Sunday, April 20, 2008

Denis O'Brien - visionary philanthropist

Denis O'Brien, Chairman and Founder of Digicel, as he distributed school supplies to tiny tots at the Lakes Pen Basic School in St Catherine, Jamaica, built by the Digicel Foundation in November 2004.

This column was written on the occasion of Digicel's 5th Anniversary.


Denis O'Brien - visionary philanthropist
Jean Lowrie-Chin

It was an animated Denis O’Brien, Digicel Founder and Chairman who said in Trinidad last Tuesday, “Let the games begin! That’s the way of the world … We’re up to it – our staff is up to it.” This is the spirit of the Irish, a spirit which has re-energised the telecommunications industry in Jamaica and the region, providing employment for over 2,000 and empowerment to even the humblest members of the business community.

Irish Examiner business reporter, Ian Guider, who was in Trinidad for the Digicel launch, explained that the invigorated Irish economy of the nineties saw the emergence of many self-made millionaires. Most of them opted to restrict their investments to their homeland, “only a few like Denis O’Brien and the Kerry Group went global.”

It seems like only yesterday that a youthful Seamus Lynch appeared at our office to discuss O’Brien’s grand plan. I had worked with several multinationals, but never before had I seen this level of energy and daring. We hunkered down with Jamaica’s leading marketing guru Harry Smith, in a “war-room” and planned the biggest launch in our country’s history. Tomorrow is five years to the day that Jodi-Ann Maxwell and Makonnen Blake-Hannah switched on the Digicel service in Jamaica. Maxi Priest and river/reggae dancers wowed the awestruck guests whose complimentary phones lit up at midnight while laser lights glowed over New Kingston.

What made the company different from the outset was the unprecedented opportunities it offered not only for employment, but for Jamaican entrepreneurs. One such is the CEO of Fimi Wireless, Bernard Henry, who had initially been hired as Marketing Director of Digicel. When Henry crunched the numbers and saw the dealership dollar signs, he promptly resigned his job and with the assistance of his former employer, joined with partners to launch a chain of islandwide dealerships. I saw a happy Henry at the appropriately named Zen nightclub in Port of Spain, pleased with the early indicators of his business partnership in Trinidad.

But back to Jamaica, where Digicel now employs over a thousand of the brightest young people I have ever seen in one place. We know about the company’s customer care, but their best kept secret is probably the care of their internal customers, their staff members. Consider this. A Fifth Anniversary staff meeting – red carpeted entrance to the Pegasus Ballroom, Fab Five on the stage, Movado watches for the Five-Year employees, spot prizes galore and Destra to wow them. To introduce the proceedings, the witty Human Resource Director, Burnett Coke, dressed in his pyjamas!

This interest in people takes many turns. Like the day Digicel CEO David Hall and friends visit Floyd’s Pelican Bar in the middle of the sea near Treasure Beach. David gets a clear signal and asks Floyd if he could use his place in a Digicel ad. Floyd becomes an overnight star in his district, and when his bar is blown away by Hurricane Ivan, he gets help to rebuild it from his new best friends, Digicel.

Floyd was one of many who benefited when Digicel made the largest single corporate donation in Jamaica’s history, $200 million for post-Ivan reconstruction. “That is certainly not chicken-feed!” commented ONR CEO Danville Walker in a radio interview.

I try to resist writing about my clients, but I think you will agree that the brief five-year history of this company has literally changed the lives of the Jamaican people. I have two Digicel numbers for my helper – she was able to give her first phone to her teenage son, and buy another. She says that six years ago, she did not even dream of having a phone, much less two.

This is why it is important to celebrate entrepreneurship. It not only creates wealth for the entrepreneur, but a multiplicity of opportunities in direct relation to the reach of the entrepreneurial vision. Denis O’Brien’s managers and staff derive directly from his companies’ successes.

“Companies that embrace employee ownership consistently outperform companies that do not have a scheme of employee ownership,” says O’Brien. He believes in mentoring and succession planning: “ People’s senses are stimulated at a very early stage and management and staff begin to think like entrepreneurs.”

Sitting with young employees of the company at that memorable staff meeting, I asked them about their Digicel experience. Cherrica Rowe, Team Leader for the building department described it as, “fascinating – like a roller coaster ride that keeps getting more exciting.” Customer care support manager Chantelle Riley describes her job as “hard work and fun.” Team leader for operations/building Dawson Robinson said it was “very dynamic” while Henry Stennett Jr, of IT, every bit as charming as his dear Dad, describes it in one word, “fun”.

They all feel fortunate that Denis O’Brien chose Jamaica and grew his business to not only employ them, but also train and promote them. In a country where 85% of our university graduates migrate in search of greener fields, you cannot help but be moved by the testimony of these youngsters, bright, confident and motivated.

There are plans to build a stunning regional headquarters in the New Kingston area, as O’Brien wants the Jamaica people to feel his appreciation for the great Caribbean start he got here. His next frontier is Haiti, where this renowned philanthropist was so moved by its people’s needs, that ahead of being awarded the operating license, he sponsored their football programme and an environmental effort that will put money in the pockets of the poor through a plastic bottle recycling effort.

Group CEO Colm Delves says his Jamaican team is in Haiti, conducting intensive customer care. In this, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Delves says the facilities and opportunities there, will be typical of his company as Digicel wants to become an integral part of its development.

Before leaving for Haiti last Wednesday, Denis O’Brien said, “The Digicel Foundation and Caring Connections will be sponsoring sustainable projects in Haiti. Wherever we invest, we are committed to giving back a percentage of our sales to the people.” The visionary philanthropist added, “Haiti is really a great country – we’re going to do well there.”

With his business philosophy, no doubt Denis O’Brien and his redoubtable team will win the hearts of the Haitians.

Good news sells!

If the Bible were written today, there would probably be a verse that says, “If the programme offends thee, tune it out”. Happily, we have lots of options and that’s what we are choosing to do after reading the transcript of the offensive remarks from a young lecturer-talk show host whose achievements we have lauded in the past.

Isn’t it interesting that US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been apologizing all over the place for using the innocuous word “bitter” while here in Jamaica, we find nothing wrong with someone describing a lady colleague, at the Caribbean’s leading university, as “dutty”? If I were she, I probably would be very, very bitter!

The back and forth over what is such a clear-cut case for disciplinary action has left well-thinking Jamaicans baffled. We are muttering to ourselves like “Bev Smith” in that old family planning ad, “Look what we have come to!” We had better wake up and realise that in this globalised environment, the most positive international language is good manners – no amount of education can take its place. Lloyd B Smith is so right to have expressed his distress at our increasing bumptiousness, when he quoted the astute Professor Rex Nettleford, on the overwhelming numbers of “butus in Benzes”.

This has nothing to do with being snobbish or old fashioned. Two weeks ago, we had a thanksgiving service for our pensioner Miss Icilda Riley, from Torrington Park. The humble folk from her yard conducted themselves with grace and dignity at the service. Miss Icy was childless, but a young lady who regarded her as a mother diligently stayed in touch with us to ensure that she got a proper send-off. We had schoolboys still in uniform, bowing their heads as the pastor prayed, and after the service, these goodly people spoke in quiet and gentle tones.

Perhaps the latest media survey can give us a hint as to what Jamaican people really want. TVJ now has a significant lead over CVM, and I believe that this is due to the fact that they have developed positive local programming and have been an enthusiastic partner in the Rising Stars phenomenon. Recently we mentioned the euphoria in Spanish Town when St. Jago took the School’s Challenge crown. TVJ’s ‘All Together Sing’ has put a little known school like Aabuthnott Gallimore on the map.

