Category Archives: Daily Musings

It’s Not Woman Against Man ; It’s both of Us United

We cannot move ahead if we see each other as  enemy or we believe that we are in competition and fighting for limited resource for women and not for men. Often when I speak on gender-based violence immediately, many men stop me or counter that men are being killed too, of which I am acutely aware. However, men interjecting in this way says to me I am not interested in hearing about women being killed because men being killed is more important. Turning a deaf-ear to the plight of women, and not being open to engage this issue is to be complicit will not

As a feminist and gender advocate,  I promote equality, equality for women and equality for men, equality for girls and equality for boys. I believe in the same way that women who are victims of gender-based violence should be offered  protection so too should those men who are victims.  Gender-based violence, regardless of the, sex, should receive compassion, support and guidance. This is not about competition or taking one side and ignoring the other. We have done that too much in the past and as we move forward we have to look at balancing the equation, but we also must be respectful and be willing to hear and attend to the pain and abuse of women.

Looking at gender based-violence, where 90% of the perpetrators are men killing women and men raping girls, does not mean that we are overlooking or ignoring the the alarming statistic of men killing each other. But GBV, and especially during IDEVA and the 16 days of activism which begins Nov 25  and which concludes on Dec 10, the International Human Rights Day, I am inviting my brothers and all Jamaicans to focus some attention to this very grave matter that not only impacts women and their ultimate emotional and physical welfare, but which has far-reaching impact on the entire family unit and wide-spread financial and social outlook of the entire society. The 16 days of activism is asking that we pay close attention to the victimization of women who ought to be allowed a safe space to be heard  without the spotlight be turned on men.

“The direct costs of rape and domestic violence to the health system run in the millions of dollars, but the indirect costs in lost productivity, in the aftermath of a physical or sexual assault, are likely costing Jamaica billions” Moreno, L.G.(2015) Let us pause here and reflect on the financial impact on an already limited budget

  • Sexual violence against Jamaican girls is more than three times the global average (Al Jazeera, 2015; Lumsden, 2017).
  • In Jamaica, 40% of adolescent girls’ sexual initiation is forced and occurring while they were under the age of consent1 (Al Jezeera, 2015; Lumsden, 2017).
  • Over an eight-year period (2007–2014), 16,790 cases of child sexual abuse were reported, with two-thirds of victims between 13 and 17 years old; 21.1% between seven and 12 years old; and eight percent under seven years; 93% of all cases were girls (Jones, 2016).

COST OF RAPE/SV TO SOCIETY

  • Globally, sexual violence accounts for an estimated four percent of gross domestic product (GDP) due to lost productivity (World Bank, 2017).

– About half of teenage girls aged 15-17 in Jamaica experience sexual violence, Baumgartner et al,

(2009)

the WHO (2014), noted that if Jamaica reduced its violence rate by eight percent per 100,000 people, the country could increase its annual economic growth per capita by at least 5.4%.

Despite the postions that women hold in Jamaica, and how they are ranked world wide in terms of middle income jobs, we have to look at what consistently happens to women in our society because of our cultural norm and what both women and men have accepted as the way it is.  a number of women who have said to me, yes and he beats because he loves me because they have accepted that distorted in the same way that I beat her because I love her but love is not love. I would like us to honor these 16  days active is am against violence against women because if we stopped and lessen the violence against women I am off to belief we will also lessen the violence against men because when men hurt women and children they are in fact acting out for place of her anger and fear and a feeling of disempowerment. We want to correct that we want to create a society where all people are safe, both women as well as men and children and boys; we want to change that aspect of our culture that has said because of survival because of enslavement that we’ve had to strike out. We have  to move away from that and to now respond to what each other as brother or sister. I am not discounting your pain and your suffering but I need you to hear me and I need you to honor this. The 16 days off to end violence against women to speak to each other to speak to your brother’s to speak to your fathers and grandfathers to speak to those musicians who continue to glorify violence and homophobia in their songs how to say this is about all of us this is about our Salvation this is about our Coming to Terms this is about us send each other in a different way let us and these two statistics statistics let us end sphere that many people outside of Jamaica have that is impacting us we can make the 16 days to end violence against women an important turning point in Jamaica for all Jamaicans violence in the home impact not just the man and child with if their children it impacts them if there are other I don’t remember sitting tax them if their pets it impacts them not to mention the impact it has on the economy because when someone is hurt from gender-based violence it has tremendous domino effect throughout the entire Jamaican economy this is why we need to understand this is a serious matter that requires all of our support and help in it and in it the data gives us the base to let us know this volume of work that we need to do to be in alignment violence in the society is a clear indication that we are out of alignment with each other out of alignment with nature out of alignment with what it requires to build a society my fellow Jamaicans I appeal to you from a place of love and respect for every man woman girl and boy and I invite all of you to use the 16 days to heal to seek out counseling from a member of your church or the medical community someone who can help you to take that steps towards healing love is never ever about violence control and pain so let us move together as one people Anna these days and look at what is wrong and I was Society what is wrong in our culture that needs to be changed or eradicate the we can move forward that’s my invitation to all of us as Jamaicans.

Solutions:

Institute Conflict resolution skills training  in all schools throughout Jamaica from grade 1 to form 6 to teach our children to learn to communicate in a calm reflective manner as many experience  conflict daily in the home.

Establish  and offer conflict resolution and effective communication skills throughout all parishes at community centers, and hold monthly town hall meetings on the impact of GBV and where to seek help before resorting to violence.

