Monday, April 21, 2014

Norman Girvan on his life - One Thing Led to Another

The late Prof Norman Girvan who died on April 11 this year

Influences on my choice of subjects and approach

Norman Girvan  - Autobiography written in October 2007 – shared by Dr Trevor Golding
My field is the political economy of development. My work has been mainly concerned with the harmful effects of certain metropolitan institutions on the development of the Caribbean and other areas of the Global South, leading to strategies for independent development and self-empowerment. Within this broad approach, I have addressed issues and case studies in foreign investment and multinational corporations, dependency, technology, the IMF, debt, social development, Caribbean integration and the relationship between power and development knowledge.
I realise that this is a somewhat wide range of subjects, but one thing always led to another, and the connecting thread is there. I get particular satisfaction from examining inter-relationships among issues that are normally compartmentalised; and relating them to a bigger picture. Over the years I have also mixed academic work with forays into the world of government and international organisations related to these subjects. 

I was born in Jamaica in the early 1940s; a time when the society was emerging from colonial rule. My father had thrown himself into the community development movement spearheaded by Jamaica Welfare and the nationalist project of ‘building a new Jamaica’; I think much of his passion must have rubbed off on me. At Calabar High School in the 1950s, we were fortunate to have a group of talented and capable teachers, possessed of a nationalist ethos and devoted to their calling. I learnt about the Arawaks and Rastafari in second form and about Toussaint and Christophe in the fourth; was immersed in the great Shakespearean political dramas; and studied the momentous political movements of the 20th century. 

Class sizes were relatively small and there was intense student-teacher interaction, which lent itself to what is now called ‘critical thinking’. History, literature and Spanish were my favourite subjects; evidently this was a major influence on the issues I later to chose to address and on the way I addressed them. 

 In 1959 I won a scholarship to study economics at the University College of the West Indies. There was much excitement—Arthur Lewis had just been appointed Principal, and the West Indies Federation had been launched. In remembering C.L.R. James and New World and its Critics, I try to evoke the spirit of my Mona days. Significant intellectual influences included Roy Augier, M.G. Smith, Lloyd Best and Alister McIntyre. Fellow students Orlando Patterson and Walter Rodney were among my closest friends. 

I entered Mona as a Jamaican nationalist and left as a Caribbean regionalist. I have never recognised a contradiction between the two; the one melds into the other seamlessly; and I believe that anyone who thinks otherwise either does not know our history, or chooses to deny it. Regionalism is a passion and a recurring subject of my work.  

 In 1962 I received another scholarship to do my doctorate at the London School of Economics. My thesis was on the contribution of foreign capital to Jamaica’s economic development in the post-war period; this was motivated largely by the ‘industrialisation by invitation’ policies of the time. Jamaica had experienced a growth boom due largely to investment in the bauxite industry; but I concluded that the growth was not self-sustaining because the required structural changes in the economy had not taken place (this was confirmed after 1972, when the investment cycle in bauxite came to an end). I attributed this in part to the effects of foreign-owned institutions in the economy, particularly in the bauxite industry and the financial sector, and to the pattern of public expenditure financed by foreign loans. 

But it was the subject of bauxite and the multinational corporations (MNCs) that most excited me; and this was what I pursued in my early post-doctoral work.  My thesis was that corporate vertical integration of the MNCs discouraged the kind of integration of the mining sector with the host economies that was required for it to realise its potential contribution to development. Inputs were sourced externally, raw materials were processed abroad, production could not be adequately taxed, and profits were reinvested abroad. So I argued that regional bauxite exporters should form an association to negotiate jointly with the MNCs, increase taxation, secure state participation in ownership, and implement a regional industrialisation strategy. My monograph on the subject was part of the UWI Integration Studies best known for the seminal study by Havelock Brewster and Clive Thomas and was meant to be one element in a comprehensive programme of regional economic transformation. I subsequently generalised the analysis to the case of multinational corporations in mineral-export economies in the Caribbean and Latin America; this paper was prepared for the plantation economy study project of Lloyd Best and Kari Levitt. 