A good listen to IRIE-FM, the leading radio station will yield ever improving news and sports content, uplifting commentary in Franklin McKnight’s “Frankly Speaking” and balanced news reports from the African continent. Mutabaruka may be cutting but not crass. People are not just listening to IRIE for the music, they are listening to the station because it makes them feel as if we are finally getting it together, and feeling all right about our heritage and ourselves.

The good news therefore, is that good news sells! People will embrace good news once it is creatively, professionally packaged. It would be a shame to jettison someone with obvious talent – the UWI has an excellent institution in CARIMAC and should take this as a challenge to listen to what the surveys are saying, and make that station the gold standard for broadcasting. Let’s hope it’s not a case of “training, training everywhere but not a soul to think”.

The increased use of the internet has ensured that even the smallest lapse will be echoed around the world, and can make its mark on impressionable young minds. This is not the time to trumpet ‘press freedom’ as an excuse for vulgarity, but for us to see the power of the media to positively influence, even as it informs and entertains its audience.

Of course, the blame lies not only with the media but also with those of us whose revenue keep media houses viable. Recently we have become more conscious of the entertainment events that we sponsor. Savvy marketing people know that they would not want their products trumpeted alongside “dutty” comments – one skews the other, and will skewer your product!

In our business, there are enthusiastic sponsors of programmes like Schools Challenge and Owen James’ ‘Business Day’, but media marketing folks have to do a hard-sell of sub-standard programmes. The humble LOVE FM radio station continues to have high ratings because listeners yearn to be inspired. Now gospel concerts are attracting record crowds with Tommy and Carlene Cowan’s “Fun in the Son”, a Caribbean phenomenon.

As budgets tighten this year, ad agencies are being put on notice by their clients to ensure that they get the best cost-per-thousand listeners/readers (CPT) for their media messages. Newstalk only has 2% listenership (Marketing Strategy 2008 Survey), though a very influential following for their ‘Breakfast Club’. In this land of “Out of Many One People”, I am not sure which of my clients would want to be associated with a programme that trivializes an attack against one ethnic group, and is flat-footed in ensuring ethical standards.

There is also a tidal wave that no savvy media person can ignore, and that is the overarching internet. At the click of a button, my husband watches CNN live anytime on his laptop. Most of the top US media sites and of course the venerable BBC all have video news clips. Media houses should now be present and accounted for on the worldwide web. Our dailies and most of our radio stations have been retooling for the internet and already the Gleaner and the Observer offer online subscriptions. Those of us in the advertising business find the Observer’s e-Paper invaluable as we can clip ads and stories as they actually appear in print, from that website. Power 106 may have modest ratings in Jamaica, but is a giant among the diaspora, and friends overseas report to me regularly on programmes hosted by Ronnie Thwaites, Motty Perkins and Dervan Malcolm.

We should also acknowledge that media is big business with Jamaica’s leading entrepreneurs giving substantial backing, resulting in new employment opportunities in the field. It makes us all the more admiring of the more modest owners of the Sunday Herald and such popular community papers as the Western Mirror, the Northcoast Times and The News.

With over 20 radio stations and an audience of millions, our media bosses should be acknowledging the responsibility they have in promoting enlightenment and harmony. We are a free people, and just as we yearn for the freedom to move safely about our country, we should not be worried about switching on our radio, fearful of verbal assault.

Published Mon 21 April

Friday, April 18, 2008

A working love for 2008

Mom celebrating her 80th birthday with grandchildren (l-r) Anita, Noel, Patrique and Danya (Angelo, a US Airforce Sergeant, was unavoidably absent).

(a Tribute to my mother the amazing Maisie Lowrie, on the occasion of her 82nd birthday)

In this Jamaica, where Bob Marley wrote the song of the millennium, One Love, we are still not understanding this powerful word. If we did, we would not be losing so many of our children to guns and gangs. In the New Year, we need to use new words for love, so we do not hide from the work that it requires.

This work has given the world high-achieving countries and peaceful communities. This work was done by men and women who put partisan politics aside, and by community groups with a passion to empower their fellowmen. We, who have been blessed with good parents, have the responsibility to do even more for those who have grown up in a wasteland of lovelessness.

Today my family celebrates the 82nd birthday of my mother, Maisie Lowrie, a woman who lovingly worked for family and community. Widowed with four children, aged six years to seven months, she set up her little house and shop with assistance from her mother, in the heart of Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland.

Although she was sent only to elementary school, she constantly drilled into us the importance of a good education. She wrote in large letters and pasted on the wall, two motivational ditties: "Good, better, best" and "Labour for learning".

There was only one day that Mom intentionally kept us home from school. My sister and I had filched three pence from the shop till and we were discovered. That was our Armageddon! We were installed at our usual sweetie/cigar area - and every customer was told about the "ingratitude" of these "fatherless children" for whom she had toiled so mightily to send to "the good Catholic school on Lewis Street". It was all true - she had actually bartered her sewing skills and grocery deliveries for our school fees. After that day of disgrace, Mom's children have been described as "honest to a fault".

We had become such fixtures in the Savanna-la-mar library that when Miss Ottey, the librarian, heard that we were "migrating" to Kingston after our mother remarried, she had a dinner at her house in honour of her most avid little readers!

Arriving in Kingston, suddenly the wife of an upwardly mobile accountant, Maisie now had a partner that shared her zeal for fulfilling the potential of their children. Our little house in Pembroke Hall should have been a brief stop in my new dad's meteoric rise after becoming a chartered accountant. But illness incapacitated him and he was confined to a wheelchair.

We have no idea how they did it with dad in and out of hospital (to this day the names of Howard Aris and Sir John Golding are spoken with reverence in our house). Once more, we became poor, but our parents would not compromise on our education. They insisted on not only sixth form, but also university education for all four of us, as we helped in dad's home office and worked part-time. Mom raised chickens and sold eggs as well.

Our school reports were filed in chronological precision by our father. Poor marks would bring tears from my mother - tears! The sentence familiar to many humble Jamaican children was oft repeated in our house: "We have nothing to give you but your education - take it!"

In Big Bridge, Westmoreland, little Maisie grew up in a family of farmers and fisherfolk. She remembers waking at four o'clock in the morning to prepare lunch for her father, mother and seven brothers who would leave at dawn for their rice field bordering the Cabarita River. Without the utilities we take for granted today, she washed and ironed their khaki suits, kept the house and yard clean.

Her dad, Joseph Williams, was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and had nightly Bible readings with his daughter. She taught Sunday School and under Mrs Swaby, learnt and taught baking. She and her sister Ivy (who sadly died this month) also attended sewing school.

Mom continued the tradition with us. By then we had converted to Catholicism and we said the Rosary, a total of 67 prayers, each night. As she was raised, so she encouraged us to work for the church. Thrift was a watchword in our house. Bank accounts were opened for each child, and though we could barely reach the counter at Victoria Mutual, we had to make our own regular deposits.

After our dad passed in 1977, Mom threw herself into church activities. She is a special minister at Our Lady of the Angels Church, still driving and taking the Blessed Sacrament to her shut-ins each Sunday. Relatives know that they must buy tickets for her church fund raisers - COD! She glories in her grandchildren and great-grandchild, and enjoys the camaraderie of her dear church sisters. A gifted baker, she made all our wedding cakes. Yesterday she was decorating her own birthday cake!

Earlier this year my mother drove herself to the bank, and just after she re-entered her car, a man jumped into the passenger seat beside her. "What are you doing in my car?" she asked the man. Then she proceeded to tell him about her faith. "You are a woman of God," commented the man. Before suddenly leaving her car, he pointed to her untouched handbag, and shouted, "See you bag there!"