Jamaica currently spends four % of its GDP on violence overall (WHO, 2014). While that might not appear to be a lot, just image the fundamental and positive changes that would occur if even 3% were put into providing training skills and sustainable life-long good paying jobs for young women and men.

Engage and even commission our singers to write songs that reinforce effective communication and loving relationships.

We are an oral, storytelling people employ storytellers to share positive stories of cohesive family unit, intimate as  well as platonic relationships

Erect billboards that show women and men arriving at non-violent resolution.

Create radio Ads and TV programmes  that address the issue of violence and promote viable alternatives.

In order to correct this behaviour and damage to our society we have to tackle this from multi-pronged approaches and it has to be 24/7/365 days until we have transformed our ways to interacting with one another.

Give the grave and critical situation here in Jamaica we need more than 16 days, we need to attend to this issue year-round. Do join me in helping to restore peace and justice in Jamaica and make the home safe for women, girls, boys and men.

An abbreviated version of this article was published in The Observer, on December 19, 2022

Be Your Best Self & Let’s Work as Partners this International Men’s Day

On the occasion of International Men’s Day which is being observed under the theme Caribbean a happy International Men’s Day. The theme of this year’s International Men’s Day: “Helping Men & Boys,” is rather general, but the Bureau of Gender Affairs’ theme: “Reigniting a Nation for Greatness: Man Deh Yah” more adequately addresses our need to know that men are here and present and reminds us to be mindful of the type of manhood that we showcase and how the men show up in this island space.  

As a feminist and a mother of three adult children, I imbued my children with the same skills and values: respect for self, family, and everyone, confidence, and self-reliance. These core values have made all three independent, successful young adults who are making a place for themselves in the world. Sound parenting and positive role models are key to success, and I know our men and boys can lead meaningful lives with the right guidance.

It is important to celebrate a day such as this because celebration brings out the best in anyone. It is obvious that men and boys in our society are in crisis and we must pause and ask ourselves why. Who failed our boys and how?  How do we help them now?  If we don’t help, we all pay the price of living in a society plagued by crime, gender-based violence, and other negative social consequences.

Once what is meant to be a man was clear, but with development, some “manly” attributes have become outdated as everyone adjusts to changing roles. What this means for me, and hopefully for all self-respecting men is that they are present, willing to participate communicate and be accountable for their actions.

A smiling African American man stands in front of a blue wall wearing nice casual clothing. Positive lifestyle portrait. Shot in Portland, OR, USA.

Helping boys and men means we too have to treat them better, take their feelings into account, listen to them, affirm and guide them to discover their potential. We must strive to be as compassionate towards them as we are towards women and girls. Boys must understand that they need to be educated to contribute fully to society and understand that social and cultural equality benefits them as much as women.

portrait of a handsome bearded man with beard and mustache on a purple background

The message to boys and men this International Men’s Day is: we see you; we respect you; we honour you and we invite you to partner with us so that we can live in harmony and support each other to be our best selves. Walk good, my brothers.

Portrait of a senior man at home

Published in The Gleaner, editorial Page, Nov 17, 2022.

Miss Lou, The People’s Hero: A Warrior with an Agenda

Louise Bennett’s contribution to Jamaican culture is undeniable and Miss Lou is already considered a National Hero amongst our people although the Jamaican government has not yet designated her as such.  Miss Lou is the Queen Mother of culture because a queen mother according to the Ghanaian tradition, in which we have roots, is the one who selects the new king, and thereby determines the political and cultural course of the society.  Miss Lou has directed many aspects of Jamaica’s culture, most fundamentally our language

Miss Lou advocated for throwing off the mantles of colonialism in Miss Lou’s Views, her radio monologues that ran from 1966 to 1982, and quiet clearly in her poetry, most often quoted in “Colonisation in Reverse,” but also evident in her pro-independence poems “Independance,” “Independence Dignity” and “Jamaica Elevate.” All were published in her Jamaica Labrish, first printed in 1966.

This Festival, like the anthology, 100 + Voices of Miss Lou that I edited, seeks to promote Louise Bennett and her work beyond the confines of the quintessential image of the bandana-clad folk figure.

Miss Lou was a multi-faceted, multi-talented woman who had to employ strategy to achieve the prominence that she did. Therefore, on the cover of the anthology, she is depicted as a warrior with her pen as her sword. Miss Lou as a warrior is not in conflict with Miss Lou the folk character because she was very aware of the times, prejudices, and stumbling blocks she had to navigate to make space for herself and the everyday Jamaican culture bearers. Tommy Ricketts, who designed the cover of the anthology, is also on a mission to represent Miss Lou through many diverse lenses.

In Anancy and Miss Lou, 1978, Bennett reveals another aspect of her repertoire, that of researcher who knows the history of this folk hero, and our African lineage. In the author’s note she states, “Anancy is an Ashanti Spider-god and has magical powers. He can change himself into whatever and whomever he wishes at certain times…” signalling to us that we too come from a place with a history and can be Anancy-like in achieving our autonomy and freedom, despite restrictions. The stories in this collection, though intended for children, offer so many moral lessons requiring the guidance of an adult.

What many might not be aware of is that Louise Bennett was not just curious and haphazardly collecting stories. She availed herself of training from as early as 1943 when she enrolled at Friends College in Highgate, St Mary to study Jamaican folklore. She then studied at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the first black person to do so, on  scholarship from the British Council.  This is indicative of a person with goals who was charting a course. Upon her return, at the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission, where she began her career as an ethnographer in 1955, and worked until 1959,  the cultural warrior got her hands dirty, so to speak, traveling across the island, collecting stories, songs, and proverbs, and training others such as Easton Lee to continue this work, at The University of the West Indies, Mona where she taught folklore and drama.

