Monday, June 30, 2008

How tiny Jamaica develops so many champion sprinters

The world's two fastest men will go head-to-head in Jamaica's Olympic trials this weekend.
By Matthew Clark | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the June 27, 2008 edition

Monitor photo director Alfredo Sosa and reporter Matt Clark talk with some of Jamaica's top sprinters and their coach.

Kingston, Jamaica - As late afternoon trade winds drift into Kingston's National Stadium, the world's fastest man ambles back to his starting blocks.

Usain Bolt's performance in this training session is less than lighting-fast, however, and it fails to impress his coach, Glen Mills. "Make sure you do them good, otherwise you'll do them tomorrow morning – early," he barks.

A month ago, Mr. Bolt lived up to his name by breaking countryman Asafa Powell's world record in the 100-meter dash. The two hold the five fastest recognized times in the event and will go head-to-head this weekend in Jamaica's Olympic trials.

Yet these men are just two of dozens of top-flight Jamaican sprinters who are poised to put the tiny island nation on the map in the same way Kenyans and Ethiopians are known to dominate long-distance running. Jamaica's Olympic track team is so deep in talent that these trials will be like watching American NBA stars vie for a spot on ™basketball's famous Dream Team.

How does a poor Caribbean country of less than 3 million people produce such athletic riches? Improved coaching and a new system to develop raw talent at home have combined with a tradition of seeing sprinting as an inexpensive ticket out of poverty, observers say.

"Where we are today is [like] a flower," says Anthony Davis, the sports director at Jamaica's University of Technology (UTECH), whose programs and facilities helped shape some of Jamaica's finest runners, including Mr. Powell and Bolt. "You'd have had to plant a seed long ago to get where we are today."

And plant they did.

A little more than 30 years ago, former world-record sprinter Dennis Johnson decided to take what he'd learned at San Jose State University in the 1960s and set up a competitive, US-style college athletic program here in his home country. The goal: produce world-class athletes, especially track stars.

At the time, most considered this crazy talk.

Jamaica had long produced some of the world's top high school track athletes, but then they left the island. There was no place in this former British colony's college system for them. Postsecondary education is based on an older British model in which sports are merely a recreational break from the rigors of academia. The only hope of continuing track after high school was to get a scholarship to a foreign university.

Today, Jamaican sprinters still leave, and pad many NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) track rosters.

"In Louisiana, at a high school track meet, we'll find maybe one or two athletes that could be good enough for [Louisiana State University's track program]," says Dennis Shaver, head track coach of the 2008 NCAA championship LSU track team. "[But] in Jamaica, there are probably 50 women ready to fit right into the program every year."

"Jamaicans have played a significant role in the 31 track and field championships we've won over the years," he says, adding that Jamaica will be "very competitive in Beijing."

Competing in the top US schools was, and is, a fast track out of poverty. The problem, as Mr. Johnson saw it, was that too many Jamaicans never came back home, and some even ran for other Olympic teams. (Donovan Bailey of Canada and Linford Christie of Britain are two examples of Jamaican-born Olympic champions.)

That's why Johnson started a sports program at a two-year vocational college here, and that later became UTECH, a four-year college. Through Johnson's work, which has since passed to Mr. Davis, the program now has 280 student athletes and houses the top professional track teams in Jamaica.

By US standards, the training facilities are second class. Jamaica's top sprinters cram into UTECH's tiny gym to pump rusty weights, and they often practice on the school's basic grass track.

"We have to be creative, because we don't have the resources," says Davis, explaining that the lanes of the track are marked with diesel and burned because the school can't afford the machine that lays down chalk lines every week or so. "We had a choice: complain about the resources and do nothing or work with what we have."

Davis is pushing to attract more sponsors for UTECH's programs. The British sports drink company Lucozade now offers two full track scholarships to UTECH, and Davis is hoping that success in Beijing will lead to funding for scoreboards and an indoor track surface. And he knows right where he'd put a new athletic center, if he ever gets the money. "We want someday to be the sports center of the Caribbean," he says.

But UTECH's program is only part of the reason for Jamaica's sprinting prowess. "Coaches have played a very important role and are still playing an important role," says Herb Elliot, a Jamaican member of the International Amateur Athletics Federation's Medical and Anti-Doping Commission. "NCAA scouts come here in droves to recruit, but our athletes often come back [from four years at US universities] tired and mediocre," says Mr. Elliot.

Among the most effective Jamaican coaches today is Powell's coach, Stephen Francis, who founded the Maximizing Velocity and Power (MVP) team in 1999 after getting his MBA from the University of Michigan. "My background is different from most coaches, who were former athletes," says the rotund Mr. Francis, explaining that the Jamaican track establishment did not appreciate his maverick style.

"My philosophy is based on doing things the hard way," he says. "We don't recruit superstars." He looks for latent talent and chooses coachable sprinters who don't have supersized egos.

Brigitte Foster-Hylton is one of Francis's first success stories. When she started working with him in 1999, most didn't see her potential. But she's cut more than half a second off her time in the 100-meter hurdles and won bronze in the event at the 2005 World Championships. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the amount of time Ms. Foster-Hylton cut off her time in the 100-meter hurdles.]

Powell – who says in a matter-of-fact manner that he is still the world's fastest man despite Bolt's record run – is another Francis success story.

Powell struggled as the youngest of six siblings growing up in the Jamaican countryside. He was a good sprinter in high school, but not among Jamaica's very best. A few years ago, one brother was shot to death in a New York cab and another died of a heart attack. The tragedies might have derailed some athletes.

Both of his parents are pastors and he credits a strict upbringing for his focus. "I couldn't miss one day in church and my mom and dad still call to see if I'm going to church," he says. "None of this would've been possible without God, and I pray to him each and every day. But I know that God helps those who help themselves, so I try to help myself."

