Breaking down barriers, the national community at 42…
I firmly believe in the compassionate and honest dialogue associated with the spirit of hope that one garners through caring and voluntary representing his/her community. In the national community daily, we, yes, you and I, receive opportunities to protect and maintain stability while helping to sustain the development of our nation home.
Today, now more than ever we need to nurture and develop the people in the community, if not materially, we need to invest enough social capital into our grass roots interaction in order to preserve and invigorate the spirit of the masses. This, so that the nation may live through greater storms which are already encroaching upon its future.
In celebration of my Island home, my people of love, this Independence 2004, I remember the place where I grew up, the streets where I came from, and look at the hope which has been afforded us when we honestly participate in our community.
Early Years of Over standing
My parents moved into our dwelling community of Spanish Town when I was just weeks old, they had rented a home while our new home was being built on the other side of this fresh housing scheme. We moved into our new home in Villmore, when I was about 1 year old. I being a kid of the scheme grew up loving everybody, dancing from home to home while I made friends hanging out at birthday parties and ramping during summer vacations.
My parents hardly if ever tried to prevent us, my sister and I from mixing with other kids in our community. This behavioural action I did also notice among some parents, for us rules did govern our conduct when we decided to hang out next-door, up or down the road.
It is true that during my early years I was never stopped from going anywhere in the community, I only had to ask permission when I wanted to go on longer excursions outside the borders of the scheme, certainly I didn’t comply with that order all the time. Yet, for some strange reason when I did flaunt authorities dictates, on my return home my parents would tell me where I was spotted and they would scold me even punishing me because I didn’t ask for approval before I took off on my sojourn. My departure usually left them hanging, where had I busily gone to put myself in danger. As I got older they had built up enough confidence in me to know that I was aware of the neighbourhood and would avoid pitfalls of the anti-social while representing them with honour. Soon after, they resisted the over protective action or fussy questioning relating to my social rendezvous, they learnt to trust my instinct for positive exposure.
My growing years were fun, my family helper Miss Nana would have lived across the main road in a community where working people lived in zinc fenced, wooden fenced, and some mud-concrete fenced homes. Her community was not as structured or planned, meaning it lacked electricity, streetlights, and I guess even running water was not supplied for some at the time.
My older cousins Wayne and Kirk lived in another community just two avenues across the way in a community that was greater in age than ours. It was normal for me to walk by myself up the road to my cousins on a Sunday evening having a jolly good time after dinner, walking around and playing outdoor games with family and friends at their gates or by the park.
Undoubtedly I have seen this community grow from nothing, when some of the yards had no fences or gates to where they all changed into beautiful gardens with lush vegetation including every variety of bougainvillea, hibiscus, ginger lily, roses, birds of paradise, orchids, ferns, palms, exordia, citrus, mangoes, coconut, guava, plum, ackee, breadfruit, plum, cherry and apple trees, grapes blossoming, gung go, callaloo, okra, sorrel, cassava, cocoa, herb, Aloe-Vera, tuna, scotch bonnet pepper, pumpkin all giving us wonderful fruit, and fresh vegetables.
Neighbours would all help each other cut their yards, this was when a few had lawn mowers; we all would get together and help each other groom the lawns. There was an open area in the centre of the scheme that was designated for the building of a community centre and recreation centre for youth and youth. The kids would consciously call it the park, this was the place for all meetings and even us kids knew how to schedule our own informal general meetings. Yeah, Fridays, Saturday and Sunday evenings were big days to ramp and play stuckie and skip while pushing each other to meet the sky on the swing sang.
Adult Citizens Involvement
During the early years the citizens association was extremely active, especially because commercial interest wanted to build a block factory at the entrance of the scheme which home owners disapproved of and had to network and campaign to stop the development in its tracks. The adults effort for the most part was centered around us, yeah the parents were watching out for all the kids for they didn’t want us live with the dust nuisance that would have come from the filtering of sand and stones and would easily have given us asthma, sinusitis and all manner of bronchial illness.
The big people also afforded us kids the ability to make our own representation when they launched a youth club. I was way too young to join it, but did go watch my sister play netball competing with other girls from the youth club as they represented the scheme against teams from other communities in the area.