My mother calmly proceeded to the supermarket at the other end of the shopping centre, and later when I made my nightly call she said, "By the way, guess what happened to me today." With my knees suddenly turning to jelly, I begged her not to drive anywhere alone again and she repeated the words that have become her motto: "I am a woman of faith, not of fear." We are humbled by her courageous journey that we hope will continue for many more years.

Clover and the “fadas”

Clover Baker-Brown with the children at her summer school for reading in Vineyard Town.

Writing this column certainly has its perks – and none perkier that the ebullient Clover Baker-Brown who has been a great supporter of my activist writings over the past years. Though she lives in the US where she is pursuing a doctorate in education administration, Clover is a passionate patriot, determined to return and make her mark.

This lady from Kendal, Manchester decided that she would conduct her own summer school a few months ago, at Clan Carthy Primary in Kingston, enlisting her friends to read to the over 100 children who flocked to her programme. Clover was moved by the cleanliness of the children, the deep interest of responsible family members, especially the mothers, and the general respect showed by all for education. “It was tiring, it was taxing, but it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life,” declared Clover.

Since then, Clover has been keeping in touch with the children and shared her reflections on the conversations. “I spoke to some of the mothers too, and I could hear both joy and surprise when they realized I was on the other end of the phone….However, one person was silent from these conversations,” said Clover, “he was also missing at the camp – the father. And that got me questioning/thinking: who are these men and where are these men?”

Clover asked the children for their Dads and arrived at these definitions of their answers:
1) “him not home” [he does not live at home with these kids]
2) “him no deh ya” – [he is not at home at that time]
3) “mi no know weh him deh” [he could be dead for all we know]
4) “me no know him” [complete unawareness of who his/her father is]
5) “mi run him out” [father not living up to his end of the deal and mother puts him out]
6) and the all too sad excuse of, “him dead”. It is never clear when someone says in the Jamaican vernacular “him dead” when referring to his/her father. It could be one of two ‘deads’: 1) either he is literally dead, as in gone from the earth or 2) dead, as in existing in abdication of his responsibilities, and complete lack of knowledge of his whereabouts exists on the part of the mother.

Intrepid Clover did pursue the “living” Dads, challenging them about their lack of involvement in their children’s lives. “And the strangest thing happened!!” exclaimed Clover, “I actually spoke to these men in a manner befitting how I was feeling – ANGRY! And every conversation that I had with these “fadas” blew my mind every time. I was at least expecting one or two of them to really give me a good ole Jamaican “cuss off”, and I was expecting three or four of them to tell me to mind my own d--n business!! But imagine, not one person was rude or disrespectful or behaved in any way that I could consider distasteful. And surprisingly enough, every last one of them was receptive to the fact that I was “cussing” them off! Shocking, nuh true?!!”

Clover concluded that these men were ashamed. “They all sounded so contrite, remorseful, and ASHAMED!” she said. “Ashamed? I was quite shocked that I was interpreting their responses as feeling shamed into being called out. I was mesmerized as I asked myself questions that I could not answer: could I have shamed these men into boys? ‘But how could you leave your children to the mercies of the world, and then feel ashamed when you are called up to answer for it?’”

As Clover spoke to the men, it dawned on her that they also had been wounded by their own fatherlessness – caught in the cycle of deprivation, desolation, and desperation. “And so, the only word that kept coming into my mind was dialogue,” offered Clover. “We need to have dialogue with these men; we need to understand what it is that is responsible for this vicious cycle. We need to understand it so that we can begin the process to do something about it. It is a scourge in the society!”

By initiating the conversations and getting this response, Clover confirmed Don Robotham’s findings about our innercity men in his study entitled “They cry respect”.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” says Clover. “The lack of parenting, caused primarily through single parenting, is the single biggest contributing factor to the decrepit condition that we have brought this country to, and it is a doggone SHAME! …Mentoring is a key component in a boy’s life; this is where they can be helped to find meanings for the challenges that they will inevitably experience,” she believes.

Currently Associate Professor at Prince Georges Community College in Largo Maryland, Clover credits her mentors for taking her thus far. The first is her mother, Lovelette Barrett-Williams: “I have been very blessed with a strong Jamaican woman for a mother. She was a no-nonsense Jamaican woman who really loved me.”

Her other mentors are James P. McLaughlin, Principal of Kendal All Age School, the late Dr. Leroy Wells, Howard University, and Mrs. Barbara Lee, Executive Director, Fair Trading Commission, Jamaica. Of them, Clover says “They taught me how to love – how to love myself and how to love others, and how to authorize myself to do what I want to do. They also taught me how to check myself, especially when I become too arrogant for my own good.”

Clover contributed significantly to the foundation of the FSC as the communications driver for its predecessor, the Securities Commission. (She may very well have helped to inspire Michael Lee-Chin when she got AIC to sponsor a Savings and Investment Competition, and brought him to Jamaica in 2000 to speak at the presentation. Two years later he bought NCB.)

While Clover could get along with anyone, anywhere in the world, she aims at completing her doctorate and returning home, well equipped to serve her country: “If I could be from any place in the world of my choosing, I would choose Jamaica again, again and again.”

“It is no question in my mind that Jamaica has a much more significant role to play on the world stage,” says Clover. “In order for us to expedite this process, we have to understand that we are either going to be successful as a group or fail as a group… We have to return to the days when we really were our brothers' and sisters’ keepers, instead of being keepers of nightmares for our brothers and sisters!”

We need big-hearted Jamaicans like Clover to come home and join the ranks of the bonafides who are fearful of becoming a minority in our homeland.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'Football is like love'

