Jah could never give the power to a baldhead
Jah could never give the power to a baldhead
Run come crucify the Dread.
Loading article content
Time alone - oh, time will tell:
Think you're in heaven, but ya living in hell.
Time Will Tell
The youth with the dreadlocks gave up a half-hearted attempt to sell some marijuana and fell instead to discussing politics."Jamaica is not independent," he said. "We are in-de-pen. You cannot be independent when you are denied the resources you need to survive. This here is not independence. It is hell." He's talking in the shade of a tree outside the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston's Hope Road. This is the house where Marley brought the ghetto uptown, and the house where the reggae superstar was shot, probably by political gunmen, on the eve of a unity concert at the National Heroes Park in 1976. It still stands as a symbol of a doomed attempt to cross the chasm between uptown and downtown and to end the violence that runs like a scar through Jamaica's inner city communities.
If Jamaica is a hell it is a particularly beautiful version of it. This is an island of palm trees and lush, green vegetation stretching up from white sands and deep blue seas. Kingston today has a sleek and modern business centre, smart and affluent suburbs, cool jerk restaurants and the relaxing, beautifully tended Emancipation Park. You can live here without ever being seriously perturbed by the violence that was once synonymous with the Jamaican capital.
But when Jamaica was given its outstanding natural beauty it came with strings attached. So while this is the island of Montego Bay and Negril, where tourists stay in huge Spanish hotels, it is also an island of grinding rural poverty and inner-city ghettoes such as Trenchtown, where Marley roamed the streets as a child, and Waterhouse, the deprived area from where Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce started out on the road to becoming the first Caribbean woman to win Olympic gold in the 100m. Ghettoes where the streets still rumble to the sound of reggae and its slacker second cousin, dancehall - and still to the sound of gunfire.
Uptown babies don't cry,
They don't know what suffering is like.
They have mummy and daddy,
Lots of toys to play with.
Husoni Raymond is a downtown teenager, albeit hardly a typical one. He sits outside a brightly painted house, the upper floor of which has still be finished. Eleven people live in the house in the Tower Hill ghetto: Husoni's mum, their extended family and two neighbours in need of shelter ... but no father. Over the coming days we will discover how unremarkable this is in Jamaica.
In truth, it is one of the few unremarkable things about Husoni. He is 17 years old, at an age when many young men in his community are smoking ganja and falling easily into the partying, indolence and violence of the ghetto cliche. But this is not Husoni's life and he is determined it will not be his future. He stays at home and studies and works and dreams of ways to thwart the fate determined for him by a simple accident of birth.
"Most of the youth in this area are not interested in reading," he says. "They are more interested in partying and that stuff. I was never really doing that. I was a more reserved person, I was not allowed to be loose on the road. My mother told me, 'I do not want you to be part of the majority. I do not want you to be part of the statistics which say that nothing good can come from the ghetto. I want you to be different.'"
Husoni's life found its focus when he was 14 and invited to join one of a string of inner-city youth groups run by Rise Life Management Services, a non-governmental organisation that is one of a number of partnerships forged in Jamaica by Unicef, an official charity partner of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"I was not really interested in any programmes at that time," says Husoni. But encouraged by his mother, he went along and found it suited him. "I liked participating and socialising with people in my community," he says. Husoni has completed leadership training and a range of skills workshops with Rise. He was even awarded sponsorship to visit Spain, leading to one of only a few meetings with his father, who at that time worked in the Netherlands.
Husoni's leadership skills were further honed at the General Colin Powell Challenge course at a new sports park at Treasure Beach, more than 80 miles west of Kingston, run by another Unicef partner, Breds. Challenges there include a 45ft climbing wall, negotiating high wire manoeuvres and the "leap of faith", which involves jumping off an 18ft pole and placing your life in the hands of trainers operating a harness.
"At first I thought, how does climbing ropes and stuff affect me being a leader," says Husoni. "But after completing it I was inspired. It was frightening at first. But I learned to trust other people. No man is an island. Everyone needs help.
"I related it to my life and I learned that although challenges may be hard you can still be successful. I learned the core values of leadership: trust, teamwork and communication and that to complete some tasks you have to try and try again. Sometimes good things do not happen at once."