He says he's ready to win the Olympic gold medal that eluded him four years ago.

But given the recent convictions and confessions of steroid use by track and field athletes, some skeptics question the success of Jamaican sprinters. There have been no recent cases of Jamaicans caught using performance-enhancing drugs. "We are far in advance of the US record for [preventing] doping," says Elliot, who's the top enforcement official in Jamaica. "We preach, cajole, and test," he says. Jamaica makes its athletes available for sudden testing 24/7.

Besides, Elliot says, Jamaica won't tolerate cheats. "Sports is such a part of our culture that the disgrace [of doping] is so great that the Jamaicans that live here wouldn't even consider it."

For now, Jamaicans are reveling in having the world's two fastest men heading into the Beijing Olympics.

"In the sprints, we're as good as any," says Fitz Coleman, a technical coach on Bolt's team who is widely regarded as one of Jamaica's best hurdles coaches. "In fact, we just might be the measuring stick at this point in time."

Another reason for Jamaicans' success: their attitude, according to Mr. Coleman. "We genuinely believe that we'll conquer," he says. "It's a mindset. We're small and we're poor, but we believe in ourselves."

Johnson thinks Bolt could break his 200m world record

Johnson thinks Bolt could break his 200m world record

CMC from the Jamaica Observer
Monday, June 30, 2008

EUGENE, Oregon (CMC) - American sprint legend Michael Johnson believes his formidable 200-metre world record can be smashed by Jamaican 100-metre world record holder Usain Bolt.

Johnson holds the half-lap world record at an astonishing 19.32 seconds and he has been keeping a keen eye on the performances of Bolt since the 21-year-old ran 9.76 seconds in the 100 metres in Kingston last month.
(From left) Norman Peart, Bolt's local manager, Ricky Simms of PACE management, Bolt's international manager and Pascal Rolling, Puma's International Marketing manager for running, the men who handle the off the track business for newly crowned national sprint champion and 100m world record holder Usain Bolt were obviously enjoying themselves on Saturday, the second day of the JAAA National Senior Championships at the National Stadium. (Photo: Paul Reid)

"I'm ready to kiss it (200m record) goodbye...if (Bolt) keeps on doing what he's doing," said Johnson, who is in Oregon at the US Olympic trials said.

"If he is as technically sound at 200 or the improvement at 200 in technique matches what we have seen at 100, there's no telling what he is going to run," he added.

Bolt's personal best of 19.75 seconds in the 200 metres, set in 2007, ranks him 13th overall on the all-time list, but Johnson feels this could be the Bolt's year.

Bolt lowered his Jamaican colleague Asafa Powell's world 100-metre record of 9.74 seconds, with a victory in 9.72 seconds at the Reebok Grand Prix on May 31.

"He is not the most technically sound 200 meters runner and whatever technical flaws you have at 200 are going to be highlighted at 100," said Johnson.

"But you take a look at his 100 when he broke the world record...he has fixed a lot of things in the off-season.

"He is 6-foot-5 and he looked like 5-5 or 5-6 getting out of the blocks."

At the World Championships in Osaka, Japan last August, Bolt ran 19.91 seconds to take silver behind American Tyson Gay, who won the race in a championship record of 19.76.

In a very fruitful 2007 season for him, Bolt broke the great Donald Quarrie's Jamaican record of 19.86 and also replaced Trinidad and Tobago's former Olympian Ato Bolton as the top all-time 200-metre runner in the Caribbean, when he clocked his career best in Kingston last June.

The world junior record holder has so far achieved nine sub-20 second times in his career.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dr Lucien Jones' Internet Ministry

Dr Jones' Message for Sunday 22 June 2008

The ongoing killings in my country has triggered a great debate between the state, some elements in the media, and human rights advocates. The subject? Preventative and extended detention of known gang leaders, in order to "buy some time", to build a case against them, as one solution in a package of measures to reduce the murder rate. And then to institute the medium and long term measures - beefing up the capacity of the force, reducing the corruption, and introducing social changes.

And while the talk goes on, the lives of ordinary Jamaicans continue to be snuffed out by these ruthless gunmen. In the news tonight is a report of six teenagers shot in a drive by shooting spree. The result?

Two dead on the spot and others taken to hospital. Elsewhere another young man was discovered shot to death.

But although murder still reigns supreme as the number one issue, it was another problem which caught my attention in the news and happenings this week. Sex! Sex in the city -highlighted on cable and mainstream television.

Sex on cell phones continues to be the rage and discussion topic in the country. Sex and policemen - as two cops who caught a couple " making out" in public, instead of " protecting and serving", which they are sworn to do, abducted the woman and had her perform sexual acts, either on and or with them. Sex and school children continues to be a hot topic, as is the homosexual debate. And then the " best of all", in pursuit of the reduction of HIV/AIDS infection one "bright epidemiologist", suggested that we should decriminalize sex workers, and tax their efforts and so " kill two birds with one stone" - reduce the HIV infection and increase the government's tax base.

He got full coverage on the front page of one of our daily newspapers, and a very articulate young lady, an official of the organization of sex workers, was also heard on a popular radio programme, endorsing the idea, explaining that they could begin to pay NHT (National Housing Trust) and so access the benefits like any other taxpayer.


So in the middle of all of this the Lord sent a message through His Word and a meditation from Christ Tiegen. What's the message? Death is not the worse thing that can happen to us. And also of equal importance, that in the middle of seemingly hopeless circumstances, God is still in charge - so do not be afraid.