Legends Winston Chung Fah and Johnny Barnes

Admit it. During the World Cup, we are all slightly distracted. Telephone conversations become disjointed as we see a ball heading for goal. Trading on the stock market goes flat, and relationships take a beating ("Sorry, darling-I didn't say 'go', I said 'goal!'"). I had to discuss this global frenzy with my friend the legendary Winston Chung Fah, widely regarded as the godfather of Jamaican football.
I asked Chungie why football had this ability to transfix us and he said the great Pele had one short answer, "Football is not a game; it is an emotion." Chungie likens the game to love and asks, "How can you really define love?" How indeed. There are really no words to describe that day in November 1997, the day we took to the streets to hug each other, wave flags and honk our horns, when Jamaica drew with Mexico at our National Stadium to qualify for the World Cup.
Winston Chung Fah took me back to the year 1950 when post-World War II euphoria reached an all-time high as Brazil hosted the World Cup. They built the gigantic Maracana Stadium, capacity of over 200,000, with the expectation that Brazil would triumph. Brazil lost and gloom engulfed the country. Several fans committed suicide and the once-popular president lost the elections held soon afterwards.
My friend quoted Bill Shankley, the great coach of Liverpool who said, "You're acting as if football is a matter of life and death-let me tell you, it is much more than that!"
Chungie created the Santos Football Club in 1964, describing it as "the tent under which all classes could meet-uptown, downtown and cross-town". Before that, he said, the less fortunate youngsters did not have an opportunity to hone their skills. "This is why I cherish my long-time friendship with Excelsior star and National player, Patrick Chin. He could have gone with the more elite teams, but we had the same vision. He and other colleagues used their resources to help others in the team."
The nucleus of the team was Chin, twin brothers Niah and Shiah Hardie, Peter Lee, Karl Hans from Maiden Lane, George Burke and Tony Holbrook. Santos went on to win Division One, featuring the famous Alan "Skill" Cole and Michael Levy. My husband Hubie Chin, Patrick's brother, was on the junior team, the first Santos team to win a championship (I have the picture to prove it).
Chungie sees football as a unifier and motivator. He remembers the tremendous contribution made by Winthorpe "Jackie" Bell and Dennis Ziadie who tragically lost their lives in a bus accident when they attended the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. He believes that his best moment in Jamaican football was a World Championship match with Mexico in 1965, when Jamaica "mashed up" the field at the National Stadium, showing world-class mettle although Mexico ended up the winners. He knew then, that one day Jamaica would reach the World Cup.
So why is Jamaica not in Germany? Chung thinks it was a blunder to have England-based player Darryl Powell, the leading goal-scorer for the Jamaica team, on the bench for the Jamaica-USA match. However, he does not want to "bad-talk" the local coaches because he believes that while Rene Simoes did a good job, Jamaican directors have never been provided with the same tools as the foreigners.
Who will win the 2006 World Cup? "Well, Brazil is my team," says Chungie. "But it's early days yet, and their centre-backs are slightly suspect. Sixty per cent of the game is played in the middle of the field, but if they do more passes, the defence wouldn't have much to do.
Offensively, Brazil should be the best. But Argentina looked very good on Friday!" He warned that some of the stars have come into the World Cup from "very physical" leagues and we have not been able to do a proper evaluation of their injuries. Moreover, he says that Brazil is under great pressure as "everybody is playing against them".
Chungie is very proud of Trinidad and Tobago's performance so far. He had worked with them for a month, before the arrival of their Dutch coach and was congratulated by Jack Warner for the role he played in motivating the team.
He remarked on last week's report that there were discussions with Johnny Barnes about the possibility of coaching the Jamaica team. "Johnny would be able to lift us up. Remember how we all switched to supporting Liverpool when he went there? He could do a lot-they should try to secure him!" he said. Well do I remember that golden day at Chukka Cove in 1989 when Chungie teamed up with Johnny to conduct a Football Clinic for school boys and girls. Both had the kids' rapt attention-it was amazing what they achieved in a single day.
The popular coach hopes to return to Jamaica from Cayman one day to set up a Centre of Excellence to develop the best young football talent in the country, blending sports and academics. "Last year alone in Cayman, I was able to get 12 scholarships for the kids here. Imagine how many more I could get with all the talent we have in Jamaica.
I would like us to work out a system where we work with the inner-city youth, get them through university and bond them to return after they graduate to work with other youngsters. When our young people hear one of their own talking about studying and achieving, that will be the best motivation."
Chungie thinks that PM Simpson Miller has sent the right signal about her commitment to youth and sports by retaining that portfolio. "I think sports will definitely go forward. With the wealth of experience that Eddie Seaga and PJ Patterson have, it would be a great plus for them to be sitting with and advising the prime minister. We have to bury the past and move on."
Chungie wants to use football to turn young people away from crime. "That is what I want to leave for my country. I met with George Phang and I told him, 'Pepper, this has to stop.' Too many bright youth losing their life. I want to give them hope."
He singles out Ricardo "Bibi" Gardner and Ricardo Fuller as footballers that our youngsters can emulate. "I hear Bibi's name being mentioned as the next captain of the Bolton Wanderers-that would be big business. He has a lot of class and character. When he was going to England for the first time, he asked for his mother to stay with him. That told me a lot.
"We are going to go places. We should give Portia a chance," he says. "Don't be too hasty to judge her. I remember Foggy Burrowes saying that we shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes-the only people who don't make mistakes are those who do nothing."

The rising Bruce Golding

This column by Jean Lowrie-Chin was published on December 4 2006, in the Jamaica Observer. In September 2007, Bruce Golding led the JLP to victory in the General Elections and was sworn in as Prime Minister.

Had he poured his passion into other endeavours, Bruce Golding would by now have several "handles" on his name. But from childhood, Golding has been taking the road less travelled. Imagine this nine-year-old from Alpha Primary, refusing to accept that he was too young to attend high school. He marched himself over to St George's College, armed with his excellent Common Entrance results, to argue his case to the authorities.
Golding entered St George's at 10, and passed the Senior Cambridge exams before he was 15 with distinctions in Maths and English. At 19, Golding interrupted his studies at UWI to rescue his father's campaign when changes in his constituency boundaries deprived him of several strongholds. The late Speaker of the House, Tacius Golding, won a decisive victory.
Tomorrow, when the Leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party celebrates his 59th birthday, he cannot only look back at super-sized accomplishments, but can also look forward to a general election next year, the best chance of his lifetime to lead his country.
So what are some of the credentials of this man, Bruce Golding, who does not immediately sweep you off your feet, but whose quiet warmth eventually "takes your spirit"? Charisma comes in many forms. At the 63rd JLP Conference on November 19, Golding said, "I am what I am. I am just a simple human being who loves his country, who has an abiding faith in the goodness of the Jamaican people."
Steeped in the politics of the Jamaica Labour Party since he was two years old, Golding entered active politics as a teenager and, by age 24, became Jamaica's youngest ever member of parliament, copping the West St Catherine seat, a national record that still stands. Golding told the conference what he believes for himself: "We are born with the capacity for greatness."
So used are we to different manifestations of greatness, the fiery Marcus Garvey, the swashbuckling Bustamante, that we find it difficult to think of greatness in the form of a man who would walk away from a powerful position in the JLP, beg his country's forgiveness for past sins, start a "new and different" political party and lose his cherished seat in Parliament because he refused to answer violence with violence.

But this is exactly what happened after his proposal for reforms in the JLP were rejected in 1995, the beginning of seven lean but redemptive years for Bruce Golding.
I winced for the NDM, when I heard their slogan, "Change the System", focused on constitutional reform. Perhaps because we are still graduating semi-literates out of high school I knew that this approach would get little traction. Campaigning in a "new and different" way, turning his back on any form of intimidation, Bruce Golding lost his seat in the House of Parliament.
Well do I remember that election day in 1997. As communications consultant for the EOJ, I received a call to prepare an urgent radio announcement. It appeared that poll clerks at certain stations in Central St Catherine had been threatened the night before and had not turned up to open the polls. After the notice reminding the presiding officers that they could be penalised under the law for delinquency, they showed up. No one will ever know how many votes those late starters cost Golding.
After a failed by-election in North East St Ann, Golding called it quits with the NDM, and admitted responsibility for not being able to attract more votes. We heard Golding being called many names: "failure", "traitor", "politically dead".
That he could have hosted such a balanced, interesting talk show, "Disclosure", running second only to the entrenched "Hotline" is yet another instance of Bruce turning defeat into a "Golding Opportunity". In a back-handed way, these testing times served him well, proving to detractors that he was his own man, not a "Seaga clone".
Golding's stable family life is not typical of our political leaders. His wife of 34 years, Lorna, and his three children have publicly attested to his love and support. As we warmed to Errald Miller's endorsement of his beautiful Portia, so has the public responded positively to the lovely, serene Lorna Golding speaking of her husband's encouragement of her entrepreneurial ambitions.
This unconditional support system has taken Bruce Golding through his darkest days. When the JLP came a-courting in 2002, Golding insisted that a Memorandum of Understanding be drawn up before he accepted.
Among the terms insisted on by Bruce Golding were:
. practical initiatives to eliminate political tribalism and garrison politics.
. special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute corruption among public officials.
. oversight committees of Parliament to be chaired by Opposition members.
. re-examine issues of separation of powers, term limits and fixed election dates.
It is a secure human being that would prescribe his own limitations. "I have sought to build the party not around me but around a set of ideas and principles," Golding told the conference. "Leaders will come and leaders will go, but the ideals that hold us together will endure."
Within three short months from February to April of last year, Golding's political fortunes reached a new high as he was elected unopposed as JLP leader, won the election in West Kingston to become their member of parliament, thereby becoming eligible to take over as Leader of the Opposition.
Golding's legendary organisational skills, attracting credible new members, have sent the party's stocks soaring. Jamaicans have welcomed this more unified, re-energised Opposition party, their vigilance backed by meticulous research. Even as Bruce Golding hopes to form the next government, he continues to demand a strengthening of the Opposition's role.
4 December 2006

A flowers fi di Dread

It was Friday December 3, 1976 and photographer Lennie Gordon and I were leaving the Hilton Hotel (then called the New Kingston Hotel) when we saw Bob Marley about to get into his car. "May I take a picture with you?" I asked. He flashed his fabulous smile and said yes.
Would you believe, later that very evening, Bob Marley was shot at his Hope Road home, wearing this same shirt in the photo. Thank God he survived to star in the historical Peace Concert two days later in Jamaica's National Stadium.