Husoni could so easily have drifted into crime and violence but is instead determined to have a successful career, maybe as a lawyer, maybe a marketing manager, maybe a chef. Whichever path he chooses none will lead him permanently away from Jamaica. "I want to do something which impacts on the youth in my community," he says. "I want to tell those who are going in the wrong direction that crime does not pay and is not the only solution to the situation they are going through. I think they are good people but they are under a bad influence. They are victims of the stigma that says nothing good can come from an area like this. They just accept that is true, they feel there is nothing they can do so they just sit and smoke. But it is not true. It is a lie that is blinding them and stopping them achieving and expanding themselves to their full potential."
Not far from Husoni's home, in yet another of the deprived areas in Kingston where dust blows up and sticks to the lines of zinc fences offering shelter to some of the capital's most needy and vulnerable people, 14-year-old Chrislyn Winter sits in a tiny room on a bed in front of walls bearing Biblical quotations and shelves of the Christian iconography that has shaped her young life. Chrislyn is not an uptown baby but she has a winning smile never far from her face. And when she smiles her eyes betray not a hint of uncertainty. Her eyes say she will not fall pregnant too early, as so many of her peers have done. She will not be left bringing up the children of men who will use her and leave her and move on to do the same to another young girl, and another, and another after that.
"Recently you have more gunshots and stuff and more war going on," Chrislyn says. "A lot of us want to excel in life - but everyone is getting so hot-headed and wants to fight each other, and they are killing off innocent people. Yesterday a man was coming from my uncle's party and they killed him.
"The gang violence started with rivalry ... the tribal war between supporters of the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party [the island's two main political parties]. People hated each other from then. Now you have the guns and people who want to rule."
Chrislyn, too, is a Rise recruit who has found the strength in its techniques to lift her head and dream of a better future. She too has completed the Breds adventure training course in Treasure Beach and sees a chance to escape her situation. "Rise gets us to think positive. I have seen children drink and gamble and get pregnant ... but I did not do that."
Like Husoni, Chrislyn has a mother - her father does not live with the family but three blocks away - with strict views on what her daughter should not do. That has meant drawing back from friends considered too negative. And it means learning the tough lessons that the Treasure Beach training course teaches. "I learned never to be afraid and to face your fears," she says. "It might be hard but just do it. Trust in God and believe in yourself also."
Chrislyn believes she can be a doctor - maybe a pulmonologist, on account of her own experiences with asthma - and a smart person would not bet against her. "I want to study away from Jamaica," she says. "But then I want to come back here to work, to help the economy and help fund other projects, including Rise. By coming back I can save other children's lives."
Run away, come away
From the land of Sodom and Gomorrha
The hotter the battle
The sweeter Jah victory
Run Come Rally
This is an unusual street in the Waterhouse area of Kingston. For one thing, it is tarmaced, for another, some of the houses are relatively recently painted. At the end of the road a street artist has painted a portrait of Waterhouse's most famous daughter. There is quite a commotion today, and a sense of anticipation in the air. A BMW pulls up: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has come home.
The two-time gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, dubbed the "pocket rocket" on account of her diminutive size and explosive start, knows these streets well. She grew up just behind the house we are now standing outside, awaiting the arrival of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton.
Although her life and her successes have taken her far away, Fraser-Pryce has not turned her back on these streets, nor on its people. She wants them to know that if she can pull herself up from poverty and deprivation, if she can avoid the temptations that can drag down a young Jamaican girl then others can do it, too. It was sheer raw talent that saved Fraser-Pryce, although talent can easily wither if you don't work to ride the wave of initial success as far as it can take you.
Today it has taken Fraser-Pryce back to her roots to carry the Queen's Baton down the street where she once stood look-out for her two brothers while they took advantage of their mother's absence at work to get up to who knows what kind of mischief.
"It was difficult at first, growing up in this area with a mother who was a single parent," says the athlete, sitting on the porch of the house as the crowd outside grows. "We had a one-room house, which had everything in it. It was very hard for my mother to find the money we needed. She was a street vendor, selling whatever was in at that particular time. I guess we were old enough to look after ourselves, although we lived in what Jamaicans call a tenement yard, with other family members there to keep an eye on us. But we had fun times as well, because we bonded."
Her mother was just 15 or 16 when she had her first child, 17 when her only daughter arrived, and 20 when her second son and last child arrived.