Louise Bennett was a master strategist, who was guided by her mother and maternal grandmother, to appreciate and understand the primacy of our folk culture and elevate these elements to another level, through the vehicles of poem and song and give it back to us to rejoice and add our communal voice, “Fi Me Love Ave Lion Heart”, “Dis Long Time Gal,” and “Under the Coconut Tree”, to name a few. Through her analysis, Louise Bennett showed and allowed the folk to tap into their resourcefulness and cunning borne of the need and exploitation, and most prominently, the big-heartedness of Jamaicans – our ability fi tek pain mek joke, to laugh at ourselves. Miss Lou achieved these things because she planned and was a master strategist. She executed her plans while helping others such as Harry Belafonte to achieve fame and notoriety. Belafonte, she coached so that he had the right rhythm and nuance that contributed to his 1956 hit Day O (The Banana Boat Song), a song that launched his career. Bennett also provided many invaluable inputs for Frederic G. Cassidy when he was researching and putting together Jamaica Talk: Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica.

As impressive as the works mentioned here demonstrate undisputable, Louise Bennett’s contribution and place in Jamaican culture, most ingenious is her creation of Aunty Roachy, a social commentator who spoke uncensored on every subject under the sun. We must begin by asking who is Aunty Roachy and from whom does she get her autonomy.  This is where Bennett’s strategy is most masterfully exemplified.

Aunty Roachy, takes the focus from Bennett without displacing her, allowing Bennett to say what she wishes, free from attack, and consequently with more latitude to speak for the masses. Aunty Roachy is a post-Independent character, popularized between 1966 and 1982 via Miss Lou’s weekly radio show. Aunty Roach therefore can be read as representing the new nation, exploring its identity, and testing its ideas and opinions, all of which is framed around our folk proverbs, heavy with moral imperatives.

Finally, I want to situate Miss Lou’s Ring Ding, positing that Louise Bennett understood the need for a localized future, and that her show, the first of its kind, teaching and proclaiming the wisdom with a child’s audience was Bennett’s way of de-colonizing and detoxing the Jamaican child from the false traps of the Empire and giving her, her own myths and history so she could stand assuredly on firm legs, reinforced by the acknowledgment and praise, “Clap Yu Self.”

In this regard Ring Ding was futuristic, creating a platform for future Jamaicans to know and value their own culture, their cosmology and worth. And Bennett’s refrain and insistence, `clap yu self,’ was implanting as well signalling to our children the value of self-appreciation and self-acknowledgment. In order to create a future, we must be able to recognize, name and evaluate our actions, our worth, our essence, and this is what Miss Lou gave to numerous children on and through Ring Ding. How awesome and uplifting it is to clap ourselves.

Louise Bennett was a performer in the fullest and truest sense of the word, in that she orchestrated her own persona, and she lived ‘nuh ebry kin teet a laugh!’ Miss Lou, in fighting her way through the colonial values that dictated Jamaican society at the height of her career, values that were in complete and active opposition to the speech and traditions she performed, that she had to joke and smile to deflect and disarm her opponents. As the dub poet, Mutabaruka rightly pointed out, Miss Lou is the first dub poet, which is why he recorded her poem, “Dutty Tough,” which is as relevant and applicable as it was when she wrote it in the 1960s.

Thus, it would be legitimate to say that Louise Bennett is a visionary, and her work transcends the boundaries of time. As a performer par excellence, whether acting in Pantomimes or solo on stage as a singer or storyteller, Louise Bennett collapsed the space between self and self as other, executing liminal space – the person, the performer, the performance. This guise or disappearing while being present was part of Louise Bennett’s strategy and the reason, I would argue, she was able to endure throughout the decades with consistent vigour and charm, and become a staple, loved and adored, respected and admired, even grudgingly, allowed to execute her resolute goal, to celebrate and promote Jamaican culture.  

The inaugural Louise Bennett-Coverley Festival which took place on October 15, 2022  in Gordon Town  celebrated Miss Lou’s milestones and the woman she was: one of Nanny’s staunch daughters who cleared many hurdles, circumvented roadblocks, and scraped her knees to bring us to this moment, 60 years old and proudly independent.  Thank you, Miss Lou, for your vision and your tenacity. I salute you as an ancestor, change-marker, and keeper of our traditions.  Asé to indomitable Louise Bennett-Coverley.

An edited version of the above was published In  The Observer, November 27, 2022

My Colonial Edcation Distorted History and Lied

The colonial education I received was primarily rote and students often got into trouble for raising questions that went against the grain of what we were taught. This goes against the very concept of an educated person as someone who can read, write, think critically, and is able to interrogate information, and seek answers.

As I review the content and context of my colonial education, I now know that it blatantly distorted history, outright lied about certain facts, and was designed to make me love, honour, and obey colonial edicts. As an educated woman in my sixties, who attended prep school then one of the leading high schools for girls in Jamaica, I wanted to glean if people from other decades were similarly subjected to a colonial education that distorted history.

I was educated to revere the Queen and Britain and there was never even a hint that the British kingdom plundered Africa and stole its natural wealth and resources, nor a mention that the British government kidnapped or trafficked more than 60 million Africans, and deposited them randomly; that they sold us, raped us, and sodomised us; that they worked us without pay, beat and brutalised us; that they fashioned over 100 different devices to restrict our bodies if we attempted to escape their barbarism, forbid us to speak our African languages, told us our Gods were demonic, told us we were inferior and that the meek would inherit the earth.