Bob transited this life in May 1981. Thousands lined up to pay their last respects as he lay in state at our National Arena. The poem below was my experience.

“Righteous! A flowers fi di Dread!”
The man salutes
My ribbon-tied rose
As we inch towards the Arena
Sun hot, heart warm
One love for Bob.

Steps slow to the beat
Of the mournful drums
Chests heave, eyes mist
To see our sleeping star
Still – too still
With his quiet guitar
A gentle man puts the rose
Intensely red
beside the Dread.
“Jah give
Jah taketh away
Jah live!”

© Jean Lowrie-Chin

Life’s Lighter Side

A recent Time Magazine cover featured not the usual world leader, but the round, yellow, Mr Smileyface, that cheery symbol we put on notes to our friends. Turns out that scientists are discovering that happy, optimistic people live healthier, longer lives. I’ve also found them to be some of the most prosperous – positive people radiate energy.

Winston 'Bello' Bell
Despite our daunting crime problems, Jamaicans still have that great gift of being able to look on the lighter side. In the tradition of Louise Bennett and Ranny Williams, Charles Hyatt, Oliver Samuels, Fae Ellington, Claudette Pious , Winston ‘Bello’ Bell, ‘Blacka’ Ellis, Michael ‘Boysie’ London, Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendricks, Joan Andrea Hutchinson, ‘Ity and Fancy Cat’, young Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley, and so many more, we have sweetened our lives with humour. It should come as no surprise that we have the life expectancy of first world countries.

Oliver Samuels
One look at Oliver Samuels, and you start laughing. My friend’s late mother who was in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease, was unresponsive until the ‘Mack D’s’ ad came on TV. Whenever Oliver said “Mack D’s gone mad!” she would become animated and laugh merrily. Such is the power of comedy.

We don’t have to go far to find a joke. Take my husband’s football team (please!). Each of them has a nifty nickname, with a long involved story as to how they got ‘christened’. They include Led, Sour, Spanner, Rubie, Dugu – strange names but great guys. Believe me, if we put Led’s (Richard Wan’s) outrageous laughter to a good reggae beat, it would go platinum.

We create strange names. I know a toothless guy called “Sawfmouth” and a man named “Suckdust” - he does the vacuuming at a rural supermarket. My friend’s helper refuses to wrap her tongue around the French word mayonnaise, so she has dubbed it “mahagony butter”. At Caymanas Park, a sore loser will call for a “Stewart’s enquiry” and that distinguished auditing firm is often referred to as “Peat Margaret”. Then I’ve heard a fed up guy saying: “I am done, done, done - Dunn, Cox and Orrett!”

Charles Hyatt
We love to make fun of our local lingo. When Charles Hyatt was stopped from going to a public restroom, he indignantly pointed out to the security guard that the sign clearly stated “fe male”. During the discotheque era the story was told of a skimpily dressed young lady who informed her father that she was going to the popular nightspot to which he answered, “Discotheque? ‘Dis go tek’ off that skirt!” Then there is the story of the tourist who said he loved Jamaica well enough, but was puzzled at the folksong, “Some of them are Hollow, some are Bald.”

My friend Micky Lyn has a zany sense of humour. He was a touring partner in our teenage days and we remember him shouting to a careless pedestrian, “Lady, you ever see a car in plaster-paris??” He it was, who couldn’t resist catching crabs on the country road, though he had nowhere to put them overnight, so he locked them in a shower stall at the hotel and stood on a plastic crate to have his shower, continuously kicking off the critters.

My brother Tony
My awful brother Tony Lowrie takes the cake. From an early age, this terrible fellow became the bane of my existence. These are two lines from a birthday ‘poem’ he penned me: “Today you’re 25 or is it 26?/ Neither your body nor your brain gives any clue of it/ But your sands of time are getting few/ What about my neice and little nephew?” One day he became very serious and said, “I have something important to tell you. Of my three sisters, You. Are. Definitely - the ugliest. But!” he shouted as I lunged for his throat, “You know how to fix up yourself.”

I am not sure why we asked him to be our son’s godfather – now my son has two role models, Uncle Tony and Elephant Man. Have you ever tried to discipline your six-foot teenage son when he’s doing the ‘chaka-chaka’? I’m asking him about his SBAs and he’s telling me, “Look outa road! Flowers a bloom! Shankle dip!” Mercy!

I thought my family was hilarious until we met my sister’s in-laws, the Fischers in Buffalo, New York. Tommy and his brother Ray would embarrass the older folk by pretending to be a passionately gay couple at big family occasions. Then Tommy’s sister once plastered him with make-up, dressed him like a bride and sent a photograph with a fake account of the ‘wedding’ to the local paper, which was given great prominence in the social pages.

We’re virtually addicted to our hilarious media personalities. No matter what kind of morning I’m having, Alan Magnus and Dorraine Samuels can ‘Make me laugh’ - they have marvelous timing. Francois and Danae are no slouches, either. Then there are Barbara Gloudon’s priceless quips, and the funniest pair on TV, Simon and Neville. Lindy Delapenha was great in his hey-day. Once there was a break in a show he was hosting and words on the screen read: “We apologise for the interruption, due to a technical itch.” When they got back on the air, Lindy was scratching himself and saying with a straight face, “Sorry, technical itch.”

The Time Magazine story included a ‘happiness rating’ for countries throughout the world. Though we’re not mentioned, I found it interesting that some of the biggest economies (including Japan and Singapore) were rated less happy than many poorer countries. “Tek ‘kin teet’ kibba heartbu’n”, advised Miss Lou. Laughter not only covers, it cures.

Michael Lee-Chin - 'Magnifique!'