My work on bauxite became associated with policy initiatives such as the nationalisation of bauxite in Guyana and ownership localisation in Jamaica, the formation of the International Bauxite Association and Jamaica’s bauxite production levy (I acted as a government adviser for the first two of these). My book on Corporate Imperialism represents a kind of synthesis of this line of my work.
 Immediately after completing my doctorate in early 1966 I had joined the UWI Economics department at St Augustine; later that year I transferred to Mona, where I taught until 1973. During those years I was active in the New World Group (I served as Chairman of the Mona Group in 1966-1969) a Pan-Caribbean intellectual movement that aimed to indigenise economic and social thought in the region. I was also associated with the Abeng newspaper during its brief existence in 1969, which combined Black Nationalism and Marxism in a radical race/class perspective on Jamaica. 

In 1969/1970 I spent time in Latin America (mostly Chile), on a Ford Foundation/ISER Fellowship and then at the Economic Growth Center of Yale University on a postdoctoral fellowship to further the work on MNCs and the mineral industry. The study of Chilean copper was one of the results.
My interest in Latin American dependencia thinking was a natural outgrowth of work on MNCs and Caribbean dependency; the similarities were obvious, and I returned to Chile for two months in 1972 to do research comparing the Latin American and Caribbean dependency schools. Another product was a think piece on the Political Economy of Race in the Caribbean and Latin America that has attracted some interest. Contact with Latin America heightened my awareness the region’s rich intellectual tradition and more sensitive to the cultural prejudices that cause the Anglo-Saxon world either to ignore it or to belittle its importance.   

In 1973 I resigned from UWI to take up an appointment at the UN’s African Institute for Development and Planning (IDEP) in Dakar, on an invitation from Samir Amin, then Director. My main responsibility was to develop IDEP’s research and teaching on multinational corporations. It was around this time that I began to work on the subject of technology transfer--I had earlier done a study of transfer of technology arrangements in Jamaica, and MNCs were the main channel in which this was supposedly taking place. When I returned to the Caribbean in 1975 it was to coordinate a regional (University of Guyana/UWI) project of technology policy studies that had been developed by Maurice Odle. The task was intellectually challenging in that the team of researchers was both regional and multidisciplinary. My contribution was to propose a conceptual framework of technological dependence, technological underdevelopment and technological dysfunctionality for interpreting the Caribbean situation; and then to identify policies for capability development to break the vicious cycle. My own book on the subject was one of four which resulted from this project (Owen Arthur, the current Prime Minister of Barbados, was a member of the project team and co-authored of one of these). 

 By the time the studies were published the policy environment had changed, and the kind of active technology strategies we proposed were discouraged by the Washington Consensus of the 1980s and prohibited by the TRIPS agreement under the WTO in the 1990s. The TRIPS agreement is now widely recognised as being inimical to the interests of the developing countries, as I pointed out in my Patel lecture. I believe that the conclusions of the CTPS studies are relevant today.

Around the time that the technology studies were being completed I got caught up in the ideological debates over democratic socialism in Jamaica and the role of the IMF. By early 1977 I had joined the Michael Manley administration in Jamaica as head of the government’s planning agency, in order to oversee the preparation of a ‘people’s plan’ as an alternative to the proposed IMF programme. The plan was completed in record time, with several thousand suggested projects coming from the general population. The government nonetheless negotiated an IMF loan, believing that it was the only means of staving off complete economic collapse. I stayed on to prepare a five year development plan.
Within less than four years, and after two failed IMF programmes, the Manley administration was voted out of office. The experience taught me a great deal about the real world of government, economics and politics. My reflections on the lessons learnt continued for several years: initially I focused on the role of the IMF; subsequently I emphasised the nature and dynamics of the internal political economy as decisive factors in the failed experiment. My paper for the Conference on the 1970s, Not for Sale, should be read by anyone with an interest in that turbulent period and in my interpretation of events.

Shortly after the fall off the Manley Administration, in 1981, I accepted an appointment in the research arm of the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations in New York. This was my first experience as an international civil servant. The work was interesting—I prepared a chapter in the Centre’s Third Survey on TNCs, and studies of TNCs and the transfer of technology and of their role in non-fuel primary commodities; the last being a kind of reprise of my earlier work on bauxite.
But it was also frustrating—although the Centre was created to strengthen the hands of developing countries in dealing with transnationals, we were not allowed to publish anything that might offend the Americans or the Russians. During this period, I also directed a series of month-long training workshops on technology transfer and development in Africa and the Caribbean; my book with Kurt Hoffman distils the substance of what we learnt and tried to communicate in this project.