After all this, why wasn’t the horror and savagery of the African holocaust taught to us in schools? I sought to find out from Yvonne Sobers, now her 80s what she was taught.

“In school, I learned to pledge allegiance to the Queen and Britain,” said Sobers.

“Queen Victoria was presented as the saviour (and) the British were heroes along with Christopher Columbus. Every year we celebrated the Queen’s birthday and sang the British anthem and got little red flags of the Union Jack (British Flag) to wave while we sang.  At high school, I got to carry the Union Jack as a leader, being a deputy Head girl,” reports Judith Wedderburn, now in her 70s.

 Above, you have my point of view which represents those in their  60s and now we hear from RE, in his 50s, who declares “Up until third form I learned European history, then I moved to Jamaica College and I learned Caribbean history. The queen was always portrayed in a very positive light; her family’s connection to slavery was never mentioned. The British were portrayed as the ones who brought freedom through the actions of men like William Wilberforce and the local church.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by SAP,  in her 40s, who said, “I was told at Prep School that even though Jamaica was granted independence in 1962, Queen Elizabeth is still considered the sovereign leader of Jamaica. It was not only the schools that valourised the Queen and the British Emprise, but the society, as well. One was measured by how British one spoke and act, and English standards were always the model.”

Representing the 30s age group Ruth Howard recalls “I was told that the queen is the head of state and our representative is the Governor General; this against the backdrop of the orphan island being discovered by Christopher Columbus and later adopted by the British Empire. Emphasis was never placed on the horrors of slavery.”

Oshane Grant, another person in his 30s has a very different view: “As a student of history I learned that Queen Elizabeth was a wicked lady and that her family hates black people and were primarily responsible for slavery.”

This would suggest that there have some changes in the education curriculum and the colonial propaganda. TC, who is in her 20s says she learned that we were colonized by the British…rooted in aspects of genocide and oppression.

“However, the British Empire embodied ideals that were to be lauded,” she said.

Current students appear to be given more information. “What we have learnt about the queen and the British Empire is their connection to the Caribbean or Jamaican History through colonialism, and they granted us Independence; we learned that this dominant Empire negatively affected the welfare of enslaved Africans and indigenous people.” Say Adiel a current 6th form student. OE, who has just entered 4th form says thus far she hasn’t learned anything about the queen or the British empire that she remembers, and this was seconded by MD, a 5th form male student.

Although this is only a selective sampling, through discussions I have had with teachers, there is evidence that now there is a more accurate portrayal of the British Empire. The question remains, however, is our children are being taught enough about their history to feel empowered, proud, and equipped to make decisions about their futures.

A revamping or realignment of the curriculum must be in alignment with our developmental goals that must be Jamaican-focused and advances our relationship to the global world.

Condolences to Queen Elizabeth’s family who has benefited luxuriously from the colonial exploitation of our ancestors. However, I hope that through education that teaches truth, and authentically explains our history, we can rise above this damaging legacy and be propelled to excellence and hopefully become a Republic so we can finally be truly independent.

Published her first: https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20220923/opal-palmer-adisa-my-colonial-education-distorted-history-and-lies

Celebrating 50 Years of The Harder They Come

 

The Harder They Come,  the
classic, cult movie turns 50 this year. Thus far no other movie about Jamaica
has had such acclaim.  The soundtrack
put reggae on the international map. I was a teenager, and like all Jamaicans,
were thrilled and proud of its debut. Many of us girls also developed crushes
on Jimmy Cliff, and maybe even on  Ivan,
the character that he portrayed.

The Harder They Come resonated with me on so many levels, from the sighting
of the country bus to Pedro at the beach with his sick son, to Elisa torn
between her love for Ivan and her sympathy for the community. For the first
time, I was seeing my home on the screen, whereas before all the images were foreign,
and given to us, now we were giving ourselves to the world, to say to the world,
look at me –I’m somebody too,  worthy of
attention – in short, my life and struggles matter. That was a pivotal identify
shift moment for me and for many. Something happens to you, to how you see
yourself, how you feel, when your life is now enlarged and being shown for all
to see, to bear witness.

The character Ivan was living out and livng through the lives of the cowboy
movies he watched, and now his fellow sufferers, fellow Jamaicans, were living their
lives through him, seeing themselves objecting to and defying the system that has
been crushing them. What a moment!  What
a revolution!  What an awakening Perry
Henzel and Trevor Rhone, co-writers, allowed for.

 As I viewed the movie again I
see that it is still relevant and applicable to today’s reality, and very little
has changed for the masses in the inner-city and rural areas.

However, speaking with several musicians, they suggest that the industry has
changed. There are more opportunities and less exploitation, although many
local musicians who haven’t crossed over or had major success still feel there
is still a lot of exploitation in the industry. But what is undisputable is
that Reggae music is a global phenomenon.

So when Justin Henzel, Perry’s daughter asked me to write a poem for the 50th
celebration, I was honored, and honored too to be included in the exhibition of poems and art, curated to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Below
is the poem I wrote, focusing on Ivan’s portrayal, not as the hero as he was depicted,
but as an anti-hero.

Ivan –An Anti-Hero

Opal Palmer Adisa

 

 

he was walking towards a dream

from a landless past

and a stolen mango

entered a space

where almost every man

was for himself

dictated by sufferation

and no mirror in which

to see themselves

and seh is we dis

 

a place where

if yu black and uneducated

and beg a brown man fah

a chance fi play music yu salt

was a place where the privileged

joyfully exploited de likkle man

where the desire to be known

is worse than mosquitoes

buzzing in your ear and

biting your legs

and where foreign images

warp yu brain so yu tek

on another man’s identity like

a jacket

 

but it can’t really wuk fah yu

cause de preacher collide wid de gun men

who kill yu blood claat dream

just like dem piss in de gully

 

yes yu can get it

but can yu keep it?

yes yu can try

but will yu live long enough

fi enjoy it?

will yu oman ovastand

and stick by yu?

will yu brethren with

empty pockets and not

even a can mackerel

keep ifendin yu?

or will the system

like newspapers piled high

chop yu down?