The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal glowed against Toronto's night sky. Tens of thousands of spectators crammed the city streets for the opening of this revolutionary addition to the Royal Ontario Museum. The man of the moment spoke from the giant outdoor stage: "Two nights ago I stood in this place with my mother, Hyacinth Gloria Chen, for the very first time. And it was my mother who said, "What's a little orphan girl from Jamaica doing here?"
To sustained applause, the billionaire philanthropist affirmed, "There is no poverty that cannot be overcome except that of an impoverished spirit."
Lee-Chin credits his mother for lighting the fire of ambition in him, and hugged her tightly with tears in his eyes after none other than Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean declared the building open two Saturdays ago, with a graceful flourish of the hand, exclaiming, "Magnifique!"
Magnifique, indeed, the magnanimity of this immigrant-turned-billionaire, the lead donor for the 175,000 square-foot Crystal which houses five galleries and the Hyacinth Gloria Chen Crystal Court, named for the lady whose unfailing courage inspired him to dream big dreams.
There are many stirring episodes in the life of this man who is determined to help restore peace and build prosperity in his homeland, Jamaica. Last year, Lee-Chin was driving through his beloved Port Antonio when he saw a group of men standing along the path leading down to the sparkling Blue Lagoon, a recent acquisition.
After greeting them, he asked, "How would you like to be able to send your children to university?" They were immediately interested. Then he asked, "Who is the leader here?" They pointed out "King Sabba".
"King Sabba," said Michael. "I want you and your friends to take charge of clearing out this area. Go to the hardware store, and ask them to give you brush-cutters, rakes, wheelbarrows on my account. Then I want you to start working right away. I'll come by every couple of weeks to see how you're doing." The men have been doing well, obviously charged with a vision of that glorious graduation day.
Michael knows this is no pipe dream. A few decades before, he was the youngster pushing a wheelbarrow on the grounds of Frenchman's Cove, grateful for a summer job at the posh hotel where his mother worked as a bookkeeper for Granger Weston (thereby hangs a tale - you will see further on).
In an earlier column entitled "If Shearer had denied Lee-Chin", I described young Michael's determination to complete his college education even after he had run out of money. He used his last few dollars to return to Jamaica from McMaster University in Canada, and pleaded his case with the late Prime Minister Hugh Shearer. He graduated, returned to fulfil his bond, joining the engineering team at Jamaica's Ministry of Works to build the Mandela Highway.
The threads of this special life have been woven into an intriguing tapestry. Michael Lee-Chin has met with Mandela for an outreach project in South Africa. Then in 2002, he opened Forbes magazine and saw his picture beside that of Granger Weston's brother Galen and his wife Hilary: Lee-Chin had made the famous Forbes' billionaire list.
"I thought to myself - this must mean something," said Michael at a press preview of the Crystal. "There it was - my photograph side by side with the Westons." As reported in the New York Times, when approached by Mrs Weston to be the lead donor of Can$30 million for the ROM, Michael remarked that she could have simply asked her husband at the breakfast table to write the cheque. She countered, "If you write the cheque, it would be an inspiration to every single immigrant." That resonated with Lee-Chin and indeed, Mrs Weston was right.
The pride among immigrants was obvious a few days ago when a group of media representatives from Jamaica attended the two-day celebrations marking the opening of the Crystal.
Journalist Barbara Ellington (a childhood friend of Lee-Chin's family) asked a Korean photo shop owner if he could email photos for her and explained that she was in Toronto to cover the opening of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. "I don't do emails," said the man, "but I will do it for Lee-Chin."
A couple of months ago, Michael heard that there was an artist's studio in the old Port Antonio railway station. The next day he was there, buying pieces from the talented painters.
I was relating this and the Blue Lagoon episodes to AIC vice-president Robert Almeida who offered insightful analysis.
"Mike demonstrated the key principles of getting things done," he said. "He shared a vision, identified a leader and then he made sure that they had the right tools." Robert said that Mike also checks the progress of their work in the belief that "if practice makes perfect, then excellence should be a habit".
He described Michael's support of the Port Antonio artists as "the power of encouragement". Almeida said that in embracing Portland Holdings' philosophy of "doing well and doing good, we are uniting the desire to achieve with the desire to serve".
To date Lee-Chin's multimillion-dollar investments have spanned almost every aspect of business, employing thousands and funding community outreach programmes, also to the tune of millions. Matching his successes abroad, his daring investment in National Commercial Bank five years ago has seen unprecedented profits.
When PIOJ Executive Director Dr Wesley Hughes announced last week that 2006 had seen the lowest level of migration from Jamaica since 1953, I reflected on Lee-Chin's remark that we in the Caribbean "have acres of diamonds in our own backyards". Thanks to his patriotism and perseverance, we may finally be discovering them.

11 June 07

Monday, April 14, 2008

It Takes Just One

Pride of Spanish Town: Schools Challenge Quiz champions, the St Jago High School team, (l-r) Aundrae Brown, Kayodi Drake, Greig Drummond, Romeo Lee.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

From the beginning of time, we have honoured the power of that individual, that passionate visionary who gives hope and opportunities. And so last Thursday, the 12th Observer Business Awards buoyed us up as we listened to the hard and sometimes painful steps taken by the six nominees, all winners, to reach great heights.

In listening to their stories, in reflecting on the lives these top Jamaicans that we have met through the pages of this newspaper over the past years, we should thank an exceptional journalist, a visionary in his own right, for the telling. In many ancient traditions, skilful storytellers held a place of honour in their societies. They were the vessels of history and it was through their vivid use of language that traditions and ancestral pride were kept alive. Moses Jackson has given us more than enough food for a thoughtful journey to success over the past 12 years as founding member of the Awards Committee and its chief scribe.

Who knew that 2007 Observer Business Leader of the Year Glen Christian wore his first pair of shoes when he was 13? Who would have guessed that the graceful Diana Stewart had been in a serious accident at the age of eight and was told by top US doctors that she would never walk again? Who would have imagined that Shirley Carby, an employee of venerated English publishers, would have decided with husband Carl, that since they would not take her ideas on board to produce more indigenous educational books, they would just have to start their own company.

Further who could ever believe that young Ken Morgan who was too nervous to sit the Common Entrance, who had little high schooling, would resume study in his late teens, pass the entrance exams to CAST (now UTECH) and qualify himself to retool his father’s business now grossing $450 million? And what possessed Basil Johnson to believe that out of nothing, he could build the largest hardware chain in the west and become a successful developer? Then there is the youngest kid on the leaders’ block, Andrew Pairman, having the audacity to leave his Mom’s drapery business, read the signs pointing to fantastic opportunities in telecoms, launching Anbell agencies and growing it just in time to ride the Digicel wave.

In every story we read of disappointments, back breaking efforts, team building, and the unfailing hope that would take these individuals and couples to the level of success that would be recognised anywhere on the planet. Young Andrew saw his friends migrating but decided he would make his way in his homeland. Such decisions mean jobs for Jamaicans and the six companies together account for hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in taxes that keep our country ticking.

As Observer Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart said, “A country is nothing more than a multiple of businesses. To the degree that businesses do well, a country does well.” To great applause, he told us, “For too many years, some people regarded it as a sin to make a profit.” Passion and love were also important he said, but “if you don’t make a profit, your passion won’t last long.”

This bighearted entrepreneur reflected on the resourcefulness of Jamaica’s informal commercial traders who would take food from our soil, save and buy their plane tickets and fly to countries such as Curacao to sell their provisions, purchase goods for sale in Jamaica, building small and thriving businesses. He reflected that many successful, well educated Jamaicans have been nurtured by these humble entrepreneurs.

In an impromptu speech, Finance Minister Audley Shaw gave us stirring thoughts. “Too easily have we accepted mediocrity,” he rightfully said. “We have an opportunity to renew our commitment… in the pursuit of excellence, one person can make a difference.”

At the Business Leader event, Cliff Hughes and his team were continuously taping and interviewing for a Nationwide broadcast. Cliff is himself an entrepreneur who works in the trenches to build his business, now with a workforce of 35. I remember calling Cliff on the news of the sad death of our mutual friend Hugh Croskill and remarking that of all of us, he probably did the most important thing for Hugh: he kept the faith in this world-class journalist by giving him a job, and helping to shore up his dignity.