THE WORD - which forms part of the gospel reading in the Anglican church for today.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell"

Matthew 10:28. NIV

A great problem in my country is that many of us are afraid of dying, and are also grieving for their dead - and rightly so, as death by the gun, is so sudden and so very final. But not enough attention is being given to the many other "Sins" which war against the souls of all mankind. And which, like sexual sins, greed, covetousness, lying, stealing, laziness, refusal to forgive, pride and others, in the final analysis, can be more destructive to one's soul, and relationship with God Almighty, than death is to the body. The more frustrating and indeed amazing thing, is that, if only all of us knew how, " dead", we are in our sins, and turned to the Lord Jesus, how quickly Jamaica would recover from this epidemic of crime and violence. And to which recovery, sad to say, the resolution, one way or the other, of the great debate about " preventative detention" , is unlikely to make any significant contribution. Certainly

not if we continue to " hide our head in the sand" and pretend that all the other sins are unconnected to the high murder rate. No, only God's grace and mercy, in and through Jesus Christ can help us. As what we are confronted with, is not simply a matter of wicked gunmen, or immoral careless and unthinking people, but forces of wickedness in the spiritual realm,leading our people astray. This is what the Bible teaches --" hide your Word in my heart, keep me learning til the break of day".


" As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and your sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is at work in those who are disobedient.

All of us once lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature, objects of God's wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace that you have been saved"

Ephesians 2: 1-5. NIV

This is why " Amazing Grace" is perhaps one the of the most popular songs, both in the secular and religious worlds. As until we realize that we were once blind and wretched before a Holy God, then we will never really understand the love of God as demonstrated by Jesus' death on the Cross of Calvary. And the reason why the words resonate with so many,is that deep down, we know how wretched we are, but still hesitate to believe in the sanctifying blood of the Lamb...there is power, power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the Lamb.

Finally God writing through one of His servants expresses amazement at the choice we have made - and which no doubt explains why Jamaica is in the state in which it now finds itself.



The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (more abundantly). John 10:10

Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God - John Piper.

IN WORD Have you ever considered the insanity of sin? Sin, of course, is rebellion towards God, an enthronement of self in the human heart. We have all been guilty of it, and, in fact, continue to be guilty of it, sometimes habitually. Have you pondered the implications of that?

We know that God is the Creator of the universe, perfect in His goodness and love. He wants our ultimate happiness and knows exactly how we can get it. His wisdom is complete, His designs perfect. The promises of obedience to His will are extravagant, eternal and incredibly exciting to think about.

And in spite of this knowledge, we often , consciously, reject the abundant life He offers, in favor of a destructive fascination with sin. We are inexplicably attracted to the thief and apathetic to the giver of life. The God of the universe invites us to have an intimate relationship with Him, and we consciously choose to offend Him. This is absurd. If we really believe the truths of the gospel and promises of God, know the futility of disobedience, and still persist in our rebellion, isn't this by all standards considered irrational? And yet, every Christian ( and non- Christians too) can relate to St. Paul's confession: " The evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:19)

INDEED Many Christians (and non- Christians too) struggle with habitual sin. It has power - from the world, our own flesh, and the evil one. And that power is intense. We are to forsake it, but only Christ can break it ( Romans 7:25). If this is your struggle, ask Him to break it now. Cry out to Him, don't stop asking until He does, and know that He will. He is stronger than the thief, and His will is that we have life in all its fullness.

A thief has come to rob and steal and destroy Jamaica. And murder is but one, albeit a very painful one, of His activities. But there are more, many more problems that he causes. On the other hand, God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ to offer us the abundant life.

Pray God that through this Ministry, and the Ministry of all Baptized people,
(make me a fisher of men, keep me seeking, keep me seeking till the break of day) our people will turn again to the Lord Jesus, and away from the thief, and so bring peace to our land - Jamaica land we love.

Ambassador Sue Cobb's remarkable tour of duty

Dynamic diplomatic couple, Ambassadors Charles and Sue Cobb with Prime Minister PJ Patterson (right).

Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - Jamaica Observer

It was in keeping with Ambassador Sue Cobb's tour of duty in Jamaica, that she spent her final day on the job last Monday, discussing Jamaica's territorial integrity and announcing her government's funding of the Jamaica Defence Force's US$1.4 million Pedro Cays project.

While we may not always have embraced her government's policies, we can all agree that Ambassador Cobb was an energetic and compassionate representative, combining diplomacy and philanthropy to make a lasting contribution to our country. How she must have cringed at our frequent bashing of the US government, even as she batted steadily for us!

Bright and accomplished lady that she is, a wealthy retired lawyer with a crop of adoring grandchildren, Cobb could have opted to relax in the easy chair of her Floridian circle. But this gritty mountaineer, who has the photos to prove her conquest of Mount Everest, decided that Jamaica would feel her energy and concern for her fellow human being.

Through her "Building Bridges" programme, she brought influential friends here, hosting conferences, clinics, seminars and workshops to help us understand our huge potential for philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and excellence in education.

The Women's Leadership Initiative (WLI) made us closer to fellow Jamaicans who had previously been just passing acquaintances.

She took on tough issues like crime and violence, arranging on-going law enforcement exchange between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, through the Minister of National Security and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. We have seen significant arrests being made as a result of this cooperation.

She facilitated a relationship between Youth Crime Watch Miami and leaders in Jamaica to start Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica, with 450 youth leaders already trained islandwide.

Ambassador Cobb developed, planned and implemented the Building Bridges Trade Mission and Partnering Fair with the PSOJ, JAMPRO, and AmCham of Jamaica and Broward County in Florida. Twenty-seven Jamaican companies attended the event in Fort Lauderdale, where they met with some 130 American counterparts.

Even as her home state reeled from a hyperactive hurricane season, she was instrumental in obtaining a US$25 million donation from her government and coordinating relief efforts after we were hit by Hurricane Ivan. The US also provided more than US$100 million in relief for other Caribbean territories.

