Monday, August 1, 2011

Emancipation for today

ADAM STEWART... banished all doubt that he could take Sandals on its upward path

Jamaica Observer column | Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, August 01, 2011

THE real heroes of the world are those who refuse to be distracted by bad news and "'bad mind". We got a well needed charge from a roomful of heroes last weekend - not just their boss Gordon "Butch" Stewart (owner of this paper) but each manager who took the stage at the unveiling of Sandals Resorts International US$500-million expansion plan. As Brian Roper, Gary Sadler, Marsha Ann Donaldson-Brown and Andre Wade reflected on their sojourns from lowly jobs to management, as Adam Stewart electrified the room with his dad's signature salesmanship, an emancipation story unfolded.

How, might you ask, can one be writing about white Jamaicans Brian Roper and Adam Stewart in the same sentence as "Emancipation"? It is because, dear reader, we will never be fully emancipated until we Jamaicans stop qualifying suffering or success in terms of colour. Most of us - black, white, brown and yellow- came from the plantation. Indeed, my Indian ancestors who came here as indentured servants, were thrown off the estates as weaklings and rescued by the previously freed Africans. What is more, Adolf Hitler would have been quite frustrated if he had come here searching for "racial purity" in our multi-ethnic population.

Let us therefore look at the Jamaica we live in today and redefine the kind of emancipation we need to take us forward, even as our proud history reminds us that it is only heroism that can break us out of this grip of gangs, that can shake us out of this desperation that puts power above righteousness.

We felt emancipation in that room at Sandals Grand Riviera in Ocho Rios where Gary Sadler and Andre Wade exuded ownership of their brand, applauding and sometimes roasting their colleagues. We felt that freedom when Marsha Ann Donaldson-Brown said of her career success, "My journey is a love affair."

We saw emancipation when over 30 workers, some of them very young and humble, received prizes of holidays at Sandals resorts where they would be treated as valued guests, afforded the same attention they so cheerfully give.

We heard national pride when Wayne Cummings, Sandals admin director, explained how his team had volunteered to train Customs and Immigration personnel at Montego Bay to ensure that our visitors would have a completely positive experience from landing to departure. We were moved by Heidi Clarke's account of the Sandals Foundation projects that have renovated schools, funded a "Cure for Kids" project and their operation of a Peace and Justice Centre in Flanker. Sandals has been working in Flanker since 1981: "Flanker has risen!" declared Adam Stewart.

Thirty-year-old Adam Stewart was born the very year that Sandals was started. His incisive and spirited presentation banished all doubt that he could take the world-renowned chain on that same upward path that it has followed, even as he remains a dedicated environmentalist, having appointed environmental specialists at all of his hotel properties. He has moved the chain from Green Globe to the highest award of Earth Check Platinum. He has taken failing hotels and converted them to winners, like the Hyatt in St Lucia which is now the Sandals Grande.

Adam Stewart and his sister Jaime Stewart-McConnell inherited the drive and altruism of their parents Butch and PJ Stewart, as well as their down-to-earth approachability. This is how we emancipate our children: through education, example, and discipline.

Sandals employs over 10,000 people throughout the Caribbean and plans to expand and open new properties, thus creating more jobs. If that is not an emancipation story, I don't know what is.

And so, as the controversy rages about scrap metal and cash-for-gold, perhaps we can ensure that those millions that are being granted or loaned to support micro and small businesses can be used to ensure that bonafide businesses are established and employment created. Now that Minister Tufton has taken the courageous move to suspend scrap-metal trading, his technocrats will have to get busy in identifying the number of persons involved in the trade and helping them to find other means of employment.

Here's an idea. Sandals Resorts has established Island Routes, the leading provider of tours in the Caribbean. Perhaps we could be developing craftsmen and women who could supply all the souvenirs that we are now importing. Perhaps we could be empowering the more seasoned drivers to start driving schools for new entrants, and provide an elite taxi corps for our resort areas, business districts and retirement communities.

With so much to be done, productivity plans for government ministries and agencies should get Jamaica moving and in sync with the private sector. There is still too much red tape, which some translate into downright paper-shuffling laziness. Even as Sandals is planning the building of additional hotel properties, they and other dynamic organisations are wasting resources just trying to get the necessary approvals so they can get on with their and the nation's business. For Jamaicans to be truly free on the streets and in their communities, we have to convince them of the triumph of a job well done, the joy of a well-deserved promotion, the honour of achievement. None but the blessed of us can free the rest of us.

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