In 1985, I was happy to return to Jamaica and to academic life at the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences on the Mona Campus of the UWI; first as a faculty member, and then as Director from 1987. Here I was challenged to provide leadership for an experimental multidisciplinary programme of postgraduate training in the applied social sciences. I view with satisfaction the fact that under my stewardship the CGS produced around 100 graduates, many of whom went on to make notable contributions in academia and government; and established a reputation for excellence in research and multidisciplinary studies.
 The responsibility also encouraged a degree of cross-disciplinary excursion on my part. I found myself engaged in Rethinking Development as well as discussing Jamaica’s external debt; in reflecting on Jamaica’s experience in community development as well as researching the impact of new information technology; in speculating on the relationship between economics and the environment as well as bemoaning the social consequences of Jamaica’s currency liberalisation.
Cross-disciplinary orientation is most explicit in a book resulting from the conference on Poverty, Empowerment and Social Development and a monograph on the Caribbean rather provocatively entitled ‘Societies at risk?’

During my CGS years I began to think of myself as a kind of ‘transdisciplinary political economist’--a hybrid creature that does not command ready acceptance in an academic environment marked by increasing disciplinary specialisation and compartmentalisation. For the same reason my idea that the CGS model of postgraduate training could form the basis for the creation of a single graduate faculty in the social sciences did not find favour with colleagues in the regular departments.  The epistemological issues related to inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinarity were explored in a paper I co-authored with Kirk Meighoo. Although interest in this subject appears to have died; I believe there would be value in revisiting it. My recent report on a Vision for Caricom employs a holistic multidisciplinary perspective; and its positive reception suggests that this might be an effective approach for building stakeholder consensus around developmental goals.

Another aspect of my work in this period was Caribbean integration. In 1987 I had helped to found the Association of Caribbean Economists (ACE), the brainchild of my colleague George Beckford, as a pan-Caribbean association of economists in the critical tradition of the New World Group. ACE has held regional conferences and workshops and published books on structural adjustment, the social aspects of development, alternative development strategies and regional integration.
I was particularly interested in strengthening links between the English and non-English speaking countries of the region as a means of enhancing their sovereignty in the wider world and especially vis-a-vis the hegemon of the North. For instance, there was the need for collaboration in confronting the challenges posed by the FTAA project.

The opportunity to work on this ‘from the inside’ came when I accepted election as the Second Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) to serve from February 2000 to February 2004. My efforts were aimed at rationalising and prioritising the ACS’s programme by focusing on functional cooperation in trade, transport, sustainable tourism and natural disasters; and to ‘build bridges’ between the English- and non-English speaking countries.

I succeeded in the first task but not as well in the second. Caricom countries tend to give priority to building the CSME and to their extra-regional trade relations; the Central Americans opted for a trade agreement with the US (CAFTA-DR), and the countries of the Group of 3 and Cuba have preferred to pursue their regional goals through bilateral programmes. The ACS experience is evaluated in my book, Cooperation in the Greater Caribbean. During these years I did a number of occasional lectures on various aspects of Caribbean integration, and wrote a weekly newspaper column; many of these can be still be found on the ACS website or in the book.
On leaving the ACS I returned again to academic life; at the UWI’s Institute for International Relations in St. Augustine, Trinidad, as Professorial Research Fellow. I have continued to work on Caribbean integration, specifically the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), focusing on the problem of the ‘implementation deficit’, issues of sovereignty, and the limited benefits expected from a purely market-centred approach to integration. I have proposed that the vision for the Community’s development should be all-encompassing, and not just about trade. My report on this subject was approved by the Caricom Heads of Government as a framework for the future development of the region. Currently I assist the Caricom Secretariat by coordinating the preparation of a Regional Strategic Development Plan.
I have also deepened my interest in the development of Caribbean economic thought and on issues of knowledge and power. This subject has become topical because of growing disenchantment with neo-liberalism (and its correlate, corporate-led globalisation) and renewed interest in contextually grounded economic analysis. It was interesting to revisit Caribbean dependency thought after a break of over three decades and to speculate on its contemporary relevance. This review led to papers on the New World Group, on the contribution of Arthur Lewis, and on the relationship between Lewis’s work and that of the plantation school. I have drawn on this work to explore issues of policy autonomy   in the Global South.
A recent paper on power imbalances and development knowledge is an overview of North-South relations from a political economy perspective and on the use of knowledge as an instrument of domination/empowerment. I subscribe to the view that true sovereignty begins with independent and critical thought, which this must remain the goal for those who have been subjected to centuries of colonisation and metropolitan imposition of one kind or another.
 One particularly enjoyable offshoot of my work has been preparing tributes to outstanding individuals with whom I have been associated in one way or another. These include George Beckford, Lloyd Best, John and Angela Cropper, my father D.T.M. Girvan, C.L.R. James, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Arthur Lewis, Michael Manley, and Surendra Patel.  These appreciations have helped me to better understand the intellectual, social and political currents that shaped me personally and the times in which I lived. 
The years have passed quickly: I am still startled when I meet young people who were not yet born at the time of the New World Group, the Rodney Riot in Jamaica, Trinidad’s Black Power Revolution, or the 1970s. Absence of personal memory is understandable, less so is absence of knowledge of these and other events, and of the people who helped to make them, among the younger generation. We cannot chart our future unless we know our past; nor can we see further than those who came before us unless we ‘stand upon their shoulders’.
Reading is a constant source of pleasure and discovery; and I enjoy writing even more now that the pressures of academic publication are absent. The world has obviously changed a great deal since the 1960s: to old problems, such as global inequality, have been added new and infinitely more complex issues, notably the environmental crisis. In my youth the fear for the future of mankind was of nuclear annihilation; today it is of damaging our planetary life-support systems beyond repair. It is also astonishing to me that the kind of 19th century imperialism that was thought to have been banished by the middle of the 20th century, has returned with renewed force in the 21st. I do not see how thinking and informed people of today can fail to address these issues; or at least can fail to take account of them in the work that they do.
Norman Girvan
October 18, 2007

