zachary Harding, Steven Smith, Andrew Folkes, Andre Virtue, Major Stephen Brown, Israel Wilson, Andrew Wollery, and Tamark Douglas. They each shared valuable advice for youngsters in conflict with the law and those contemplating a similar path.
The men were asked: "What advice would you give to these youngsters that have come in conflict with the law, and any other youngster contemplating a similar path?''
Ron Young – Managing director and lawyer
"My first approach would be to listen to them. I would try to understand why they have made the choices that they have, their mindset. What is the source of their pain or anger? And what or who influenced them to make those negative decisions? Once I have that clear, I would try my best to present them with an alternative way of thinking, reasoning, and seeing themselves and the world around them. I believe we are born with innate greatness. We need to find that in ourselves and in others before they are lost to the worst influences. It is the only way to heal this country."
Andrew "Blaize" Folkes – Motivational speaker and author, The Power of Pain – My Pain My Breakthrough
"Committing any criminal offence which resulted in detainment or being sought after by law enforcement in this day and age has a severe impact on one's future, as officers today have grown frustrated with the increasing problems and as such one doesn't only face jail time but also the possibility of being killed. My advice to those who got the opportunity of having a second chance at both life and freedom is: 'Do not take your second chance for granted. Your luck may just run out.' And to those contemplating going down that road: 'It's just not worth it. Freedom, even with hardship, still gives us the opportunity to change our situations. Being locked up or killed adds nothing positive to the present and future circumstances of those you love.' "
Zackary Harding – Businessman
"We are all given one opportunity to live on this planet, not a few... just one. Many people are not as fortunate as we are to even have that chance because they're already gone, either dead or in prison. I don't think there's one person sitting in prison who would respond to say, 'Yeah man, I'm happy with the fact that I'm in prison.' Therefore it is about making better decisions and better choices, because bad choices lead to jail time or death. So, as young men we need to think differently and make better decisions, regardless of the circumstances."
Lt Col Carl Clarke – Jamaica Regiment executive officer, Jamaica Defence Force
"Majority of persons in the security forces are from lower socio-economic backgrounds than maybe the average citizen. Quite a few are also from the inner city and places that are socially classified as ghetto. These persons could have chosen a different path but instead chose to be on the right side of the law and are able to legally and comfortably provide for their families. Most of these young men that are incarcerated have younger siblings who look up to them, so they must consider the example they want to establish and also what future do they want for their younger brothers and sisters.
"Young men who have also had run-ins with law also need to realise that it can be an opportunity for a fresh start at life, to make good on past mistakes, and contribute meaningfully to nation building.
"It is important for them to understand that insecurity hampers development, development that will provide for them opportunities that will allow them to conceive and realise their full potential. Contributing to a life of crime cannot do that, at least not in a sustainable way."
Ian Bourne – Branch manager and event planner
"My advice to them is to use this as an example and a learning lesson — even though it is a tough one. For those contemplating a life of crime, they should obey their parents or guardians and speak to someone who can help them resolve conflicts. Most importantly, they must trust God and pray constantly."
Miguel "Steppa" Williams – Social development consultant, lecturer and dub poet.
"(1) Try to end that conflict ASAP, as that conflict will hover over you in a bad way for life.
(2) Having found yourself in a problem, your focus must be on a solution. This solution may involve holistic ways of rehabilitation, not just what the State/system will offer but what you are now called on to offer yourself.
(3) Whatever you do in life echoes in eternity so don't allow your youthful flaws to decide your adult outcome — rise beyond it.
For youngsters contemplating a similar path;
(1) With so many examples of where that path may take you, I am always lost as to why we have recurring replacements of youth in conflict with the law.
(2) Listen to the predecessors of the system; the examples prevail.
(3) Or, if you dare contemplate that path, go ahead and become a useless statistic now likened to an enslaved person controlled by the system — so sad."
Andre Virtue – Director, Ballaz International Group
"You're no different from us, in the context that we all make mistakes, we all have choices, and there are consequences for our choices. As such, my main advice is that: 'Though you've made choices that have resulted in you coming in conflict with the law, there are also second chances and opportunities to make better choices in the future. Additionally...there is hope for you to contribute and make a difference, there is hope in believing that you're here for a reason and a purpose. And though we could live our lives thinking about our past, it's important to focus on the future and to recognise that there is something unique in each one of you and that you're all valued and can turn a new leaf and make a difference.' "
Elon Parkinson – PR and communications manager
"Firstly, I'd want to assure them that nothing is ever as bad as it seems. This is true of those young men who are contemplating going down the wrong path, or those who have already taken it. The message here is that while we all have choices, and though at times we make the wrong choices, there's almost always an opportunity to move forward by making the right ones. By letting these young, impressionable minds know that there's still hope and scope for them to grow out of their current situation, we give them boundless optimism to prepare themselves for a better way of living.
"I encourage them to foster a positive mindset, emphasising that their time at Metcalfe is an opportunity for personal growth and positive development. Moreover, it is preparation for them to fulfil their purpose — to reshape their mindset and cultivate a brighter perspective on life. To this end, I endeavour to support their journey to greatness in the many ways that I am fortunate enough to do."