 

oh ivan

what is a dream recycled

rather than nurtured

from the soil and trench town

of your life?

how can your dream grow

you wings to rise above

the shoot-out death scene

where nothing changes?

 

what is it you get

what is it you leave us with

more than a song plaited

with platitudes

 

we’ve been praying

we’ve been toiling

and we really try…

to keep the dream

riding the waves

You can hear me read the poem here:

 

 

 

 

*Two Heroes/Two Significant Contributions

The debate about whether or not Bob Marley or Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley should be National Heroes seems pointless.  It’s like comparing a coconut with a mango; both have important nutritional value and both are good for you.  The fact is both Miss Lou  and Bob Marley have made profound contributions to Jamaica, both deserve being made national heroes, and we have space to honor both.

While some might disagree with me,  it was Louise Bennett championing the Jamaican Nation language and elevating it that gave a young, conscious Bob Marley, coming after, permission to take up this mantle of our nation language and infuse it with revolutionary songs. The very people who are now lauding Marley because of the recognition and income he has generated for our music are the same people who were decrying and trying to block him before his success, and they are the same small group that keep insisting that our language is not worthy even though they have not done an iota of research on language formation and development.

Although Miss Lou is not the first to write in the Jamaican nation language, credit has to be given to Una Marson and Claude McKay, but neither championed and pushed its usage as consistently as Miss Lou.  Not only did she wield her pen in its defense, but she ,more than anyone else, made us feel proud to speak in our mother tongue as Jamaicans. Despite the naysayers who keep valorising the colonial language –English is a broken and borrowed construct from many languages.  The Jamaican nation language is a proud symbol of our  rebellion and resistance against domination and erasure of our African culture by a vicious and brutal Colonial system that tried ardently to eradicate who we are  as a people and our basic cosmology – how we see and respond to the world.  Jamaica has a language, it is our Nation language and we need to stop referring to it as Patwa from “Patois which has French origin, meaning “rough speech” 

 The great poet, educator and former UWI Professor, Kamau Brathwaite termed the phrase Nation language, and scholars such as Hubert Devonish, et al,  have been advancing the work of Miss Lou.  Miss Lou took our nation language and found its creativity, ingenuity and subterfuge in the effective way in which we blended the Twi language of Ghana, (which is the dominant group of African people who were enslaved here) with English, a sprinkle of Spanish and Taino words  into a modern language not unlike our reggae, born and grown Jamaican music, loved and respected globally as is our language, which has being accepted in at least two different universities in the USA that I’m aware of, to fulfil a second language requirement.

 When I travel the world, it is indisputable that Bob Marley and reggae music are my goodwill passport. The moment I say Jamaica, people say Bob Marley with a smile on their face, they start to dance and often say how our music and culture have saved their lives. But before and paving the way for Marley was Louise Bennett, a fierce Warrior wielding her weapon,  the pen, with skill and dexterity,  an ethnographer, folklorist, poet and actor, who contributed to the Jamaican Dictionary  by Cassidy, nationalized the Pantomime and moved us away from  mimicking a European form and developing our own theatrical medium.

We must not forget the shoulders on which we have climbed. Louise Bennett and Bob Marley have contributed  much to the local and global love and respect of  Jamaican culture and music  and there is space for two Heroes. Let’s not pit them against each other and  use a passe European paradigm  as the measuring stick.  I am sure if both were alive they would hug up as big people and step forward together. How fortunate we are to have two amazing persons in Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Marley to honor and install as our national heroes.  Both loved and championed Jamaica and its culture, both are more than worthy.

I endorse and vote for Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Augustus Marley being made National Heroes of Jamaica for 2022 to show that we are Big People who fly our Gold, Black and Green wid nuff pride.

KINGSTON, JAMAICA – JULY 9: Bob Marley relaxes with friends in front of his house at 56 Hope Road on July 9, 1979 in Kingston, Jamaica. (Photo by Charlie Steiner – Hwy 67 Revisited/Getty Images)

This article was published in The Jamaican Observer

https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/…/two-heroes-two…/

We Must Disavow Violence & Move Towards Peace

Like a spilled perfume that dissipates in the exhausted city air, their anger and cry for revenge vaporize into the immediate demands of life: money to send children to school, buy clothes, keep a roof over their heads, and food. Not much has changed for the poor black people who are most Jamaicans, many of whom will be waving flags and taking pride in the 60-year Independence celebration.

For many under 30, violence is all they have known. Each year the numbers climb, and more measures are put into place, but like a yeasted bread, femicide, murder, and the slaughter of our children rise, daily, and after each outrageous crime we wag our tongues, descend to barbarianism, free ourselves of blame, and point the finger. But every crime that happens and we merely build more gated communities, increase the number of security guards, and install alarms makes us each complicit in the escalating insecurity of our island.

Crime and violence in the Caribbean must be contextualized. It was the violence of plunder, kidnapping, rape, and military and religious terror, that formed the Caribbean. The Caribbean as we know it today was a brutal space for the  Taino people who were almost wiped out by the Spaniards, and for enslaved Africans whose free labor was maintained by floggings, amputations, and psychological degradation. The Caribbean, in reality, is less violent now than under the terror of European exploitation which our ancestors lived.