Sue Cobb endeared herself to us with her love for our beautiful Blue Mountains and her genuine enjoyment of our countryside. As a passionate environmentalist, she has been an advocate for US support to preserve our precious natural assets.

The US allocated US$6 million to the "Ridge to Reef" watershed project to promote sustainable environmental management practices from the mountains to the sea in keeping with our own regulations and policies. Her country continues to participate in the seven-year Coastal Water Improvement Project (CWIP).

Cobb piloted a US$16 million debt-reduction, with an understanding that these funds will be used by the Jamaican government to conserve and restore important tropical forest resources over the next 20 years as agreed under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. (Who knew?)

I witnessed the useful interchange at the Building Bridges HIV/AIDS Conference last year hosted by Ambassador Cobb, where strong alliances were formed among health professionals in Jamaica, The Bahamas, Brazil and Florida.

She also facilitated a series of free clinics in rural St Elizabeth and St Mary in which a 10-member team of medical personnel attended to over 8,000 citizens, distributing J$6 million worth of free medication. In December the US Military Liaison Office donated a fire truck, a bus and emergency equipment, contributing over $24 million through their Humanitarian Assistance Programme (HAP).

But the best measure of generosity is personal commitment, and Ambassador Cobb and her husband Ambassador Charles Cobb have set up the Cobb Family Foundation that will continue to support our country, even after her tour of duty ended last week. Since 2001, they have been donating $1 million per year to United Way of Jamaica, earmarked for education and charity.

They have set up an endowment fund for Jamaican students at both the University of the West Indies and the University of Miami, and have committed to endowing an American Friends of Jamaica Foundation (AFJ)/Cobb Family Lecture series at the UWI Mona Campus.

Not only have they personally supported various education and charity projects, the Cobbs have spent many hours working with the Treasure Beach Foundation to upgrade the Sandy Bay Primary School.

We appreciated that Sue Cobb got out from behind her desk and moved among us with that rare combination of ease and elegance. She made the effort to attend a veritable multitude of events, blending with Jamaicans of various colours and callings. The Cobbs had a knack of making guests feel welcome and appreciated, and we'll long remember last year's Fourth of July party when the waterfront was lit up by spectacular fireworks.

We saw the conciliatory nature of this diplomat extraordinaire when she openly apologised for what she termed an "unsophisticated" response to the Caricom position on Haiti.

Proactive people like Sue Cobb help us to understand why America became a great, even if not perfect, nation. We tend to be the armchair directors of the world, and while it is our right to criticise, we could use some of the time spent picking America apart, to get our own act together.

- Jean Lowrie-Chin

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Frank Gordon: “We’re missing the bus!”

Frank Gordon during interview - Jean Lowrie-Chin photo

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
column from the Jamaica Observer

Frank Gordon did not get his wish when our last GG was being sworn in. The 84-year-old local UNIA leader had wanted the installation of Professor Kenneth Hall, to be held at the National Stadium.

“In 1962, I wrote a letter to Culture Minister Edward Seaga, that our first Black Governor General should be installed in the National Stadium,” recalls Frank, “Then I wrote to Sir Alexander, suggesting the same thing. Although they did not reply, the announcement was made that the Governor General, Sir Clifford Campbell would be installed at the Stadium in December 1962.” Frank rues the fact that our other native GGs have been installed “in colonial style at Kings House.”

Like his hero, Marcus Garvey, Frank believes in the power of symbolism to inspire pride and unity. “As a Catholic, I learned that a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace,” says Frank. “Our flag is like a national sacrament, yet we don’t even have a standard for the gold we use.”

Frank Gordon who received the national honour of Order of Distinction in 1972, believes we are missing the bus on various levels of national life, simply because we are not including grassroots Jamaicans in important issues. “There is no sub-leadership in communities,” he believes. “This is why there is so much crime. People are not feeling a part of national development. With tourism growing, we should have more concert halls throughout Jamaica, more performances in parks, more craft making centres and cottage industries. This once-a-year Festival is not enough to keep our people involved. Look at the employment this would create, so we can stop the constant begging.”

This patriot is disappointed with the “dragged-out” campaigning of the PNP presidential candidates, especially since he doesn’t see any effort to raise the awareness of grassroots people on important national issues. “This is why I hope they have the debate on TV, so that the whole country can hear what these leaders have to offer,” he states.

In spite of his age, the sharp-minded Mass Frank is still moving about the city, though no longer on his beloved bicycle. He has observed “the lack of love between the Police and the people”, attributing this to the archaic 1865 Constabulary Act under which the police had crushed the Morant Bay Rebellion, and under which they still operate. “We need to change this colonial act and build a National Police Service,” he insists. “Then the police will be more about service and less about force.” Now isn’t that original thinking?

It comes from a man who believes in staying connected to his people. Frank is far more than a witness to the formative years of our young nation. “I was born on Love Lane in 1922,” he reminisces. “Kingston was the cultural epicentre of Jamaica. We saw great international stars performing at the Ward Theatre, and listened to the young leaders giving speeches in Victoria Park.”

Frank started frequenting Liberty Hall at 12 years old, and studied at the feet of famous Jamaicans Marcus Garvey and St. William Grant. “St William Grant taught us young boys history, not from a book, because he could not read. But he had the sharpest mind and a photographic memory, so he told us of events, handed down through generations.”

From St William Grant, Frank learned about Toussaint L’Ouverture and other Caribbean and African leaders. Meanwhile others were flocking to Edelweiss Park on Slipe Road where Marcus Garvey taught elocution. “Out of those classes came Ranny Williams and other big name entertainers,” he recalls.

