Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration and a Jamaican dream

Jennifer Kerr at her Liberty Hill Estate

Jamaica Observer | column | 19 January 2009

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

The euphoria is building for the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. My sister and her family will be well sited at her workplace in downtown DC. They will have to stay the night – access to parking will not be permitted on Tuesday as security tightens in the streets around the White House.

Never to be left out, we Jamaicans are also planning various local celebrations. Call it serendipity or ancestral urgings, but tomorrow evening Jamaican American Jennifer Kerr and friends will be toasting President Obama at her Liberty Hill Estate, the site where slave masters used to take a cool view of sweating servants toiling on their land. The estate is in Lime Hall, St Ann, just a few miles from the birthplaces of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley.

Jennifer’s story reminds us that Obama’s message of hope and courage can apply to each and every one of us. This successful entrepreneur who has a thriving business in the US is falling in love all over again with her homeland. Born in Westmoreland, Jennifer migrated in the late seventies to seek new opportunities. She studied nursing at Highland Park Nursing School in Michigan. The Rehabilitation Nurse who was known for going the extra mile, quickly climbed the corporate ladder and over a decade later, started her own company in the basement of her home. Diversified Health Care Management Inc, now occupies its own building in Southfield, Michigan and has a 32-strong workforce comprising physicians, registered nurses, social workers and administrative personnel.

Jennifer recalls the excitement of the historic presidential race last year. “I drove through several neighborhoods in Michigan that are predominantly white and Republican and I was amazed at the multiple yard signs supporting Obama for President. That alone was history.”

“We have come a long way in the US and Jamaica,” says Jennifer thoughtfully. “Liberty Hill Great House was once a plantation where many slaves worked and died, so again it is only natural that we celebrate by having our own Inauguration gala alongside the US celebrations on the evening of January 20th.”

“My dream was to return to Jamaica and open up a health and wellness spa as an extension of my business in the US when I retire,” she explains. “I mentioned it to my dear friend Fay Alston who was very excited for me. ‘Why wait until you retire? Do it now!’” Jennifer describes the quick series of events in 2006 that led to her purchase of Liberty Hill Great House. “Fay told her Jamaican-based friend Patricia Isaacs who went to look at the property. As she was driving up to Liberty Hill she was on the phone describing it to me,” recalls Jennifer. “I could feel it in my being that this was the property where I would realize my dream. Not only did I purchase the property from the Draytons, but Donald and Faith Drayton have become mother, father, friend, customer and enthusiastic marketer.”

Trying to grow one’s business in Jamaica while managing a fully grown one in the US became a real challenge, and Jennifer was delighted to meet the super-efficient Sharon and Theo Chambers. “I met Sharon and Theo while attending their Caribbean Health Tourism & Wellness Symposium at the Hilton Kingston Hotel in Kingston in 2007,” said Jennifer. “Since last October Sharon and Theo have become an integral part of Liberty Hill.”

Jennifer enjoys the warm community of Lime Hall. “The people of Lime Hall and St. Ann generally have been kind and welcoming. Everyone has been supportive and encouraging: from the little man in the street like Enos and Patrick, to Delroy, continuing his job as groundskeeper after I bought the property – he is my biggest supporter. Mr. Lynch my chef and the leaders in the community have also been great. It has not been easy, but the overall feeling that I get is that everyone wants to see Liberty Hill succeed, everyone is proud to see a Jamaican return to invest in Jamaica. The challenges and frustrations have been many but I am not discouraged.”

One visit to Liberty Hill and you will understand why you cannot easily be discouraged in that ambience. Jennifer, standing on the huge cool verandah of the great house, is at once the lady of the manor and the exotic Jamaican woman, a blend of many races. “My dream always was to return home,” she discloses. “I love my country, and investing in Jamaica allows me to give back to my country. I must say I have met remarkable people throughout this journey. I use words such as ‘wonderful, kind, loving’ to describe those that I have met, such as Custos Radcliff Walters and wife Norma Walters, Lloyd Baker and his wife Iva Walters-Baker, who have adopted me, mentored me and are my biggest supporters.”

“Jamaica has so much to offer the world,” believes Jennifer fervently. “The wonderful warmth of our people, beautiful sunny weather, the landscape is like no other in the world. We should keep telling that story. When investors hear that story they want to invest in Jamaica, and most Jamaicans abroad dream of returning to Jamaica.”

1 comment:

  1. Jamaica really does have a lot to offer... that fact is one of our worst-kept secrets!

    Jennifer's story is truly inspiring, and yes, oh yes, the euphoria is just climbing to phenomenal levels as the world awaits the inauguration of America's first black/bio-racial President.

    I wait with bated breath, unsettled nerves, and blurry eyes...