Sunday, April 20, 2014

From NPR: Jesus the Homeless

Photo by John Burnett/NPR
A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.
The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban's Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.
Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.
The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn't.
"One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by," says David Boraks, editor of "She thought it was an actual homeless person."
That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.
"Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out," Boraks added.
Some neighbors feel that it's an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.
The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a parishioner, Kate McIntyre, who loved public art. The rector of this liberal, inclusive church is the Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to the controversy, the double takes and the discussion the statue has provoked.
"It gives authenticity to our church," he says. "This is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society."
The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples, "As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me." Moreover, Buck says, it's a good Bible lesson for those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the Christ of glory, enthroned in finery.
"We believe that that's the kind of life Jesus had," Buck says. "He was, in essence, a homeless person."
This lakeside college town north of Charlotte has the first Jesus the Homeless statue on display in the United States. Catholic Charities of Chicago plans to install its statue when the weather warms up. The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is said to be interested in one, too.
The creator is a Canadian sculptor and devout Catholic named Timothy Schmalz. From his studio in Ontario, Schmalz says he understands that his Jesus the Homeless is provocative.
"That's essentially what the sculpture is there to do," he says. "It's meant to challenge people."
He says he offered the first casts to St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Both declined.
A spokesman at St. Michael's says appreciation of the statue "was not unanimous," and the church was being restored, so a new work of art was out of the question. That statue found a home in front of the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto.
A spokesperson at St. Patrick's in New York says they liked the homeless Jesus, but their cathedral is also being renovated and they had to turn it down.
The most high-profile installation of the bronze Jesus on a park bench will be on the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter's Basilica — if the city of Rome approves it. Schmalz traveled to the Vatican last November to present a miniature to the pope himself.
"He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed," Schmalz says. "It was like, that's what he's doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized."
Back at St. Alban's in Davidson, the rector reports that the Jesus the Homeless statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now common, he says, to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil Prayer for Jamaica