Frank remembers the day that St. William Grant introduced a lanky brown man to the crowd at Victoria Park. It was the young workers’ advocate Alexander Bustamante. “He wore a suit with a close fitting jacket, sporting those elbow patches that the fellows in the bank wore,” said Frank.

Young Frank attended St. Joseph’s Infant School at Duke Street, and would see the well-dressed Marcus Garvey, holding intense conversations at the corner of Duke and Sutton Streets. “Garvey always looked sharp,” reminisced Frank. “He wore braces, a watch and chain.”

Frank singles out the Hill family as being among the most significant contributors to arts and education in Jamaica. “They were well educated at St. George’s College. Frank and Ken Hill engaged in stimulating debates. Stephen Hill exposed us to fine entertainment and young Robert Hill compiled volumes of Garvey’s writings.” He says Ken Hill brought great respect to the office of Mayor of Kingston: “In 1951, after the passing of Hurricane Charlie, the Governor Sir Hugh Foot, went to a planning meeting at the Mayor’s house in Kencot.”

Frank believes that this admiration for Hill engendered jealousy and caused the rift between the four Hs (Frank and Ken Hill, Richard Hart and Arthur Henry) and other members of the PNP, which eventually led to their expulsion from the party.

Frank Gordon thinks we have lost sight of our proud heritage. “Look at the words of Walter ‘WA’ McBean with “Workers of Jamaica, lift your voices strong” in 1938. There are great Jamaican songs that our children don’t know.” He is glad that TVJ has started a competition for young choirs, and hopes this is the start of a new appreciation of “real music”.

A passionate participant in several organisations, Frank has travelled widely sharing ideas at conferences in Africa, Europe and Asia. The former JAMAL officer wants political history to be part of our school curriculum. “It is an essential tool for development, for the survival of our movement to self determination,” says the dedicated Garveyite. “Today we have more technology and less learning.”

Frank Gordon studied history and enjoyed deep discussions with the late Hector Wynter when he was Resident Tutor at UWI. He also hails the consciousness of Alvaro Casserly, Karl Hendrickson, the late Ken Sherwood and Lois Lake-Sherwood.

Frank firmly believes, “When you are small, black and poor, there are people who feel you must not move higher.” So when we end this interview at dusk, Frank heads back to his desk at the UNIA office on Duke Street. There is work to be done.

The 'stolen' of Australia and Jamaica

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Monday, March 17, 2008
column in the Jamaica Observer

Last month Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood before his Parliament and made a historic apology to the over 100,000 Australian Aborigines who had been systematically taken from their families in a 60-year "integration" programme. Thousands of Aborigines and fellow white Australians gathered inside and outside the Parliament building, hanging on to Rudd's every word. At the end of the speech, they broke into loud, long applause, some crying and hugging each other.

This is what the recently elected prime minister said: "The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
"We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

"To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
What a speech, what a moment. It is the moment we are still waiting for in Jamaica, the moment when our leaders will face our confused, abused and warped brothers and sisters, and apologise for stealing their innocence and their future. Unfortunately, not many of those wronged will hear the apology - they have been long dead. At an average of over 1,000 people killed each year, we have lost 20,000 brothers and sisters to violence in the past 20 years.

What happens to the families of these victims? Some must grab their "bundle" and run, fearing that they will be next. Others, who have nowhere to go, cower under beds. We repeatedly hear stories from teachers of traumatised children who scream and scamper under desks and behind doors when they hear those awful shots. We have stolen their childhood.

And then there are the children, unabashedly having sex on the steps of a school in their uniforms, trysting in the bus terminal and on the bus. "Where is your mother?" my friend asked a tiny boy begging money at the traffic light. "She gone look man," was his blunt answer. Dirty lyrics reverberate from giant speakers, as mid-week dances run all night with no thought for the child who must sleep to learn the next day. We are stealing their values and their education.

We understand that Kevin Rudd's predecessor had objected to any apology being given to the Aborigines. Like Rudd's naysayers, we in Jamaica are slow to accept the blame for the plight of our country. As we steel ourselves for the hardships that will come with the spiralling cost of oil on the world market, we have to admit that we have used our impressive intelligence for unimpressive advancement - countries with only a fraction of our abundant sunshine are making far better use of solar energy.

As a nation, we are slowly realising that "confession is good for the soul". On launching the National Democratic Movement in 1995, Bruce Golding was practically ridiculed when he admitted to past unsavoury alliances and vowed to introduce a "new and different" politics to Jamaica.
Earlier this year, we heard a lone voice, that of Detective Constable Carey Lyn Shue, who, after becoming a Christian, admitted to creating "ghost witnesses" for a murder case he was investigating. He was roundly criticised by fellow cops who referred to a "code of silence" among police officers.
The Observer reported that former police commissioner Trevor MacMillan wisely suggested that to promote this openness, the Force should offer amnesty: "I would want to say to them, 'Come forward and do the right thing' without prosecution, so we can have a review of all such cases and where there are innocent people they can be released from prison."

While we are shocked by a spate of recent arrests of police officers for crimes ranging from involvement in the guns-for-drugs trade, corruption and kidnapping, we should be encouraged that this may very well be the result of fellow officers breaking the code of silence and becoming a part of a new initiative to cleanse their ranks.

It was also refreshing to see an advertisement from the EOJ, showing declarations of campaign spending by politicians on both sides, and we have heard more calls for transparency and accountability. (Let's not get crazy, though - the '90s meltdown should be a closed chapter - the overburdened taxpayer just cannot afford to pick up the tab for a commission of inquiry and "restitution".)