As we got older the community was now filled with more youth entering the teenage years. By this time none of the participatory structures that looked like so much fun for youth involvement remained. From citizens association to youth club all semblance of community organizations had disappeared. The result of what I have learn to call a “turning” took place. The first set of adolescent youths were turning into adults and were entering the working world while others were migrating to farrin. My community was therefore challenged and facing its first big test.
I had learnt about the youth club when I was a boy going to Christmas treats that the older youths sponsored this along with the support of the citizens group. I viewed the lull or apathy toward community involvement as a slap in the face. Just as I was ready to get involved and learn what being a young man and a real leader was about the fun, excitement, and music had ended making for a boring scheme. Every attempt that was made to re- start the club by older teens repeatedly flopped, as there wasn’t a consistent core of social interaction. No quorum officially or otherwise on the matter of integration could be struck.
Gender-Generation Gap revealed
We boys however did play football as a normal leisure activity, getting involved competing among ourselves until we challenged members from other communities in the area building greater interaction among ourselves as brothers.
Some of the brothers from other communities were seemingly poorer financially, at least that was the argument they pitched because we lived in a scheme house and our parents worked and had cars. Others yet had satellite dishes. The brothers and sisters in poorer circumstances admire us because we would travel away to farrin during summer vacations and bring back skateboards, bicycle, board games like Monopoly, Nintendo and stuff they didn’t have. For me having more of was an opportunity to share with these my friends all the blessings we had received.
As we all interacted and started to integrate, our spread of ages was sometimes large, but, we had enough mutual interest to want to find ways to co-operate. My scheme friends and my other friends from diverse communities rallied back disparately on our traditional ties hoping to build association. Some of us went to the same schools ranging from prep, primary, all age, technical to high school, even college. Many of us also went to extra classes to prepare for common entrance and attended church together. T’was hard to separate us, for we wanted to teach each other new tricks. From sporting games to sharing good pocket money, we found time to support each other, at school or at play, we accompanied each other to watch National/ International cricket and club football matches, movies, and excursions. This made for a buzz of socializing on different levels.
If I hadn’t socialized with such a diverse family I would never have learnt how to make my own toys from bingie sling-shots, kites, to gigs, and box trucks. Certainly family interaction in the community taught me the art of running boat, surveying geographical areas and demographics. I understood early what consisted of the social make up of the area. For with the hope of finding greater solutions to our most pressing problems, building relationships with all, was an imperative. By visiting other communities I hadn’t been familiar with in our little crews. I was allowed to embark on a march of self-discovery. Learning to appreciate many of my blessings as some of the hard truths about living in Jamaica became real to my life.
Some of my new found friends didn’t have as much freedom as I was allowed. That many couldn’t afford to go to school everyday because they had no lunch money or didn’t have shoes, or their clothes was raggedy and dirty, that many of the youths in the scheme and outside the scheme had dropped out of school. Many were already hustling at the market or turning prentice in wood work shops was a revelation of how child turn Man fast. This did force me to live with greater empathy and concern for those who had less than me.
Not everybody liked the idea of wholesale integration. I soon realized that inviting strangers into the community was a cardinal sin for some peoples. Never mind that it was to promote healthy integration of youths through sports. The resistance was greater, especially when the strangers were young boys who were rugged. Boys whom it could easily be established that they were from challenging backgrounds- bare foots- dirty clothing- hungry belly.
Quickly, I realized that there would be extreme tensions to overcome as one could easily pick upon a flood of resentment that was swelling ahead of the mudsling festivities.
Those who saw themselves as being better than ,and, those who had inferior complexes made for a coming together of increased hostilities, unpleasant clashes, fights, racial and ethnic verbal abuse that eventually played itself out over a period of much interactive sports and honest sharing of personal tests.
Adults who were openly prejudicial did face a backlash of insults from my refugee friends. So much so, that they the elitist aristocrat minded would only complain more without ever trying to understand to this day why some of the youths within the community didn’t give dem nuh ratings a raah.