The Observer Business Leader Awards, above all, breaks the myth that successful business people are specially privileged. These stories tell us that each and every one of us has the power to become our own boss and mentors of others. The superlative business leader David Hall, outgoing CEO of Digicel Jamaica, has never failed to express admiration for the resourcefulness and determination of Jamaicans. In relating to the media Digicel’s modus operandi for sales, he said the company encouraged Jamaican-owned dealerships “because there is no better salesman than a Jamaican.” People like Bernard Henry and Marlon Creary have proved him right.

And so, as we mull over that Amnesty report about our poor left to the mercy of gangs, we should understand that as Butch Stewart says, it is only when we can grow our businesses and provide meaningful jobs that we can release our people from this misery.

How does success influence the mood of a community? If you watched TVJ on Wednesday night, you would know. Schools Challenge Quiz champions the St Jago High School Team, their teachers, schoolmates complete with marching band made a victory march through the streets of Spanish Town. TVJ GM Kay Osborne said there was jubilation as people lined the streets to cheer their young heroes. “Spanish Town was wonderful, joyful!” an emotional Kay told us. Imagine, those shottas seeing these four young men raised up and respected, not because of their “intra-tech” but because of their intellect – what a profound, moving message.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fred and Cynthia Wilmot - life on their own terms

Fred and Cynthia Wilmot - at one of their 65th Anniversary celebrations (Hubie Chin photo)
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica Observer column  - Monday, March 03, 2008

Last October, media legends Fred and Cynthia Wilmot celebrated their wedding anniversary, sipping beers and eating fish 'n' chips at a sports bar on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.
This avant garde ebony-ivory couple, were married in Vancouver - are you ready for this - 65 years ago! "I arrived at a dance in Stratford, Ontario with this Irish guy, but I left with Fred," laughs Cynthia.
Sitting under a canopy near their beach house in Bull Bay, St Thomas, we enjoyed stories about two people who decided many years ago that there was only one way to live their lives: on their own terms. As a soldier, the Canadian-born son of Jamaican immigrants, Fred was assigned to to the Canadian Armed Forces Base at Comox (on Vancouver Island) and Cynthia followed him there, with 50 cents in her pocket.
They were kindred spirits with a love of writing and the stage. Fred who sang jazz and Cynthia who danced, still found time during their wartime activities to organise an entertainment show, The Shipyard Revue, and raise funds for charity.
After they got married, Cynthia worked with a newspaper and on the birth of her second child she quit and Fred, with the war over, began his career in journalism. He was accepted for a full-time job with a newspaper called the Winnipeg Citizen and they travelled halfway across the country to their new home where Fred made history by becoming the first black newspaperman in Canada.
After a "big, miserable flood" in Winnipeg, the Wilmots and their two boys, Fred Jr and Greg travelled to Jamaica for a six-week vacation in 1951. When the plane stopped in the Bahamas to refuel and it was announced that they had to overnight, the rainbow family watched passengers being assigned hotels, until they were finally the only ones left. "No hotel would take us in," recounted Cynthia. "My little boys saw everybody leaving and asked, "Mommy, why aren't we going? They were so hurt." The airline finally found a guesthouse for them.
Fred's uncle, Rupert Wilmot, who was a member of the House of Representatives, drove them over to his house in St Ann after their arrival. They immediately fell in love with Jamaica, and that same year bought their little piece of heaven in Bull Bay. They finally moved there in 1953, raising their children in a home of love and affirmation. Of Fred, Greg and Billy, they say in unison, "They are the most wonderful children in the world." Indeed, they have all excelled in their chosen fields of film, broadcasting and music.
Now the children of Billy and wife Claudette, are literally making waves as some of the world's finest surfers. Fred and Cynthia tell us of the excitement earlier this year when a world surfing event was held in Bull Bay. "We had over 500 people who stayed with families in communities right up to Yallahs and there was not a single incident. The ambulance was here, the Red Cross was here and thank goodness, they were not used," said Fred who is looked upon as a father figure in the area.
The Jamaica Surfing Association, formed by Billy, has brought a new energy to the area and taken his children to such destinations as Bali, Tahiti, South Africa and Hawaii where they fly high the Jamaican flag and are the most photogenic promoters of the Australian line of swim and casual wear, Insight.
Fred and Cynthia are local media stars, honoured as Lifetime Members of the Press Association of Jamaica. They first started at Public Opinion where they worked with a lanky young man named Michael Manley who would remain their friend for life. Fred continued to write his elegant columns in the now defunct Jamaica Daily News and has a wonderful collection which we hope will be published soon.
Meanwhile, Cynthia was introduced to film by her son Fred and this performer-writer who had worked as a scriptwriter for CBC, found her special calling. In 1990, she started her series of consciousness-raising videos through her company,Video for Change with "Miss Amy and Miss May", an account of the moving friendship between Amy Bailey and May Farquharson. She and her partner Hilary Nicholson have done videos on Louise Bennett, Mary Seacole, Jamaica's labour movement, and Edna Manley, among others. Her latest production is the historical series Time Trip (now showing on TVJ and available at Women's Media Watch). Cynthia was awarded the prestigious Musgrave Medal for her work in film.
Both recall interesting personalities from their early career days in Canada as well as in Jamaica. When Fred scripted a play called Defeat without Fanfare in the early '40s in Canada, he was told that a young dancer who had been touring as part of a trio "really wants to act". They cast him, and thus Sammy Davis Jr played his first dramatic role.
When he was public relations manager with the Jamaica Tourist Board, Fred was asked to pose an unknown young actor with beautiful Jamaican girls for a poster. That young man was Sean Connery, the first James Bond. Later, Fred was the charming presenter of the JBC-TV's "Round the World Quiz". One of the winners was a pretty young girl called Sheryl Lee Ralph.
No millions could buy the experience of collaborating with these two legends. It was in 1980 that Fred Wilmot, in his capacity as then Jamaica Exporters Association executive director, came to meet me after we were successful in our bid to promote the JMA-JEA Expo. Over the next decade, he became a mentor, sharing his tremendous media experience while still respecting my ideas. It was under Fred's watch that the JEA purchased prime real estate in New Kingston.
When I spoke to Cynthia last Wednesday, she had just returned from a long editing session. She believes her love for swimming has helped her to maintain her stamina, and is upset at the sudden closure of the Rockfort Mineral Bath, where she used to swim twice weekly. Fred is droll on the subject of his "spare parts" - successful hip replacements.
Indeed, Fred and Cynthia Wilmot are world citizens, equally comfortable on a beach in Bull Bay, Jamaica, or in the busy metropolis of Toronto. Their passion for what is good and right has preserved them - and their good looks - well past 85 years. In reflecting on their extraordinary journey, we are called to be more sure-footed of action and more pure-minded of intent.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

‘Children are tired of being the future’

‘Children are tired of being the future’
Jean Lowrie-Chin

Last Tuesday the US presidential primaries were competing with Jamaica’s Peace Day for our attention. But once we got to Half Way Tree for the VPA March and started to exchange concerns, we came to realise that this constant clicking from the local news to CNN, was really a form of escapism. Why face the painful fact that 14 people were killed over the weekend, when we could be listening to Barack, and laughing with Colbert?

We got the answer from the hopeful schoolchildren and students who gathered to march. We felt the anguished call of weary nurses who related to us the stress of having to deal with so many violent injuries, the abnormal becoming part of their normal routine. The representative of an international agency told us that their standard to define a country in conflict was 1,000 violent deaths in a year. “With 1,400 to 1,600 murders per year, Jamaica is definitely a country in conflict – internal conflict,” he said.

We are seeing the same individuals in this March – Dr Elizabeth Ward, Prof Barry and Pauletta Chevannes, Drs Horace Levy, Deanna Ashley, Peter Figueroa and Tony Allen, folks from government agencies, UNDP and UNICEF, members of clergy. We need to see others. “We’re going to start planning earlier next year so we’ll have more private sector folks,” said the determined Dr Ward.