The PJ Patterson-led PNP government should get credit for their role in fast-tracking electoral reform to give us one of the most fraud-proof electoral systems in the world, as well as for creating the post of contractor general and appointing the excellent Greg Christie to help make us more honest.
But we are still waiting to hear a heartfelt apology from our politicians - to paraphrase Rudd:

"We apologise for our complicity with thugs who have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Jamaicans.

"We apologise especially for the untimely death of tens of thousands of Jamaicans.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these victims, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
"For our divisive strategies, pitting parent against child, brother against sister, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

"And for the indignity and self-degradation we have allowed by turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the rampant vulgarity, damaging our proud culture, we say sorry."

Then, like Australia, we will have to move honestly and purposefully to heal our hurting nation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fr Jim Webb - God's intrepid activist

Monday, June 16, 2008
Jamaica Observer

He has braved threats, worked from inner city to deep rural Jamaica, and protected the ballot. But Jim Webb is no Indiana Jones, pursuing adventure for adventure's sake - he is a Canadian Jesuit priest, motivated by a strong sense of Christian social justice. His legendary efforts as a young activist priest in Canada and later in Jamaica have now earned him the top post of Jesuit Superior for English-speaking Canada.
Father Jim recalls how he and his Jesuit fellows from Canada got called to Jamaica in 1986. There were only American Jesuits here, several of them expelled in 1968 from Iraq in a "cleansing" led by an up-and-coming officer named Saddam Hussein. In the 70s, the late Archbishop Carter and Jesuit Superior Father Ken Hughes thought Jamaica would be well served to have Jesuits from another country.

Jim Webb would be the last person to tell you of his key roles in social activism, education and rural agricultural development in Jamaica over the past 22 years. However, St Peter Claver principal Margaret Bolt and the farmers in the St Mary Rural Development Project are always singing his praise. And so do I, having been a part of those first meetings he convened at the Roman Catholic Chancery, to discuss a citizens' initiative to monitor national elections - thus was born CAFFE, Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections

It was Father Jim who recruited the inspiring young Margaret Bolt to be principal of St Peter Claver at Waltham Park in 1986, moving the school's pass rate in Common Entrance/GSAT from three per cent to 70 per cent. The school was able to involve the parents, proving that regardless of the income level or environment, people are willing to go the extra mile to ensure their children's success.

Father Jim's interest in fair elections was sparked by the repugnant practices he had witnessed whenever St Peter Claver was used as a location for polling stations. When he arrived to cast his vote in the 1989 general elections, he was told, "Sorry Father, you vote already." For the 1993 elections, he placed eight volunteers at vantage points to count the comings and goings of voters. They counted 620 voters but the number of votes "cast" was 1,485.
Father Jim ensured that CAFFE was in place for the 1997 elections. That year, the Carter Centre sent a delegation headed by President Jimmy Carter to monitor the general elections. They worked closely with CAFFE and gave the elections their stamp of approval.

But even CAFFE was easy compared to the next challenge that Father Jim took on. With an offer to expand his mission in Jamaica, he conducted a survey to ask whether he should stay urban or go rural. Twenty-four out of 25 voted rural. With Catholic Deacon Peter Espeut, they researched various communities and decided on Annotto Bay, St Mary.

With the help of CIDA and the Jesuits, the St Mary Rural Development Programme was founded in 1990 with up to 300 farmers in the early years. "The demographics have changed," noted Father Jim. "The land being farmed by the older people was located on hillsides - their predecessors had been granted hard-to-farm land after emancipation. Only machetes and hoes could be used so it was sheer drudgery - they couldn't compete."

The programme was able to negotiate the lease of flatlands and Father Jim has witnessed a sea change in the lives of the farmers who have been able to build better homes and buy vans. He is particularly proud of three-time National Young Champion Farmer, 26-year-old Leighton Davis.

His struggle to obtain better land for the farmers has been fraught with danger. Father Jim received a death threat in 2001 and two weeks later his fellow priest Father Martin Royackers was shot dead on the grounds of the Annotto Bay Church. It has never been proved conclusively if this was linked to the threat or if it was a case of robbery.

Born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, of a devout Catholic family, Father Jim was ordained in 1973 and posted in a poor neighbourhood in Toronto where he threw himself into social justice projects. In the 70s, he chaired the Task Force of Churches for Corporate Responsibility and would attend bank shareholders' meetings to protest against loans to South Africa still under apartheid. In 1979, a South African banker arrived in Canada to meet with the group, protesting that his request of a Canadian banking partner had been turned down "because of the power of the churches". "It was then that we realised that we had won!" exulted Father Jim.

Father Jim also worked to expose the plight of women working in the Freezone in the 1980s. "We saw hard-working women begging for money to buy milk for their babies," said Father Jim. "They had a take-home pay of $60, and a tin of milk cost $16 at the time. We surveyed 100 women and Dr Patricia Anderson wrote a paper which was the basis for our input in an inquiry into the employment practices of the Freezone," he recalls. "The factory owners were furious."

Father Jim has also been chairman of Jamaica's premier high school, Campion College, for the past 10 years. "In 1998, 95 per cent of our students came from private prep schools and only five per cent from public primary," he recalls. "Now we have 32 per cent from the public school system, a better reflection of the Jamaican society."

He is happy that during a two-day review in 2005, the school's board and management tried to determine "how Campion fits in with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount". Out of that discussion, the school's mission emerged: "To build the Kingdom of God - a world characterised by social justice, love and respect for the dignity of every person." He added, "It was because of our mission that Grace Baston took up the offer to become our outstanding principal."

One of Father Jim's heroes is the late Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, who said, "We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. it is a beginning, a step along the way." As an advocate for vocations, Father Jim has recruited five young Jamaicans to study for the priesthood. We hope they will follow in his footsteps, taking forward God's magnificent enterprise.