The strife and heated conflicts were directly and indirectly associated with socio- economic status. Whether a parent or family believed that the community should be playing host to dutty barefoot boyz or loose jobless leggo beast girls is something that would not go away.
I adjusted to the situation and honestly tried my best to help the compromise, although I too was on the receiving and giving ends of the insult. Each day was a learning experience and as I remained friends with my brothers and sisters in the scheme and outside the scheme it is safe to say each of us matured together.
Admitting fault and showing positive interest in folks from either side of the divide even when they were guilty made for some relief as long before the nucleus of us ever got to high school. Forgiveness did heal the wounds, as we would all support and try to watch out for each other as family.
Articulating responsible leadership
A new community centre was built just ahead of the 1989 Election, along with massive road repairs by MP Golding and so the adult- citizens group resurrected itself. The hanging out between us guys and girls did become more consistent as we traveled together on public transportation to school. I kept my dream alive hoping that we could have a Football team or Youth Club successfully, but, none of the older teens were interested in taking a lead role toward making it happen. The new citizen group hadn’t taken any interest in the youth and so I recognized that my dream was only possible if I stepped up to the plate.
My dream for organized integration allowed me to sponge on what I had learnt about the youth club that existed when I was a toddler going to Christmas treats. The good will I had built among the old and young within the community was also a starting point in a process of co-ordination a machinery that would make the dream a reality.
Yes Iyah, my dream of a coming together in the micro-community was needed more than ever as inter-communication was being disrupted by ragged wear and tear all over the society. People were becoming more individualized watching others faults and what divided us in comparison to looking for new ways to bring folks back to singing and dancing together.
Firstly, my mission was to pull out some of the adults that would assist with my grooming and deportment, then I made a link with all the youths in the scheme by sending out a letter inviting them to join the new look Lakeville Youth Club. I renamed it Lakeville after the old club, taking the names of the community’s of Lakemoor Garderns and Villmore where most of the youths resided. I also made it part of my duty to deliver each note personally speaking to potential members and attempting to woo their parents, as most guardians especially those of female teens were evidently over protective of their fresh and green daughters and so I had to allay fears that the youth service project was not going to be an assault upon the naïve and innocent.
The good thing I had going for me though as I muscled to re- launch the youth club was that I had opened up an outlet for positive male bonding through sports competition and folks had seen the attempt and thought it to be a useful result. Others knew my family and respected my father, mother and sister as foundation roots people. Those who didn’t come and see us living in the scheme ,knew about us, because they grew up watching us hang out with everybody being polite, respectful and as helpful as best we possibly could.
The dream of rebuilding youth service in the community did come to fruition over the space of five years, nothing near what I had planned it to be ,but ,yes it was an amazing retreat. It surely took a lot of effort including a re-launch on the day of the historic release of Nelson Mandela from prison on Sunday February 11,1990. This was a memorable day for all persons of the black race and the energy that ensued allowed me to use the event as a catalyst toward forwarding positive community action.
Community action meant excess integration at cultural sessions, parties, sound system clash, scrimmage football competition in league and knock out form, bicycle racing contest, inter- community challenge quiz, community excursions to the resort town of Ochie on the north coast, Hope Botanical gardens in Kingston as well as the National Pantomime at Ward Theatre. More fun and games allowed for a blending and mixing of ideas. Most of our initiatives were supported by fundraisers, Barbeques, Christmas concerts which became annual treats for us to be reunited as a big family. These events showcased the talented youths in many forms. Members not only produced the entertainment packages that stunned some folks in the community but impressively our members and the entire team had to plan and execute our initiatives without much room for error as their were always shortfalls in the budget.
By Late 1993 into 1994 when we had managed to successfully pull together as youths consistently for over four years interacting week in week out, holiday in holiday out, making for a vibrant community. A place where Kid- bros and young Irie Dawta’s were overwhelmingly joyous in unity. So much so that many of our vacation abroad were cancelled or shortened during the summer and Christmas holidays as our yard was where all the energy was happening and we couldn’t miss out.