The recent femicide of Kemesha Wright and her four children has left me numb yet again. I send  condolence and healing blessing to Gwendolyn Knight whose daughter, and four grandchildren, 15, Sharalee Smith, 12, Rafaella Smith, 5, and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr, were discovered inside their home with their throats slashed. As a mother, I cannot comprehend Knight’s grief; such a loss is  unfathomable.  I send healing blessings too to New Road Community in Chapelton, where this gruesome crime occurred. I cannot imagine the state of despair, terror, and fright of the children living there. I hope there has been and will be ongoing community healing and cleansing.

When the dons demand our 13-and 14-year-old daughters for their plaything and we kiss our teeth and band out bellies we are complicit. When the don hauls out our sons of 14 and 15 and puts guns into their hands and sends them to sell dope, we are all complicit. When university professors do research and can identify the number of gangs, their leaders, and their locations, but they continue to operate we are all complicit. When soldiers are sent into those troubled communities without training to build trust and sit all day and impregnate the young women of the community, we are all complicit. When mothers and the community turn a blind eye when the rapist pays them $300,000 for the daughter and is allowed to drive a taxi in the community and rape other daughters, we are all complicit. When elected leaders focus on removing the guns but say nothing about stopping whoever is bringing the guns into the country we are all complicit.

We have had 400-plus years to learn and internalize this violence, that we must now unlearn; we were taught that violence was the only way to resolve issues, and now we have to unlearn such erroneous indoctrination.

Twenty-three-year-old Rushane Barnett has been charged with murdering Kemesha Wright and her four children, and many believe he should be put to death.  I don’t know if he did it.  What I know is the person who committed such a crime must be deeply sick.  What I know is that often before crimes occur in our neighborhoods we know the perpetrator and turn a blind eye. What I know is that many of us have become afraid and don’t want to get involved.  What I know is without a compassionate, loving village we are all vulnerable. What I know is that if we do not decide to work together to make a difference, things will not change so we can enjoy the freedom of safety. What I know is that the death penalty is not a solution.

Allow me to remind us of a few of the horrendous crimes that have occurred in the last five years. In everyone one of these cases the community was outraged, but who among us pledged, never again in my community; never again will a child, or a mother or a son be so victimized. Never again.  Enough is enough. 

Three-year-old Nevalesia Campbell raped and dismembered in Orange Hill, Brown’s Town,  St Ann in 2017; 13-year-old Shanoya Wray raped and murdered by her teacher in 2018. 23-year-old Kandice Jackson assaulted and murdered in Portmore in 2021.  15-year-old Kevin McKenzie on Jones Avenue in Spanish Town, St Catherine, Auust 2021. In all of the above instances, the community was incensed and came out in droves, then shortly thereafter returned to “normal.” Has there been justice for Nevalesia, Shanoya, Kadice, Kevin?

Are the respective communities keeping their memory alive and saying never again?

Let us come together and talk about the changes that need to take place, how to implement them, how to mobilize our communities, and demand cooperation from the police force not just after but before a crime.  Let us be proactive and live by the motto, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

Let us unite as loving and just people.  Learn to embrace one another and build each other up rather than tearing each other down. Let us acknowledge mental illness and get support to identify and treat them; let us practice general goodwill; let us teach our children in a soft, gentle manner and eliminate all types of violence from our homes. Let us learn to say I am sorry, I misjudged you, I disagree with your opinion, but I do not  malice or plot vengeance against you.  Let us reaffirm that we have the right to feel and live safely.

This is a mantra for Kemesha and her four children. We pledge to remember you and we pledge to work to build a more inclusive and safe society for all Jamaicans.  We pledge to throw off the pain and memory of violence that was perpetrated against us and learn to love and value all ourselves, every sister,  brother and child.

We pledge One Love, and so it is, Asé

This article was published in The Observer, July 15, 2022

Providing Creative Outlets for Our Children*

On April 20,  the National Child Month Committee launched its theme and program for May, Child’s month.  The theme this year is: “Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter. Given a common maxim in Jamaica, “children must be seen and not heard,” that some parents,  teachers and other adults use to measure a child’s behaviour, this theme is relevant and timely.

Some adults still do not understand the potential danger of silencing a child. All too often a silent child is deemed to be well-behaved. However, this is a very dangerous precedent as it implies that a child has nothing to say, certainly nothing worth hearing.  If a child is not allowed to speak and express herself or himself, the emotional and psychological implications are far and wide. It could result in the child being afraid or reluctant to tell their parents if they are abused or harassed or bullied. While a few children are just naturally quiet, most children are expressive as that is how they learn and engage with their environment.

Hence the theme, Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter is a warning to all of us, parents and non-parent or guardians alike, to listen to the children and know what their hopes, fear, and aspirations are.  Adults need to take a backseat sometimes and just listen. To our children and learn what their views are about development and what Jamaica should look like in the next 20 or 50 years, after all they will be the ones to live in it. The theme is also a warning for us to re-examine the implicit and explicit message we send our children that  “adults are always right and children are liars.” This prevalent belief further shuts down children and makes them even more vulnerable to negative and predatory adults.  While parents are expected to know what is best for their child, it is still important that the child’s feelings and sensibilities are taken into account. I invite all parents to grant their children the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas, and one way that educators and psychologists will agree is to use the creative arts as expression, poetry, drama, drawing, and any other medium.