Message and Prayer from Dr Lucien Jones:
As we continue this vigil, the words of the Psalm for today 130, encourage us to be vigilant in prayer for ourselves and for our nation and the world; at all times, but even more so as we await the celebration of the glorious resurrection of our Lord.
In this context then I recall, again young Rev. Larius Lewis, posing the question yesterday during the Three hour service, how long will those who have power keep it? Forever?! No, as even though those looking on and hearing Jesus promising the thief that he would be with him Today, in Paradise, thought that because they had the power over Jesus, all what He was saying was pure foolishness. Until, only until, the temple was destroyed, dead men got up and walked and were seen in Jerusalem. So these men of 'power', in that situation, only had a few hours before, they lost all power before the Almighty God.
So then my friends in Christ Jesus, as the Psalmist declares that:
" I wait for The Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for The Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning" Ps.130:5-6
Let us prevail upon the promise of God. And wait upon Him who declares that:
God is our refuge and strength
an ever present help in times of trouble".
Therefore we wait upon The Lord in faith and hope and pray with certainty that:
- the pall of death hanging over our nation, like a sword of Damocles, because of the action of wicked men with the power of the gun will not last forever.
- that the state of economy weakened by years of living above our collective means, together with other reasons, and which has occasioned the need for the GOJ of Jamaica to 'pick our pockets', every time we withdraw money from the bank will not last forever.
- we pray O Lord that those men and women of Power who hold sway over our economy, who control the value of our exchange rate by virtue of their control of the invisible hand of the Market, and who, when they make decisions to benefit their own selfish gains rather than the collective good of the people, as others do, that such a situation may not last forever O Lord.
- that the 'wretched of the earth', the poor and the helpless, who suffer immeasurably when there is a water shortage, that this situation will not last forever.
- that those who prey upon our children, abuse our young girls and increasingly sodomize our young boys, many of which wicked men are men of power and substance in our nation, that we pray O God with certainly, that this situation will not last forever.
- that our schoolchildren O God, who are being raised in broken homes, and possessed of little training in righteousness, and go to school and terrorize others - teachers and fellow students -, that this situation, O God, will not last forever.
- that men and women made in your image but marginalized by 'powers and principalities', and by what we have done and left undone, and who live in substandard housing, in privation, in inner cities prone to violence and disease, that O God, that situation may not last forever.
- that the spirit of the air, and the spirit of disobedience which has caused so many people to rebel against your precious Word, O God, and thus resulting in serious moral decay in the nation, outrageous displays of nakedness, increasing attraction to pornography, and the circulation of explicit sexual acts captured on video, declining numbers of people who live in Holy Matrimony, all encouraged by men and women with power, that this situation will not last forever.
- that people will no longer 'dress up the wounds of your people', and label what is Sin and an abomination in your eyes, alternate lifestyles and the choice women make about their bodies. O God, we pray and believe that this situation will not last forever.
- that your church may no longer continue to 'forget our first love', Christ Jesus and Him Crucified, and His Grace which is sufficient for all situations, and descend into controversies, error , heresy and turn to gods, which our forefathers did not know.
- Finally, in the words of the hymn writer ( And now O Father...571) we present before you ' our dearest and our best', and ourselves Lord, that you may not look on us, ' and our misusings of thy grace', but on , " the only offering perfect in thine eyes, the one true pure eternal sacrifice', of the Blood of the Lamb, Christ Jesus
O God we are praying and waiting, as we wait for the celebration of your blessed resurrection tomorrow. We are praying and waiting as the watchman waits for the morning. We are praying and waiting for you to put new life into all things, even as, with power you raised your Son Christ Jesus to new life with you and the Holy Spirit, One God. So dear God, breathe new life into the dead bones of your church, and make it become a vast army in this country; breathe new life into our nation Jamaica, and make it become a vast army to spread your word abroad. Breathe new life into the situation in Palestine, where Jews and Muslims have been at war for decades; into Syria; into decadent America and struggling South America and Africa; breathe O God, the new life of Christ Jesus into the Far East, in an area of the world where, for the most part, your Word is neither obeyed nor believed; and new life into Europe which was once the cradle of Christianity but now sadly in large numbers has turned away.
These and other mercies, we ask, as we wait upon you O Lord, in the precious Name of Christ Jesus - our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mercy for Jamaica's Alpha boys

Observer column by Jean Lowrie-Chin - 14 April 2014
Screenshot of Usain Bolt's great Instagram message after visiting Alpha Boys School last Wednesday
 After almost 130 years of nurturing Jamaican boys, the Alpha Boys School is closing its residential facilities. On the positive side however, the school will expand its educational offerings.  You would think that an institution like Alpha would have no difficulty receiving a decent subvention for its good work, but like many others of its kind, it has been struggling financially.

“We understand that the decision to close the residential part of Alpha Boys School has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation,” commented Sister Marie Chin, area administrator of the Sisters of Mercy when I called her after hearing the reports. “We appreciate this opportunity to explain that the closing of the residential part is due to a constellation of factors that are as much social as they are economic.”

Students of the legendary Alpha music programme
She said pointedly: “The problems that have arisen in this programme did not materialize overnight; nor do they belong solely to Alpha Boys School.  They have grown exponentially alongside the deterioration of societal values and norms, our seeming incapacity to halt our country's downward spiraling into alarming dysfunction, and inadequate government funding to meet the social and developmental needs of our people.”