Monday, June 9, 2008

‘The rendezvous of conquest'

Obama and Bolt - World's fastest and most fascinating.

Let the great Aimé Cézaire speak: “for it is not true that the work of man is finished/that we have nothing to do in the world/that we are parasites in the world/that we have only to accept the way of the world/but the work of man has only begun/…and no race has a monopoly of beauty, intelligence, strength/and there is room for all at the rendezvous of conquest.”

The late French Caribbean poet and philosopher, regarded as the father of négritude (Black pride) could very well have been commenting on the happenings of the last ten days. There was room for Usain Bolt at the rendezvous of conquest, when he sprinted to a new world record of 9.72 seconds over 100 metres in the Reebok Grand Prix. There was ample space for Barack Obama as he quickly passed the required 2118 delegates on Tuesday evening and declared the closure of the US Democratic primaries.

And so last week the world crowned our Fastest Man and our Most Fascinating Man. Of course, one of the two had to be a Jamaican who snatched the record from yet another Jamaican at the appropriately named Icahn Stadium in Randall’s Island, New York. Barack Obama, with his two autobiographies selling like hot Jamaican hardough bread and the audio version winning a Grammy (beating fellow nominee Bill Clinton), is easily the most studied human being in the modern world.

We discover that these three high achievers, Barack Obama, Usian Bolt and Asafa Powell have something in common. They all had steady father figures in their lives. In a Jamaica where 80% percent of our children are born out of wedlock, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell are the offspring of devoted married parents. In his book “Dreams from my Father”, Obama described the guidance of his father, stepfather and grandfather (his parents divorced when he was two).

Here in Jamaica, we learn that the confident young Bolt has been the pride and joy of both his parents, Wellesley and Jennifer Bolt. CVM-TV captured Mr Bolt behind the counter at his grocery store in Sherwood Content, Trelawny and heard from Mrs Bolt that she was very attentive to her child’s nutrition throughout his young life. Asafa Powell’s parents, William and Cislyn Powell are both pastors of the Redemption National Church of God in Linstead.

English sports writer Alex Bilmes reports that before achieving his feat, Asafa said he was recognised because of his father: 'Even before I became the person I am now I was very popular back home, because of him. He is very respected in the town.'

I had the pleasure of meeting young “lightning Bolt” and his coach Glen Mills at the Digicel hosted press briefing last Monday. I was taken by Usain’s humility, the firm guidance of coach Mills and his solid manager, Norman Peart. Mills alluded to the attentiveness of Bolt’s parents who phone him every night, wherever in the world he is: “If he even sneezes, they have to know,” he said jokingly. As always, I was filled with admiration for the fatherly dignity of JAAA President, Howard Aris, whose generous deeds it would take many pages to recount.

Now to a different kind of running by the lanky Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: his is the historical race to become the first ever Black President of the United States of America. One of the most gratifying messages I received this week was from Michael Nugent in New York who reminded me that when he had his doubts about Obama gaining the nomination, I had told him that I had seen a readiness in the American people to embrace a candidate of colour, especially one so brilliant and charismatic.

It was interesting that in an effort to steal Obama’s resounding thunder, his opponents played and replayed the rantings of his former pastor, Rev. Wright. However, the ground had been too well laid: Obama is the sound-alike of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the look-alike of golf legend Tiger Woods.

I am convinced that the recent reign of Tiger Woods, the inspiring stories of his father’s dedication played and replayed, Tiger’s megawatt grin and fist-pumping on the course has acclimatized the widest cross-section of the American people to the possibility that another dignified, engaging Black American could triumph in a much, much bigger field. In my business of marketing and communications, we know that such is the power of perception. Tiger Woods has transformed the “white” sedate game of golf into an exciting spectator sport, and Obama has done no less for the run to the historically white, White House.

Here we have the metaphors of race (active) and race (ethnic) taken to the highest stages and played for the highest stakes. If Hindu Times writer Rohin Brijnath believes that Usain Bolt’s name is “a gift of a grinning God to headline writers”, then God must surely be chuckling merrily as he sees the entire human race recalibrating its headspace to accommodate a Black President of the greatest nation on earth. I can confidently write such a description of the United States, because to produce a Black presidential candidate in four short decades after the Civil Rights Movement is testament that the United States is indeed “the land of opportunity.”

At the Olympic Games in Beijing, on the birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, August 17, we should be seeing two Jamaicans in the run for the 100 metres Olympic Gold (I plan to be there - d.v.). A small island of 2.5 million souls may have the world transfixed by a race between two sons of our soil, the two fastest men in the world. To understand this feat, let us reflect on Brijnath’s words: “The sprinter neither kicks a ball nor manipulates a racquet, he just runs …But he’s more than that. He’s like a test pilot trying to take the machine that is the human body faster than it has ever gone before…For the six billion odd people on this planet, Bolt is our ambassador of acceleration; if there’s a Milky Way sprint-off, he’s our man.” This was written in the Hindu Times, on the other side of the world – Bolt’s speed has lit up the headlines of the planet, and maybe even those of intelligent life elsewhere in our universe.

I want to submit that if members of the sadly named “Fatherless Crew” and other gangs had fathers like William Powell or Wellesley Bolt, they would be lighting up their world positively, not tragically. Let us salute the good men of Jamaica on Fathers’ Day and help deadbeat dads to see what they are missing. Imagine the joy of saying, “That’s my boy, I raised him to be the fastest man in the world!”
- Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, June 2, 2008

Butch Stewart’s faith, hope and love

“Butch Stewart’s childhood was no easy street,” said the young voice on the call-in radio show. Jaime Stewart was 12 years old when she made her broadcast debut correcting a talk-show host’s assumption that her father was born into privilege. It was this challenging start as an early breadwinner for his humble Jamaican family, that helped mould Gordon “Butch” Stewart into today’s business titan.

