Commentary Jamaica Magazine

The Upliftment Of My Jamaican Community

Written by Phil Dinham

By the time Claude, Merrick, Vernon and myself all-inclusive of the new “One Love Rudy Jamaicans” got to high school we were referred to as the “streetwise kids”. This was when there were only potty pan buses pon the road and boorish conductors would heckle and abuse students to and from school while striking for fare hikes and forcing us to walk go a we yard. We missed taking examinations nuff time because these prudes who ran the buses would strike without giving any warning. Getting away with random tactics all the way to the bank over and over again and again.

This yah generation had to wise up on we own very quickly cause the education system was in a shabby way, the teachers would strike or work pon go slow every negotiation period for a needed pay raise. Can you imagine our growing years yet, just think bag sky juice was the beverage of choice for lunch along with a ghetto spread, which was a double hunk of a giant hardobread and a spread of cheese. Yeah it is we same one, that durable energized set who experienced our first natural national disaster in 1988 when hurricane Gilbert on direct sprint across the island left behind a trail of death, devastation, widespread looting, and an unending zinc scandal.

We learned that it would be ungrateful unto JAH, if we didn’t remember the good things about this adventurous period in our lives because although it was tough and ruff being rammed into minivans AKA packed sardine pans with loud vulgar music pummeling us, we did find ways of using the exercise to build our characters. It was through some of these harsh experiences that we actually learned the importance of standing up for oneself and learned the enormous power of unified resistance while building community identity, image, and distinctness. We worked hard at evoking a spirit of community interest on many corridors. If that community was our individual school community uptown or down town or a community project based in a particular section of the city or town where we resided, we didn’t hesitate but took pride in them and always tried to fight against evil outside forces. It didn’t matter if we were from a lane, avenue, hill, gully, gardens or pen we knew that we had to look out for each other and fight the evil forces of the society.

You think I am fabricating? Well friend, listen up, I started Jamaica College in 1987 and frankly once any other member of the society unfairly tried to misrepresent our image which was suffering from constant bad rap at the time, we didn’t take it lightly but maneuvered with every step, at every level to protect not just JC the institution, but our younger and older brothers within our student body making sure that the pursuit of justice and truth always took centre stage within the school community as we fought back any undue wickedness that was brought against us.

In bringing about resolutions we would assemble together and firstly have all the matter aired for all levels to make their input. Every attempt was made that each member of the student body could direct their concerns through relevant councils and executive arms of our administration interacting in an almost strategic manner in planning our recourse. We had to adjust to every area of concern in a participatory collective consensus that would enlighten us to the essence of creative consciousness and made it easier for the boys who had a vested interest in making a contribution to student life and community to join in our efforts to protect and restore our image to greater levels.

The school itself, Jamaica College, assisted in preparing me for manhood and I know almost all who have graced the fields of this noble institution, will agree that an ideology of national service as responsible Jamaican men to become leaders in the wider community was fostered from the 10 year olds to the 20 year olds. This was enhanced by the rich history of the institution, a colossal educational fortress that prided itself as being authentically Jamaican.

As the boys in blue though, our uniforms were different from every other boys uniform in the corporate area of Kingston and St. Andrew. All other boys wore some variety of khakis but a JC boy wore a short sleeve royal blue shirt with navy blue pants with a prominent crest featuring the image of a Griffin bordered in gold that was placed on the right chest pocket. Our Sixth Form men indicative of their rank as seniors sported long sleeve white shirts and navy blue pants along with the coveted navy blue tie with diagonal white pinstripes, flanked by their badges of authority. We found our uniforms extremely fashionable as they were very eye-catching, but that made our job of protecting our distinct heritage and character that much harder. This as when the boy in blue failed to direct himself with honour in public, there was no mistaking our identity, it was so easy to pick us out of the line up of wrong-doers. Literally this compelled us to be even more vigilant than others, both on the offensive and defensive ends protecting Jamaica Colleges’ credibility was a mission we all learned quite early.

The fact is none of us had the luxury of removing our epaulettes and camouflaging among other khaki boys to escape group conflict. Not even in moments of severe crisis, I mean life threatening situations in modern day urban hostility, when street gangs were having violent conflicts with members of our student body were we allowed the opportunity of safe passage based on individual merit. The harsh reality was that all of us would suffer the consequences of being in the shining blue uniform.

I can recall going to sporting events to support our charges at Sabina Park, National Stadium, and Stadium East or on external school premises and some of the college brothers would get into personal skirmishes. Not too long after I would find myself scampering to find cover as all of us would come under attack from rival forces. The worst case yet was Boys Champs 1992 when scores of us were all seated together in high spirits on the penultimate day of events, basking confidently as we were firmly placed in the points standings with our hearts set on defending our number one position. Towards the closing event that evening boys from among us had come into altercation with boys from the Nanny-Ville community adjacent to the stadium.

