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

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