 It seems that the Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna may have misunderstood the situation, as she ascribed the change in operations to deviant behaviour among the students.  Sister Susan Frazer, the Administrator for Alpha Boys School, wants to make it clear that it is a small minority that gives cause for such concern.  The students are deeply hurt by this comment, so we hope that the Minister will explain to them, that her sweeping statement resulted from a misunderstanding.
Thank goodness the great Usain Bolt lifted their spirits when he visited Alpha Boys School last Wednesday, and presented gifts to all.

“The Sisters of Mercy remain firm in their long-time commitment to boys at risk,” said Sister Marie Chin. “Neither Alpha Boys School nor St. John Bosco [which the Sisters operate in Manchester] is closing. In fact, Alpha is undergoing a restructuring that will enable the ministry to help more boys who are at risk. Part of the restructuring will include closing the residential part only of Alpha Boys School as the Sisters of Mercy join with the Ministry of Education and HEART to offer literacy, numeracy and remedial education along with technical and vocation education for more than 200 boys.”

“With the escalating cost of living over these last years, the amount of funds that government has given per capita to private children's  homes such as Alpha Boys School and St. John Bosco for housing, clothing, food and education has proven to be woefully inadequate,” said Sister.

After several attempts to address this situation the Sisters of Mercy have had to acknowledge some hard facts: “our child care system is broken and we can no longer continue doing business as usual. It is no longer enough to simply provide beds for our children. We must seek alternative ways to enable our vulnerable children to enhance their potential as human beings and to become employable and responsible citizens capable of taking their rightful place in society. And with the changes we are initiating, we are pursuing that path.”
Alpha Bandmaster Winston 'Sparrow' Martin
Alpha Boys School graduate, the legendary musician Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin is the Bandmaster for the school and outlined the plans for the expansion of the their cherished and esteemed music education which has developed such other talents as Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Dwight Richards, Lennie Hibbert O.D., Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Dizzy Reece, Lester Sterling O.D., Dalton Browne, Nicholas Laraque, Leslie Samuels, Harold McNair, Wilton “Bogey” Gaynair, Bertie King, Leslie Thompson, Damon Riley, Tony Gregory and Leroy Smart,

They have played with many top bands including Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Beatles (yes, those world famous Brits) and our legendary Skatalites. Alpha past students have worked with or now work with Beres Hammond, Beenie Man, Jimmy Cliff, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and Nomaddz.

“The future developments at Alpha Boys' School mean larger numbers of students will be able to take advantage of a comprehensive music industry training programme at the school,” said Sparrow Martin, “including but not limited to: training in performance; work in the newly created sound studio; radio technology as well as the "business" of music and recording”

He said that Alpha Boys School Radio, featuring local and international productions has been gaining worldwide popularity, with over 60,000 unique listeners, many of whom have contributed to the recently completed Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign which will enable the school to build its own radio studio.  Here, the students will be trained in production, presentation, promotions and programming. 

Thanks to the Jamaica National Foundation, the school is also developing a state-of-the-art music recording studio where there will be instruction in recording techniques, audio engineering and audio production.

“Alpha now has its own top band, the Alpha All Stars, a touring band consisting of Alpha graduates playing jazz, ska, rocksteady and reggae,” said a proud Martin. “The band will be an opportunity for Alpha alumni who demonstrate an ability to perform and will facilitate the transition from school to work. This is a music enterprise, so instruction will include an introduction to and practical experience in contracts, booking, licensing, promotion and publishing.”

Catering Manager and Master Chef Newton Coote at St John Bosco
Additionally, students will be trained in screen-printing, woodwork, general maintenance, landscaping, hydroponic farming and other skills.  It is a model that has worked well at St. John Bosco where farming, meat processing and catering are helping that residential facility, also run by the Sisters of Mercy to be self-sustaining.  It is noteworthy that the Catering Manager there is none other than Newton Coote, who was rescued at seven years old after his hand was set on fire by an abusive father.  Newton, who is now in his thirties, has undergone reconstructive surgery and is a fine leader at Bosco. 

Clearly mercy for Jamaica’s children remains alive and well with the Sisters  – Alpha Boys School will continue to educate and train Jamaica’s boys, so that, like Sparrow Martin and Newton Coote, they can become responsible citizens, embracing the dignity of honest work, and enjoying the fruits of their success.