We are better informed and are better able to help our children cope with whatever situations they encounter if they know they are being listened to and you the parent is interested in hearing what they have to say.  It is vitally important that Children are Seen and Heard, which is why, when COVID and the lock-in began I immediately send around a call, asking parents to encourage their children to write and draw about how they were feeling and share. Even though most schools have resumed face-to-face, the threat of COIVD still lingers, and just like us adults children are trying to make sense of the major interruption of their lives in the last two years.

Parents and caregivers should not believe that if they take care of a child’s basic needs, then the child will not be stressed or need a space to communicate their feelings. Wrong.  No matter how effective we try to hide and shelter our children, they know and are impacted when we are stressed and with whatever else is going on in the world. They hear and are often impacted more than we think.

Heaven, Age 8

In 2004 and  2015, a study done by Hyson and Kostelnik revealed that “Children’s social and emotional health affects their overall development and learning. Children who are mentally healthy tend to be happier, show greater motivation to learn, have a more positive attitude toward school, more eagerly participate in-class activities, and demonstrate higher academic performance…(Hyson 2004; Kostelnik et al. 2015).” If this is not your child, then you need to pause and learn what your child is thinking and feeling.

The more opportunities we give our children to express themselves, and tune into what they are saying without telling them to be quiet or shut up, the more informed we are and better able to help them cope with these times and process what is happening around them

For younger children under 10 years old, Justina Goh, a parenting writer, recommends 5 Ways  parents can “Help Children Identify and Express their Emotions:”

1.Name the feeling 2. Talk about how feelings can be expressed 3. Offer a deep nurturing connection 4. Resist the urge to punish 5. Praise and practice – often!

 While Listening and communicating with young children can be challenging given the numerous questions and whys why is the moon round? why is covid a pandemic? why am I a girl? Why is it a constant, and a vital part of their learning process? But we must be mindful too that communicating with our teens and providing non-judgemental space for them to talk about their Feelings really begin with us and requires practice and patience.

 

Covid 19 Pandemic provided parents and children with the unprecedented opportunity to be under the same roof 24/7 for almost 2 years. For some, it resulted in more spent quality time, especially if space and resources were not a factor, but for others, this shut-in period has been very challenging in numerous ways as both parent and child have been forced into an excessive situation of being home together and no outlet for many parents were working from home and no outlet for many children were going to school online and parents having to juggle being teachers while also maintaining their working life.

What has this unprecedented time meant for our children?  What sense are they making of covid-19? How is it altering how they will relate to others in the future? What fears and anxieties has it awakened? What is their sense of a future? We really won’t know the full impact until another five or ten years, but what we do know is that it has changed relationships and what we consider normal. As we move back into a new normal way of being, it is still imperative that we listen to our children. Having worked with children at every level of their educational process and taught poetry, creative dramatic and story-telling as vehicles of expression,  I know from first-hand experience, as well as from research, that these mediums allow for the greatest creative expression and honest sharing so that parents/guardians can discern what’s going on with their children.

 

As parents, caregivers, and mindful adults we need not fear if we allow our children too many opportunities to express their feelings that it will come back to bite us, so to speak.  Evidence suggests the converse; when adults treat children with respect and dignity and demonstrate that their feelings and ideas matter, children reciprocate with mutual respect and love.  Allow our Children to be Seen and Heard and Reap the Rewards by helping to create a safe and healthy environment for all our children. These images and drawings below are expressions of our children and offer a glimpse of the impact of the pandemic on our children. Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter

Crisis

by Courtney Greaves, Age 11

Crisis, Crisis!

Education inna crisis!

Children a bawl,

a who fah fault?

Teacha’s a bawl,

a who fah fault?

Money gone missin’,

What a cocka-fault! Who really at fault?

Crisis, Crisis!

Everything in a crisis.

Legacy gone, 

Inspiration gone.

School a lockdung

A nuh Covid fault.

Crisis, Crisis!

Police inna crisis!

Crisis, Crisis!

Hospital inna crisis!

Crisis, Crisis!

The worl’ inna crisis!

WHO AT FAULT?!

A NUH COVID FAULT?

What a cocka-fault~

My Life in the COVID Crisis

Oren, 14 years old

Life is meant to be enjoyed wisely

And as humans we take care of each

other proudly 

COVID has impacted our lives

in the bad and good times

But we as a people put our effort

into making a change for a nation

We have suffered our own types

of pain during this challenge

God has had a plan for us to seek for answers

 and when we work together as a nation

we can fix the problem.

How I feel about COVID19

Zaira, Age 10

I feel bad because we can’t go out or see family members often

 and I can’t socialize with friends a lot. Corona makes me feel

 terrible. Even worst – it’s hard to breathe in a face mask. 

Corona is also a stress to me because going online is hard to do.

Corona affects me in many ways like I can’t go to face-to-face school. 

We have to do many things like wear a mask, and social distance to 6 feet apart. 

Avoid sharing, wash hands regularly.  It is hard to not share when you are kind.  Corona makes me feel scared especially when my Family has to go

to Face to Face work.

This is how I feel about COVID-19

Zamoya, Age 8

Unhappy and scared.  It’s hard for me to breathe in the mask. 

COVID-19 is a very bad virus.  It is so bad I cannot play with my friends. 

 I am sad because I cannot go to face-face class. 

We have to wear face mask, social distance, avoid sharing. 

We must follow the protocols. I am scared because my mother

has to work at the office.  I wish COVID would go away.

Covid-19 is a Bad Thing 

Mehki, Age 8 

Covid-19 is a bad thing!

If you get sick and can pay the expenses

you can live for a longer time.

I don’t feel like Covid-19 is a good thing to get

because you will get sick and maybe even die.

That’s why I put on my mask and wash my hands 

I use the hand sanitiser when I am going out. 