Jaime, now a Director at Sandals Resorts Intl, reflects on her father’s unwavering ethics: “He makes decisions based on what is correct and then fights for them. This applies to the environmental issues with other properties. It all boils down to laws that have been broken. My Dad is a strong patriot and when it comes to his country, he will stand up and take the beating.”

Last Tuesday, hundreds of guests converged on a glittering Hope Gardens to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the ATL Group. In his trademark style, founder Butch Stewart shared the kudos with six ATL long servers who in turn paid tribute to their visionary leader. They had their own special stories about the man Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson saluted as “a guy who knows how to build a brand… a maverick (with) guts, determination.”

Long before branding became the hot marketing buzzword, Butch Stewart had slapped the Fedders logo on the side of his first luxury buy, a white Mercedes, much to public amusement. For him, it was simple: Fedders had helped him to buy his Benz and he was going to use his Benz to sell the brand. And how. Butch Stewart and his lean team became the talk of the middle and monied classes, as the folks you could call in the morning and know that by the time you had returned from the office in the evening, your home would be as cool as a Fedders breeze. ATL Technical Control Manager Errol Lee related the rush he was in during those early times, to deliver the instant gratification promised by his boss, resulting in three fender-benders.

It is this single-minded focus, that has seen Butch Stewart parlay a nine-man operation into the ATL Group of Companies that now employs over 10,000 persons throughout the Caribbean. The humble company has spawned the Sandals and Beaches chains, an automotive company and this venerable newspaper.

As Sandals Project Manager Betty Jo Desnoes tries to define the maverick style of Butch Stewart she describes a scene: “He gets a call, spins around in his chair, punches his calculator and gives an answer. Or he will call in about ten of us, listen keenly and quickly sum up. I have never seen anyone cut through the fog of indecision so quickly.”

In reading his marvelous book, “All That’s Good”, one discerns that the guiding force of the Stewart empire is the synergy of three basic Christian principles, faith, hope and love. Only a person of faith would have invested in the run-down Bay Roc Hotel in 1981, rapidly rolling out a gold-standard hotel chain that would cop the most coveted international tourism awards. ATL’s master plumber and jack-of-all-trades Aston “Plum-Plum” James remembers being told by his boss, “Plum-Plum, come take a ride with me. We’re going down to Montego Bay to look at something.” It was nine months before James returned to Kingston, leaving behind a shining restored property, Sandals Montego Bay.

And hope. Betty Jo remembers the devastating blow dealt by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 to the three Sandals properties in Montego Bay as well as two others being built in Ocho Rios and Negril. She said on hearing the news, “Mr Stewart…began galvanizing. He dispatched every truck he had and bought up every piece of lumber and nails.”

Butch Stewart decided that he would rebuild the properties even better and hastily called a press conference in New York to outline his plans. With their reputation on the line, every team member toiled ceaselessly, no one working harder than the boss himself. Hailed by travel writers as “a miracle”, the resorts were rebuilt and reopened three months after Gilbert in time for the beginning of the 88/89 winter tourist season.

Most obvious is the love. Former ATL Warehouse Manager Josephine Marshall who recently retired after serving the company for nearly 32 years recalls her trepidation in the seventies when people were selling out and leaving Jamaica. She said Butch Stewart called them into the boardroom to assure them that he was going nowhere and that their jobs were safe. “That’s why I stayed so long … Mr Stewart is a fantastic man!” she enthused.

Former ATL Branch Manager and now Sandals Projects Director Eleanor Miller remarked that Butch Stewart “never asked you to do something that he would not do himself … It’s very much a family environment.” The other 30-year veterans Larry McDonald, Phillipa Thomas, Carl Ennis and Checks Nichol all relate incidents of his quiet generosity: airlifts to Miami to get the best medical care, scholarships for children of team members, personal guidance and mentorship. This care is part of the ATL and Sandals culture, warmly extended to customers and guests.

But make no mistake; Butch Stewart has no patience for dishonesty. “There are only two things that will get you fired from this company,” says Betty Jo Desnoes, “lying and stealing. He won’t fire you for a bad decision and will even say a bad decision is better than no decision at all.”

Jaime Stewart recalls a business-imbued childhood where family vacations became trade show visits. “It was extraordinary, going to England, the ITB show in Germany. These were experiences that can’t be taught.” Jaime and her siblings share their father’s passion for the industry: “He lives, eats, breathes his work and makes room in his life for all those in his business,” comments Jaime. She says that growing up, her mother PJ “helped us to understand that he couldn’t be with us as much as he wanted because he had this huge commitment not only to us and customers but to his employees and employees’ families.”

But there was a great sadness in Butch Stewart’s life, the loss of his son Jonathan to a motor vehicle accident in the 90s. “A lot changed when Jon died,” said Jaime. “Dad became even closer to his family and more spiritual. Now, wherever he is traveling, he goes to Mass every Sunday and on his way he will call us to find out if we are planning to go.” She reflected that he also lost his father and brother in recent years and is very emotional when he prays. “This is why he wears dark glasses in church,” explains Jaime, “he hardly ever has dry eyes when he is worshipping.” The shades were very much in evidence on Wednesday, when Butch Stewart and his staffers attended a 40th anniversary service in downtown Kingston conducted by Father HoLung, who lauded Butch Stewart’s generosity to the less fortunate.

Butch Stewart has stayed a tough course, taking every challenge as an opportunity and every employee as family. Prime Minister Bruce Golding has observed that he will be remembered as the man who revolutionized marketing in Jamaica, and enjoys the fierce loyalty of his staff. No doubt, the annals of tourism will also record him as the man who redefined the “all” in all-inclusive.