As we wound our way downtown – an easy walk because it was slightly downhill – we were greeted by respectful and frequently smiling faces. Not once did we hear a negative comment along the route. Best of all were the beautiful children, looking keenly at us as if to fix their presence in our minds.

I have to admit that like most of my friends, I have been fascinated by the rise of the bright US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and agreeing that he could change the world. It is always so easy to place the responsibility of changing the world on someone else’s shoulder! Some of us have gone so overboard with anti-Bush sentiments, we forget that ambassadors sent by US Republican governments have been extraordinarily generous.

As management consultant Ilsa duVernay reminded us at a retreat recently: “you are who you have been waiting for”. We can no longer escape to the laughter of the comedies and distant news of foreign lands. The reality is much too compelling: on the morning of Peace Day, a lady fondly referred to as “Auntie Joan” was shot dead in plain sight of the children she had just taken to school at Angels Primary School in St Catherine. In Windsor Heights in St. Ann that very afternoon, two teenage boys had a dispute while playing football. One left, returned with a knife, and stabbed the other. In Clarendon on Wednesday, a similar incident. And on Thursday in March Pen, the unthinkable: an infant shot dead in the crossfire between lawmen and gunmen.

Janilee Abrikian of PALS (Peace and Love in Society) related during the march, the plight of small children, left alone to fend for themselves, arriving at school hungry and unkempt. We must not change the channel: we have to contemplate the harsh realities.

Last month in a special session of Parliament, Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, one of the world’s leading experts on violence against children, addressed our political representatives on the sad state of our children. “In an environment where violence breeds more violence, the ways in which Jamaican children are subjected to violence are inextricably linked to the unrelenting levels of crime and violence affecting the island,” he said.
“Children are tired of being the future,” said the author of the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, “they want to be the present, they want recognition of their rights.” He reminded us that they are full-fledged citizens entitled to all the rights to which our country has been a signatory.
Professor Pinheiro congratulated our lawmakers on the passing of the Child Care and Protection Act which he described as “an example for our region.” However, he said that Government must devote sufficient resources for laws to be upheld and programmes to be successful.
He gave some simple but important steps towards ending violence against children:
- develop basic conflict resolution skills
- teach tolerance
- restrict access to small arms
- inform and train parents in alternative ways to exercise discipline.
Pinheiro referred to recent research in Jamaica where it was shown that boys were not receiving the same level of attention as girls and reminded that if a child does not find affirmation and acceptance at home, he will seek “the alternative families provided by gangs”.
The heartthrob of the developing world, Barack Obama, constantly speaks about the nurturing environment in which he was raised. He said his single mother and his grandparents did not have a lot of money, but they ensured that he received a good education; “They gave me love, but most of all, they gave me hope.”
Barack Obama may not save the world, but if we heed his message, we could save ours by giving our children what this young leader got: education, love and hope. They are not the distant future but the pressing present. If we do not passionately protect our children, we are squandering the goodwill of our international friends. This is our watch: Jamaica has a very bad name and the plight of our children is our shame.

Obama Names Our Pain

Barack Obama
Observer column by Jean Lowrie-Chin

In this blessed season of Easter, it was good to hear US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, speak of a moving religious experience. He was giving his landmark address on race last Tuesday, and quoted from his own book, “Dreams From My Father”, describing his first experience in the church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright: "At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh … Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."
I take from this, that a young man who had been previously searching for a religion with which he could identify, found it “at the foot of that cross”, the cross to which Rev. Wright had led him. Those who have had this kind of spiritual mentor could explain to journalists like Anderson Cooper of CNN that one cannot be easily dismissive of a pastor who has guided one to a new level of spiritual understanding, a virtual resurrection of the spirit. There would be a lot of empty churches if we felt compelled to leave over differences of opinion with our pastors!
Norman Washington Manley
Obama also expressed empathy with ordinary white Americans who had become resentful over lost opportunities at work and in education because of affirmative action. Having heard the honesty and wisdom of that address, one would have thought that Obama’s ratings would have risen. Instead they fell, and we learned the power of YouTube and that the 800-pound gorilla of race was still sitting in America’s living room.
Despite Jamaica’s many other issues, we are proud that our leaders have starved that gorilla and he is only skulking around on a few backward verandahs. So we had to disagree with one statement in that great speech. In extolling his country, he said, “I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue scattered across three continents. And for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” We have news for Barack – not only is it possible in Jamaica: it is old news.
In the ranks of Jamaica’s National Heroes, we have individuals of mixed race who have been inspiring leaders of this country. Alexander Bustamente and Norman Washington Manley, Jamaica’s famous cousins, were of African and European heritage; they championed the cause of Universal Adult Suffrage, built our labour movement, developed our Constitution and led our country into Independence.
Robert Nesta Marley 
Since Independence, we have had Prime Ministers of every shade between white and black. Robert Nesta Marley, the son of a white English soldier and a black Jamaican woman, has long after his death remained the global griot for the oppressed and downtrodden. Indeed, without fear of contradiction, I believe that Jamaica is the most racially harmonious country in the world.
Perhaps this is why 59% of Jamaicans are said to be happy with their lives. We are very secure in our selfhood. The wise and winsome Mrs Gerda Theobalds, our teacher of English at Alpha, told us a story about a Jamaican traveling in the Deep South of the US in the 60s. At a grocery store, Black customers knew that they had to place their money on the counter – they were not allowed to touch the white shopkeeper’s hand. Well one Jamaican man would have none of it. When it was his turn to pay, he reached across the counter, held on to the man’s hand and pressed his money into his palm, declaring, “You are no better than me – take the money!”
However, we should not become too cozy in this self-congratulatory blanket. Looking at our crime statistics and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, we could ascribe the happiness of our 59% to the bliss of ignorance. And then there is the unhappy 41% -- that’s just too much discontent to be crowing over! Does it matter really, if we don’t judge ourselves by race, while we continue to prejudge by other standards, including “shade” (look at the popularity of skin bleaching) and politics?
This is why Barack Obama’s speech still has something to offer a Jamaica that may have exorcised her racial devils, but has so many others yet to tackle. I remember coaching a brilliant light-skinned Calabar student for the National Speech Festival – his piece was Martin Luther King Jr’s historic “I Have a Dream” and he scored the gold medal with the highest all-island mark. Yet a lady of colour who watched him deliver the speech told me she thought it odd because “he looks too white to be talking about Black rights”.
Obama has had these challenges. “At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either ‘too black’ or ‘not black enough’.” he said. “We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.”
In Jamaica, we also have to address the distrust, disrespect and envy that exist between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, PNP and JLP. At this point in our history, most of us are of mixed blood, descendants of black, brown, yellow, and white Jamaicans, the majority of who started their sojourn in this country as slaves and indentured labourers on the plantations. We need to remember our common past, that we are all family, and like good families, ensure that all our children get the best education. When they can no longer be fooled or exploited, our system of political apartheid nurtured in our garrisons, the cradles of gun and drug running, will finally be dismantled.
As Obama urges, we need to acknowledge and move forward: “I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”
As I write this from Maryland, I am hearing that Obama’s speech has resulted in dialogue of refreshing candour. In Jamaica, we need more of this enlightened examination of the baggage we carry. Time to unpack, straighten our backs and look at each other with new eyes. With this speech, Barack may have risked his political ambitions, but he has demonstrated to the world that no matter how difficult the challenge, honest dialogue will help us name our pain and start the healing.