Fraser-Pryce's father did not live in the family home but in the same street. "We were not close and we did not speak. Well, if we saw each other in the street I would say hi ... but he did not stand up to his responsibilities."
Other girls of Fraser-Pryce's age had different aims and expectations. "This is Jamaica," she says. "Girls were getting pregnant, jumpin' off school. My friends could go anywhere but my mother would not let me go with them. Sometimes I was jealous of them. I said [to them] I didn't want to go, that it was boring. But really my mother wouldn't let me."
The talent that would take Fraser-Pryce out of the ghetto was apparent early on. "On Saturdays, when we children would play ring games I was always the one running to chase the others," she says. She won races in her early school days and her potential, and her exam results, were enough to get her in to the prestigious Wolmer's High School for Girls.
"My mother could not afford to pay the school fees but I met a young lady who was part of the Wolmer Old Girls' Association and she picked up the bill for my school fees. She never told me why but I think she saw something in me. She told me to work hard and I wanted to make her proud. She gave up her time and her money to make sure I could do well at school."
Fraser-Pryce won her first race at high school and was the school's top sprinter. From there she has barely stopped for breath. These days she is the first Unicef National Goodwill Ambassador for Jamaica. "I have a passion for children and I make sure I set an example and become a role model for them because I understand completely how it is to be in poverty and understand how important it is to have someone that escapes that. You look up to that person. It was easy for me to use my voice to push for a better life for children. I accepted this role, and the great thing about it is that you are not paid to do it. When I go to speak to children and I give them my story and I see their faces, no money can pay me for that. For them to get the opportunity to excel, to rise and believe in themselves and to understand that Unicef is here and they have outreach programmes ... Most times in the inner city if you carry someone who has never lived that situation you are never going to reach them."
Fraser-Pryce is particularly proud of her part in the Unicef work to highlight the issues around HIV in Jamaica. "When I was growing up I used to be one of those people who were ignorant of what HIV was. I would think you don't touch someone with this, or talk to someone who had that. You understand how important it is to get education. We live in an age where there is the internet and television yet there is still a lot that young people do not know."
The excitement mounts as the Baton arrives and Fraser-Pryce is surrounded by fans as she takes it to the end of the street to be passed to the next runner. As the Baton heads off into the distance, the Olympic champion is already in the back of the BMW heading for Norman Manley Airport en route to her next appointment in Miami. Living the dream of so many who look up to her.
If I haver,
when I haver,
yeah I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be,
the man who's havering to you,
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door.
Franz Ferdinand, Emeli Sandi, bagpipes and, of course, The Proclaimers provide the all-Scottish soundtrack at the British High Commission's colonial mansion in Kingston during the official reception to mark the Queen's Baton's arrival at Kingston. Scottish country dancing is the entertainment as the smartly dressed guests chat on the lawn.
Louise Martin, vice-chair of the 2014 Games organising committee, speaks from the heart about Scotland's and Glasgow's enthusiasm for the Games, with none of the strained formality that can often make such gatherings a little stiff. Jamaica's biggest sports star, Usain Bolt, has not yet confirmed a Glasgow appearance, although Fraser-Pryce, whose image shares a massive double-sided billboard with Bolt just around the corner from Emancipation Park, promises she will be there.
Louise Martin cheekily warns Jamaica not to expect to win all the athletics medals without a fight. It is a tongue-in-cheek message she repeats the following night at a two-hour concert celebrating Jamaican culture in a sparsely populated Emancipation Park, which starts at the very un-Jamaican time of 4pm.
The atmosphere has something of 1950s Britain mixed to surreal effect with pulpit testifying and extra helpings of cheese, courtesy of a bow-tied compere. His broadening of the religious message to include Rastafarians is too much for two elderly Jamaicans who loudly berate him from their seats. One tells us that he is a devout Calvanist and that only a John Knox-inspired revolution could ward off the threat of radical Rastafari, personified in his eyes by the former Wailer, the long-deceased Peter Tosh. John Knox and Peter Tosh - two figures from different ages and different corners of the globe but linked by one thing: Scottish blood. Tosh's father was a Scottish preacher who generously sowed his seed throughout his parish, fathering many children of whom he saw little - another Jamaican father who didn't stick around to pick up the pieces of the lives he broke.
But then, Scotland and Jamaica are linked in many ways, some of which we do not care to think about too deeply.