Success attained –Mission accomplished
Eventually my parents along with the parents of my good friends decided to intervene, as many of the youths involved in the youth club had reached serious academic times. Haven missed out on my sixth form bid the first time around passing only minimal subjects at the external exams. The two most senior executive members Vice- president and President, without any voluntary succession in line were encouraged to resign just ahead of another turning and within months the club was locked down once again to be buried. A treasure of community regeneration, vibrant rejuvenation, and the secrets of mutual cooperation outliving its time. The funds left in the kitty was pledged to a regional community charity.
The overall experience for us the core members was one of real triumph. The community did integrate, a cross section of youths all participated interpersonally, commanding much respect from well-wishers who played a masterful role at grooming us and letting the process of roots democracy ride its course.
As youths, we, not only talked about the crisis of generation gap but did experience it hands on. Bargaining with the more dominant adult citizens associates for some parity with regards to sharing the use of the community centre was just one hurdle that would not go away. Having the random party with loud sound systems booming late at night did scare some of the adults and cause irrational responses when they lost their cool. Yeah they called police to shut us down a couple of times before summoning our club to their community association emergency meeting for questioning. The questioning was about the merit of our fund raising proceeds from car washes, raffles, bingo’s, and concerts and the motive that engineered our activities.
This attack on the youth club by older members of the community did teach us to cordially and diplomatically prevent wholesale war of words and emotions lots of times. We learned to rely on the strength of our constitution ,and, sought positive counsel from the more supportive adults gaining insights into the generation, gender, social and political rifts that occurs in community governance. Applying hands on leadership without allowing an authoritative group to use seniority to crash our party, railroading our forward development and contribution to the community was just part of being committed to democratic fairness of equal citizenship.
We learned as community leaders how to rally the troops, how to stand our ground while eventually persuading others to back down while giving us a chance to use up our creative juices on a learning curve of the arts, sporting activities, economic budgeting and intense socialization.
It was an achievement of great significance for me. Our “one love” generation as young Jamaicans in a complex and divided society ambitiously kept an engine of youth entertainment going without, drugs, alcoholic raves, cigarette and marijuana puffing that was prominent elsewhere. There were no teenage pregnancies, wild swinging parties, or lewd rapacious abuse among us. We were youths who were conscious about certain trends in the wider society and made attempts to discuss some of the consequences of popular culture. The club’s events and activities were cutting edge allowing us to debate issues before sending representatives to the General Assembly of Youth Clubs at the Social Development Council, representing the community in meetings with Ministers of government.
The experience was such that even the adults who put up some resistance to youth progress at the time had learn’t to listen to our point of view, the longer the youth club existed the adults did appreciate our input.
Today as I walk around the community during holidays, some 25 years after the journey began, when they- the older folks- ask me questions about my life. I answer them genuinely, not seeing them as inquisitive hypocrites as others would want me to believe for I now see them all as family. Mothers, Fathers, Great Grand asking me, how are things with you my son? The adults had witnessed our generations’ commitment to integration of the community and so they now age gracefully knowing that the community lies in good hands. The forefathers and mothers, Grand aunts and uncles, have recognized that we were a purposeful team that brought stability to the core. All of us are an extended family and I know at some points, we had disagreements. Today we are able to get pass the obstacles and challenges in our way as we all live in peace.
So yes the experience was not a perfect utopia, it however brought out the best in us, it taught me in the flesh up close and first hand what it is like to live in a community of value, where people try to make the best of what they have. I take pride in the community even to this day with the newly resurfaced roads, empty playing field and a refurbished community centre. I know that the spirit of purpose by a new crop of youth will spring forth vibrant energy once more, as boy will once again play ball on the field as a nice blend of old and young citizens will engage the ides of renewal, investing in love, unity and compassion for all eternal. Jamaica land we Love, Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica Land We Love.
About the Writer, Philip Dinham
Phil Dinham is a member of our Jamaica prime time news team. He remains a Jamaican citizen in Ft Lauderdale, United States where he is studying Hospitality and Tourism management at Broward Community College. Philip is a certified media professional with over six years of experience in formal media relations and radio broadcasting. Comment on this article and all Jamaica Prime Time presentations by writing respective authors at [email protected]