Friday, April 18, 2008

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.

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