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;
And alas! I am weary, weary O.
The Slave's Lament
In his book The Enlightenment Abolished, Professor Geoff Palmer records that there are about 2300 Campbells listed in the Jamaican telephone directory. "There are probably more Campbells per square mile than there are in Scotland," he writes.
We know why. After the Union of 1707 opened up the slave trade to Scotland we rushed to take advantage. We owned plantations and we emigrated to become slave masters. Robert Burns himself almost became a member of the latter category.
Our tobacco lords grew unimaginably rich from the blood, sweat, tears and deaths of slaves in Virginia. Slaves in Jamaica made our sugar industry massively successful.In 1800 there were 300,000 slaves in Jamaica and 800,000 in the British West Indies by 1834 - all working and suffering and dying (most of them within five years) to contribute four-fifths of the entire earnings of the British Empire. Each year, £4 million poured into the Empire's coffers from the West Indies - £400m in today's money - two-thirds of that came from Jamaica alone.
Scots made vast fortunes through the work of slaves for more than 100 years. Less than 200 years since its abolition, we still have not apologised. But then - with at least 50 cents of every Jamaican dollar spent in its budget going to pay off the country's debts - Jamaica doesn't need an apology anywhere near as much as it needs money and help. We took swathes of its natural resources and then left. Jamaican males are not short on lessons in walking away.
Are we not the Sons of Slaves?
Yes we are, yes we are!
How long will it take
For you to give us justice?
Sons of Slaves
And so the sun goes down with a small band of Scots and a smattering of locals sitting in Emancipation Park watching a Jamaican choral group - the boys in crisp white shirts, waistcoats and ties, the girls in long flowing dresses - expertly performing the politest Jamaican music it is possible to imagine. And outside the modern new Kingston business centre, in well-ordered suburbs, mothers kiss their well-fed babies good night and worry for Jamaica's future. Down in the ghettos, Husoni Raymond and Chrislyn Winter go to bed dreaming not just of escape but of a return to show their peers a way out of hell and into the light. Rise worker Zann Locke - one of so many contemporary Jamaican heroines for whom respect is a woefully inadequate response - gets ready for another day acting as the perfect role model for the damaged children she seeks to mend. And dancehall and reggae star Vybz Kartel prepares to spend another night in prison, jailed for murder earlier this month after a trial that gripped Jamaica for 65 days.
In Trenchtown and the Portland ghetto dubbed Gaza City in Kartel's honour, the sound systems begin cranking up his music and the rhymes and rhythms of rebellion grow ever louder. In Kingston, the beat goes on - the soundtrack to despair and dysfunction but also, thankfully, to an impossibly brave battle to save the soul of this generation, and the next, and the one after that.
UNICEF AND ITS PARTNERS
UNICEF has partnered with Rise in Jamaica to put an initial group of 100 boys and girls through the Challenge Course at Treasure Beach before the end of August 2014.
This is the first collaboration between Rise and Unicef, which will also to help in evaluating the short and long-term influence of the course on participants in the short and long-term.
Through the partnership, Rise will also arrange for the participation of young girls who are from state-run children's homes.
Unicef also provides technical and financial support to Breds/Treasure Beach Foundation to implement two projects: the General Colin Powell Challenge Course at Treasure Beach, and EduSport, an in-school programme designed to expose children in rural schools to structured physical activities. EduSport is currently implemented in 11 primary schools in Treasure Beach and surrounding communities in the St Elizabeth parish, reaching 1287 boys and girls.
Unicef and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games have joined together to put children first - saving and changing children's lives in Scotland and throughout the Commonwealth. This is the first time the Commonwealth Games has had a global charity partner. It is a unique opportunity that will harness the power of sport to reach every child in Scotland and children in every Commonwealth country.
HOW TO GIVE
The Herald and Sunday Herald Children of the Commonwealth series will run over the coming months as the Queen's Baton travels the world on its way to Scotland. As well as bringing our readers inspiring stories from key locations on the baton route, we're also raising money for UNICEF, an official charity partner of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. There are a number of different ways to donate: you can call 0800 044 5777; or you can click on unicef.org.uk/herald; or you can text 'CHILD' to 70111 to donate £3. If you prefer, there is a coupon in the Saturday Herald magazine and in the Sunday Herald. UNICEF is the world's leading children's organisation, working to save and change children's lives.