The guest speaker declared to his audience, “My address is not for the distinguished visitors, it is really for you, mi bredren and sistren!” Those words from sociologist, Dr. Orville Taylor captured the attention of the young graduates of the Stella Maris Foundation/ Heart NTA Woodwork Training Programme. He congratulated the ambitious young citizens of Grants Pen, playing on the word ‘woodwork’. “You are here today because you would work – you refuse to beg !” he commended. Dr Taylor, who hails from the inner city community of Waterhouse, said he had long ago decided that he would work for a pittance while furthering his studies. He assured the young people that he had travelled their path and eventually he had made a success of his life. The faces of the graduates glowed with pride and their families applauded in appreciation. His powerful words turned an ordinary occasion into a feast of affirmation.
Cast members will never forget Wycliffe Bennett’s demanding rehearsals of the Carifesta Grand Gala at the National Stadium in ‘76. As the 20,000 dancers and singers practised late into the evening, he kept them motivated by saying “You are beautiful!” and the hills echoed back “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!” So convinced were they, that when the Gala unfolded in the Stadium infield, it took our collective breath away. The spirited Mr. B, at eighty years young, is still conducting voice and speech training at CPTC – students of all ages, including Paula Ann Porter and Lisa Hanna will vouch for his genius with words.
Winston Churchill used the poetry of our own Claude McKay to rally the support of the English Parliament for his World War II effort. We can imagine his booming voice appealing: ‘O kinsmen, we must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, / And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!’ In 1989, as the reunited Germans chipped away at the wall between East and West Berlin, they sang “Don’t you worry about a thing/Every little thing is gonna be alright.” Yes, Bob’s words helped to bring down that historic wall.
While the gift of words can boost our spirits, they can also crush and demoralize. The brilliant but dour commentator Wilmot Perkins has drummed into our national psyche a few words written by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. His listeners are now convinced that, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Ironically, these words are from “The Second Coming”, a commentary on the Anglo-Irish conflict in the early twentieth century when there was fear of the unknown, as Ireland struggled to gain her independence. It was a long and hard war, but the fighting spirit of the Irish eventually triumphed. They have finished the century with impressive successes in business and technology. Digicel’s Irish executives have repeatedly remarked on the high calibre of the Jamaicans on their team and have compared our struggles with theirs, expressing confidence that we have the potential to match their strides.
The difficulty of being an optimist in Jamaica is that your hopefulness is immediately interpreted as a political statement. You are deemed unfashionable unless you gripe and complain, regardless of how well life has treated you. This relentless pessimism will erode confidence until complaints eventually become self-fulfilling prophecies. We declare that we are a people of faith and at Church we say ‘surely goodness and mercy will follow me’, but by Monday we are back in the blame game.
A CVM-TV Poll question asked, “Do you think the new Values and Attitudes Programme will be effective?” As expected, the pessimistic majority said “No”. “No” lets us off the hook. “No” means there is no need to make an effort because things will never change. “No” means we can relax and declare “nutten nah gwaan.” “No” means no values and pathetic attitude.
On the other hand “Yes” comes with a responsibility. “Yes” means agreement and willingness to help make a change for the better. It means attendance at PTA meetings to cooperate with, instead of threaten teachers. “Yes” means switching off the television to fully listen to one’s children before they find a dangerous confidante. “Yes” means discipline, productivity and accountability.
The gifted wordsmiths among us take us to a higher level of imagination and experience, a reprieve from the daily diatribe. Regardless of the sad events in his plays, Father Holung always ends with a message of hope. David Heron’s interesting plots, Oliver’s antics and Luciano’s lyrics give us quality entertainment. Poetry is making a welcome comeback, with Edward Baugh’s popular CD ‘It Was The Singing’ being quoted with reverence and The Observer’s Literary Supplement a Sunday afternoon delight.
As we realize that we are the only ones of God’s creatures with this precious gift of language, we see its power to build or to destroy. It is awesome, the ease with which we match subject with verb, adjective with noun. It is our choice whether we march them out to pillage or to protect.
Jean Lowrie-Chin runs an Advertising/PR Agency, PROComm, in Kingston, Jamaica. Visit their website at www.procomm.com.jm