When I got Covid-19 I didn’t feel anything. 

I thought I had a cold 

One night I got too hot and then I had to take a shower

but it couldn’t be hot water because

that will make me more hotter and

I may could have died.

I use cold water instead to cool me down.

I feel fine now!

Untitled

Shawn Paul, 18

Covid  is a virus

that is dangerous for you.

You might catch a flu

and you might get a tummy ache

but the severity of this virus

could put you in a hole.

So always wear your mask

and keep sanitized

because the safety of your health

is the safety of all.

pictures by Zahra, Safayah, Mora, Skye, all Age 9

I encourage all parents to provide space and time for their children to express their feelings and ideas through the use of a creative medium, and look out for the launch of Breadfruit & Ackee and journal for Caribbean Children.

*A partial version of this article was published in The Daily Observer, Monday, May 30, 2020

Always Knowing I would Be Mother

They say all little girls dream of being mothers. I don’t know how true that statement is, but I remember consciously planning my motherhood when I was about ten years old.

I was going to marry a cricket fast bowler and we were going to have four children. I was going to play outside barefoot with my children. I was going to plait my daughters’ hair in three, triangle-parted just like my mother did mine. We were going to go to the beach every Sunday and eat mango ice cream. Our life would be perfect.

I didn’t marry a cricket player and I didn’t have four children. Three seemed plenty. We did play and eat ice cream and I did plait my daughters’ hair and I loved being a mother as much as I love being a writer, and I miss mothering young children.

As I think about being a mother this year, this is my offering.

100+ Voices for Miss Lou

100+ Voices for Miss Lou is an anthology of  poetry, tributes, interviews and essays by  107 contributors that took me two years to put it together. The anthology is a homage to The Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley whose work and life have been sources of inspiration, and have helped me to develop as a poet and a social/cultural activist. While many Jamaicans want to trap Miss Lou in a bandana and smiling , I know her as a warrior who had to fight numerous battles to stand in her own shoe, and this collection is to help shatter the very narrow box into which we have imprisoned Miss Lou.

Putting an anthology together is perhaps harder than writing a single collection of poems or stories or even a novel because so many people are involved with personalities and a different sense of deadline, and also their own agenda, which might not dovetail with yours the editor. While I cannot say that when the idea of the anthology came to me that I knew what I wanted it to be or even knew the different sections, no I did not. What  I knew was, it was intended to fulfil a promise I made to Miss Lou when I first interviewed her in 1987. In 1987 when I entered the doctoral programme at the University of California, Berkeley, I initially thought about writing a biography of Louise Bennett, but after the first of two interviews, the project seemed overwhelming so I abandoned it. An excerpt of the interview is included in the anthology.

Readers will enjoy contributions by the obvious suspects such as Mervyn Morris and Carolyn Cooper, both of whom have done extensive work on Louise Bennett as well as poetry and essays by Joan Andrea Hutchinson,  Mutabaruka, Amina Blackwood Meeks, Linton Kwesi Johnson, then some wonderful surprises by Kei Miller, the essay on her war poems by Dalea Bean and the marvellous sharings and  tributes by Lorna Goodison, the former Poet Laureate, and the former Prime Minister, PJ Patterson and the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Oliva Grange. While most of the pieces are first time publication, there are a number of pieces that have appeared elsewhere. Also, in order to get the diversity of voices and include a number of persons who worked with Miss  Lou, but who aren’t writers, I ended up doing eleven interviews…the work was enormous and demanding making this anthology come alive.

I have gotten a lot of queries about the cover image which is by Tommy Ricketts, and my first and only consideration for the cover.  Tommy Ricketts has six other images in the collection and this work came about as a request from me to him, when I were organizing Miss Lou’s centennial, and hosted an exhibition of Tommy Ricketts unorthodox images in the foyer gallery at the Regional Headquarters of The University of the West Indies, Mona. This image, like the others, debunks all the popular and loved images of Miss Lou dressed in her folk costume, regale with a bandana.  Instead, in an attempt to have readers and lovers of Miss Lou see the fierce strategic side of her, she is armed with a nib pen, her weapon of choice, her sword strapped on her back and behind her are two male elders, also armed with pens, who have allowed her into the valley of liberation. This image shatters any box into which others might want to confine Miss Lou, who is more than a comic, more than a smiling sweet woman who promoted the Jamaican language and legitimize our nation language.

The importance of 100 + Voices for Miss Lou is not just s tribute to her, but more importantly, a place where lovers of Louise Bennett-Coverley’s work and the work of those who were touched and moved by her generosity of spirit can find in one single collection, a rich, diverse body of work that reveals the range of Louise Bennett’s contribution to Jamaican culture.  It is a teaching tool as well as a full read for those who love literature.

 My goal as a writer is to publish at least 50 books before I transition from this life and to have them all made into movie and translated into 200 languages. I am affirming 3 Netflix Series: Love’s Promise; Until Judgment Comes and Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories…

I am also working on a children’s picture book of Miss Lou, which I plan to have out next year.

I welcome your help and sponsorship to make these dreams a reality.


Please note, 100+ Voices for Miss Lou is available at the following locations locally and internationally:

§  The University Bookshop, The UWI, Mona Campus

§  Kingston Bookshop Limited

§  Fontana Pharmacy

§  Books & CD’s (located at the Norman Manley International Airport)

    Sangster’s Book Stores Limited

Buy a copy for yourself, and buy a copy for a local library or school. I thank you for your support.

The eBook is available at:

Amazon (Kindle and Paperback) click here

BookFusion click here

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