I love my Jamaican people. I love the Jamaican culture. Jamaica will always be home and I will always hold my country dear to my heart. But there are some aspects of our culture; qualities of some of our people that I find to be quite disturbing and actually, this quality is not specific to Jamaican people. However, I am going to speak about it in this context because this is what I have experienced firsthand. Let me back track to explain what I mean.
I was born and raised in the seaside community of Annotto Bay, St. Mary, Jamaica. I lived there for 18 years with family. It wasn’t the best place to live. But it was what I knew then as home. And home is more a feeling than a place. As a little girl, I was quite satisfied with being in that environment as in truth, I didn’t know any other life. I didn’t know about the world that existed beyond the big iron bridge stretching across the Pencar river. It was not until I gained greater social exposure of the possibilities and opportunities that were present outside of the town that I decided that I needed to reach for more.
And reach for more I did. God bless my mother as miserable as she is. She always pushed my sister and I to go the extra mile, to do what others weren’t doing, to go hard for our education.
Now here’s where we go back to what I said earlier about the qualities of some people that I find rather disturbing. See, when you are on the same ‘level’ as some people, it is quite fine. That’s great. We’re equals. We’re both settling for mediocrity and we’re okay with the bare minimum. But you just get the funny idea to go for something better, something greater and everyone turns against you because you have decided to rise out of the comfort zone and that threatens to disturb the equilibrium.
And that was the case. Many people turned against us. Many people spoke negative things about us. We didn’t have many friends. I remember time and again I would hear, “dem gwan like dem better than everybody else” or “dem too hype”. When in reality, that was anything close to the truth.
The fact is when you are exposed to a better way, greater possibilities, it demands that you be different. So we could not, after having been exposed to being goal-oriented, how to conduct oneself with decorum at all times and how to prioritize one’s education, act like everyone else.
True wisdom entails change. Gaining knowledge inspires action.
Therefore, you would not find us roaming the streets in the evenings. We would be home doing homework or studying or something productive. You would not find us leaned against the street corners engaging in meaningless conversations with young men grinding weed in their palms spilling “lyrics” to win us over. You would not find us turning up on every scene. And that made us different. That made us strange.
We were just the girls who walked by people on the street bidding them “Good morning/Good evening” while rushing to get home. And I have no regrets.
I don’t regret not speaking to some people. I don’t regret not hanging out with some of my counterparts in the community. Because in truth, I could not relate to them. We were on different paths. We had different plans. I wanted degrees, connections with influential people and I didn’t want to stay in Annotto Bay. And I’m not sorry.
So if that vision that I had and still have for myself makes me an outsider or strange, I am grateful because I don’t wish to be like everyone else. And I know there are quite a few young people from my town and other parts of Jamaica who can relate to this. When they stuck to themselves and tried to blossom, they were cursed and put down and it is still happening and will still happen in future.
And this is something that really prevents us from being as successful as we can be as a nation. The mentality of some Jamaican people. “Badmind”. In the song, “the Cure fi Badmind”, popular Dancehall Artiste, Vybz Kartel and collaborate, Russian (Tarik Johnston) declare that “a nuh AIDS, a nuh Diabetes, Bad mind a di worstest disease.” And I fully support this statement.
There are individuals who don’t support the progress of others. They prefer to tear down and belittle people who try to “come up”. And if you think about it, they are really tearing down themselves in the process.
Young people with potential in one’s community are a blessing. That means the community has a future. Why try to stop them from rising up when if they win, you win too? It makes no sense.
Be happy for the “come-up” of others. Support people and their dreams. Many people have an idea of what it is like to be from the “ghetto” or inner-city communities or rural areas. But as an individual who lives there, you have firsthand knowledge of what life is like. And if you’re truthful, you’ll admit, it’s not a bed of roses. There are periods of violence. High rates of teenage pregnancy. High number of high school dropouts. A lot of non-progressive people. But thankfully, there are also kids with great potential. Young people who have what it takes to make a positive impact on not only your community but the country, the Caribbean and even the world. Push them. Point them towards greatness. Let them know that there is more for them that exists beyond the zinc fences and the bad roads and the street dances and the gun violence. Tell them that they are made for more.
It’s not that you want them to forget where they are from. And sadly, some will. You don’t have to forget where you are from. I’ll never forget where I am from. But I can’t let where I am from define me. And I can’t let where I am from hold me back. That’s just a tiny piece of my story. But it’s my favourite and first chapter as it helped to create my vision for something greater.
- Nashelle Hird