The Honorable Pearnel Charles, Minister of Labor and Social Security visited Atlanta recently and was interviewed by Jamaicans.com senior writer/editor, Glen Laman.
What brings you to Atlanta?
I am here to look for one of my daughters who works as a medical doctor here.
Can you explain how you became an honorary chieftain in Nigeria?
It’s a recognition I received when I was the Minister of Public Utilities and Transport. It was felt by the Nigerian government that I could be of service to that part of Africa in the Caribbean.
I understand that a higglers’s plaza is named after you in Kingston, what is the story behind that?
I always sympathized with the situation of the higglers: they were selling on the street while the big boys were selling in the plazas. My mother was a higgler most of her working life and so I was motivated to do something for them. The Pearnel Charles Arcade was developed to provide higglers with their very own plaza with little shops.
Where is your constituency?
North Central Clarendon
Where are you from in Jamaica?
I was born in Macedonia, St. Ann. My mother is still alive at age 97 and living in Moneague, St. Ann with no wrinkles at all.
How did you get involved in Jamaican politics?
I left the US in 1965 with a degree in political science from the City College of New York. Arriving in Jamaica on a Sunday, I showed up for work on Monday at the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and I have been there ever since. My entire working life has been with the Union and the Party.
Is it true you are related to Prime Minister Golding by marriage?
He met my sister at my wedding and they later got married.
Who are some of the people that influenced your thinking as a young man?
While going to college in New York in the early 1960’s I became aware of the thoughts of people like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy and JFK; and groups like the NAACP, Black Students for Social Revolution and the AFLCIO union. Then there were the ideas from the giants from back home in the West Indies like, Bustamante, Sir Grantley Adams, Marcus Garvey and so on. I was influenced by the thinking of many people who sought to help those who cannot help themselves and trying to pull them out of where we had been. So when I returned to Jamaica and joined the BITU union and Jamaica Labour Party, I felt very comfortable, since it was a party with a majority of working class people.
Can you summarize for me you long career in politics?
I am now on my fifth term in Parliament. I was a member of the KSAC council for two terms and served two terms as a senator in the Senate.
Is there any one accomplishment you can point to as your most gratifying?
I prefer to focus on an overall direction and philosophy versus any individual accomplishments and for me that is being able to help working class people improve their lives via better wages, better working conditions, education for their children and better housing. As Minister of Labour and Social Security, I am very comfortable with the responsibilities that fall under my portfolio, as I have been involved with them throughout my whole career.
What do you see as the main challenge in your area?
Our main challenge is in the area of education. When our people are not being educated they remain poor having no skills. They are not be able to think and make rational decisions that will lead to improved lives instead of falling into crime and wayside shootings as is happening to many today.
I recently read a letter from a discouraged Jamaican college grad who couldn’t find a job. Can you offer any encouragement or advice?
Unfortunately, a lot depends on whom you know in Jamaica. I would encourage this person not to give up too quickly but to persevere and keep knocking on doors as sooner or later one will open.
Do you do anything for relaxation?
I am an avid tennis player. I play five days per week from 6:00 am to 7:15 am for exercise.
About the Writer:
Glen Laman is a Jamaican writer who maintains a community web site for the Caribbean community in Atlanta known as Jamlanta ( www.jamatl.com). He is also editor of the online KC Old Boys’ Newsletter at www.kctimes.org.