I remember quite vividly some of our more challenged brothers ran for cover among us in the thickness of the crowd, after exchanging violent words and possible bodily harm with some known warlord types from off the Mountain View Road area. Naturally we were not going to stand by and watch outside forces violently attack our brothers, so with teachers among us we attempted to quell the conflict by all of us standing up chanting, singing and might I say teasing the angry street thugs in a fun manner hoping to cool them. I suppose the angry guys took our action as full support by all of us in blue for those among us who broke ranks and displayed militant behavior.

I know I wasn’t in full support of no jiving madness with violent thugs, these JC boys, I naively thought would be disciplined under school code of conduct come early Monday morning for putting all of us personal security at risk. Yet regardless of the origins of the clashing tempers, I knew we morally had to defend these mischievous members of our body. It was part of our responsibility as I am sure they would have protected us if we had youthfully wandered our way into heavy conflict unconsciously.

We all knew from that moment, when we heard threats flying that our exit from the stadium would not be achieved without facing some form of reprisal and so we waited until the end to make our way out together with the other patrons. On reaching the exit tunnel we were spotted and came under attack from different points. Before I knew it we were all spread thinly as we all ran frantically to find cover. For me actually, I ran through the car park sending off car alarms right into the main road across to the Bob Marley statue, where I flinched to check if any of my friends were with me, only to realize that two ruff house guys were trailing me with knives calling me all sort of crude names. I didn’t tarry at all, but sprinted straight up Stadium Blvd. like I heard news, eventually when I had covered several metres I took a wink back to find that I was all alone.

Man that was a really frightening night for me at 15 years of age in Kingston on the down side of 9 PM, with bad man a chase me down with dagger in hand and no back up foot souljah. Later when I got to the bus stop at Cross Roads and regrouped with some of the college men in blue, I discovered that some of my friends were wounded as they were hit with planks and steel iron. Emotionally many of the boys were so shaken up and terrified that they vowed not to come out to support the team on the crucial final day.

I, however wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Man, to watch your school silence a capacity stadium as they watch us take first place honours in race after race, while we just celebrate and revel in the thrill of the moment in front of a national audience. Not to mention the many precious opportunities one normally gets to beat ones chest and jeer friends from rival schools reminding them of your schools dominant spirit. That was enough to get me up early the next day, all dressed in dazzling blue and white supporters shirt and denim blue jeans along with blue and white flag in hand and whistle around my neck to join the rest of the brave guys who after a night of terror were back on campus.

We assembled early in the morning rallied the troops before departing with police escort on route down Old Hope Road, with our cadet drum corp playing some tuff tunes and some charming cheerleader girls. Yeah let me tell yuh they gyrated, slammed, and jammed with us in true carnival style right to the Stadium gates and up into the stands where we all enjoyed the boys in blue bag another memorable victory at Championships.

It is true though, that many times we got bad rap from street conflicts which we didn’t even start or had a role in but as a team, as a brotherhood, as a community we had to find ways of dealing with these very difficult situations, protecting each other was the best weapon. The logical thinking was for all of us to travel in groups. This unearthed itself out of a need of keeping each other out of trouble, a matter of being resourceful and shrewd because if conflict was out a street it would be easier for each of us to be picked off one by one but together we could at least offer some resistance.

It sounds like some military technique in some garrison camps on the brink of war but these are survival tactics for young men at one of the fittest and finest schools in Jamaica at a time when violence and hostilities were deepening in the wider society. This wasn’t a formal organized thing but a natural attempt by well groomed boys from decent homes, in the prime of teenage years to come up with initiatives to maintain standards and look out for one another. Even with the impeccable standards set by our history, many parents in Kingston decided that they didn’t want their boys to go to JC, because JC boys were not gentlemen enough. They thought that we were too ill-mannered and many described us as being a crude bunch.

What these mothers and fathers didn’t realize was that JC boys were faced with a more challenging task and unlike other schools who could hide their deficiencies, our problems were worn on not just our sleeves but our entire suit of clothes. The brown khaki served to hide a lot of dirt but it also has prevented folks from pin pointing the true story behind the overall experience of attending some high schools, meaning the real hard core experiences.

JC’s story though, usually made for a nice juicy news headline and we couldn’t hide anything. We had to work in all fields of endeavor to heal the problems by pulling out all the strength from internally and externally, meaning keeping the past students, our older boys, the big men who have left the college, to stay involved in the process of restoration and renewal. School captain for 1987, Paul Walker, in his parting message that year laments just how we saw our mission: “We want to be the best school in our country worthy enough of taking its name”. This back then was not easy, it meant advancing the process of churning out great Jamaican leaders year after year, placing enormous pressures on all arms, legs, hands, minds of each body of students, the freshmen and seniors. It compelled all of us students and staff to be great achievers, not just at securing our personal academic merits that some school brainwashed their students towards individual achievement without much directed energy to community issues.

I don’t want you to miss something here, apart from bad press from local papers, we as the present day student body had to deal with alarming criticisms and some time antagonism from some of the very old boys, whom had blazed a path for us to follow. They, the older brothers would scold us in no uncertain terms about our abdication of the traditional standards. Many staunchly withdrawing their morale support as in their own emotional anguish and analysis of the direction the school was heading. It had now represented to them a fruitless tree, so they would call down curses of demons on the institution by relaying the bad news about the current bunch and the administration without lifting a hand to help restore the community.

Many were very advanced in pronouncing our doom and sounding the burial of the institution without trying to understand the complex society that Jamaica had become and the new cultural war that an age of free-market had brought, which was eroding traditional culture.

Obviously this wasn’t a JC with middle class yuppies in the majority anymore, but like the society at large, this institution embodied a wider cross section of Jamaicans, black boys were in the vanguard of the majority in attendance and this perhaps could have been the focal point of some persons stomachache. Their obsession with the old was blinding them, as this wasn’t a school in a rural suburb anymore but one that was in the battle royal of urban life. Even with its location in the loftier upper St. Andrew plains of Liguanea, the fact is young urban black men and young rural black men were integrating in our community daily. We assembled at 7:45 AM each morning from our homes, 19 even 30 miles in far away towns and districts such as Ewarton, Moneague, Old Harbour Bay, Spanish Town, Portmore, Linstead, Bull Bay, Temple Hall, Lawrence Tavern, Sligoville, Kent Village, Kitson Town etc.

This was not a generation that was in the old system where boarders woke up daily on campus and could rush to classes just in the building next door, while the rest of the student body would alight from their parents fancy motor vehicles. This generation would wake up from before dawn and hustle their way through the streets before exiting anarchy on a tacky minibus but yet we lifted our shoulders through the main school gates morning after morning in pursuit of education in a society that was starting to turn upside down with early chaos underway.

The “Rudy One Love Generation” however was working with a mission and even with some of our older family members breathing down our backs we knew we had the action potential to maintain the traditional advantages the school had garnered while immobilizing all aspects of lethargy, speedily restoring health. A brighter character had to engender itself and this wasn’t just going to be had through image fetes and event on top of events or the wooing of the gifted rich and famous young men.

Institutional networking had to be improved and that meant greater participation would be needed by all. We all would have to represent the community and represent meant giving up time in service for the mission. It meant representing your class at student council, representing the arts in language festivals, joining the school choir. It meant getting involved in the debating society, school challenge quizes, the Cadet force. The track team needed more athletes, sprinters, distant runners, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers if it were going to win the coveted boys championship again. Football and cricket squads among other sports were faced with the same obstacles. Even in sports where we didn’t have the tools readily available such as a swimming pool for swimming and water polo, the guys would journey to the stadium pool to carry out training.

Once the mission was clear, meaning areas of organizational weakness were identified, the commissioning of more specialized committees were undertaken, including one for sports and historical observances. That meant greater managing, implementing, and restoring of important days in our heritage. This helped the groundation, stimulating the participation, as our successful men of the past and present would rub shoulders and share a common vision together. Soon souvenir making businesses that would help many a fundraising project, would start flourishing. The harvest within months of the widespread community effort was mightily abundant, our personal respect as men in the wider community was restored including accolades of Championships rolled in over and over again and again in every field of endeavour you could think of.

In Academics, Jamaican and Caribbean Rhodes Scholars were crowned computer whiz team champions at the inaugural national computer contest. We created history when we were the first international participants at the America First Technology competition, a hands on scientific robotic engineering competition among many more intellectual achievements. In sports there were badminton, basketball, cricket, football, even water polo and the coveted Mortimor Geddes trophy the symbol of Jamaican boys supremacy came back to Old Hope Road. All this could not have been achieved if we didn’t believe in the powerful heritage or legacy that all of us wanted to be restored. Through our representation we continued to blaze a new path and passion for the spirit of community that ensured many new victories and made my time spent at JC a record breaking period. We all came away feeling worthy of being called honourable ambassadors of an over two hundred-year-old legacy in our fledgling democratic country.

Dwelling on Jamaica College alone may well cause a riot in this here assembly so let me take stock and mark death, because I know for a fact that many other Jamaican schools have been contributing right across the land, they do a great job of preparing young men and young women for roles of imperative national importance. By and large though, many of these schools lacked the school spirit or passion and belief in their schools uniqueness and powerful identity.

The potential is in every community across every part of our society to find the ammunition to fight against evil forces but the willingness to put our hearts and soul into the fight by even becoming martyrs of peace and martyrs of justice is lacking. We keep talking about the system and its inequities and blame those at the top of the hierarchy without recognizing our own character flaws and cowardice attitude in abdicating our responsibilities of being real men. Men who take initiatives stand up and represent their community and not just roll along with the bandwagon of cowardice supporters scrambling for personal glory first and community interest last.

About the author

Phil Dinham