Ghettos Are Not Gated Communities

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The tides are changing and our youth are demanding better treatment for its marginalized citizens. As the number of violent encounters on our streets continue to climb and death by the gun appears to be exponentially climbing, I am amazed that inhabitants of this great metropolis and its surroundings aren’t alarmed that the bullets are moving further away from the so called ghettos. As we often say in Jamaica” bullets have no one’s named etched on them, they catch who they catch”. Now more than ever we must work fastidiously to enlighten our youth thereby eradicating ignorance, hopelessness and hatred.

Shortly after becoming empty nesters, my parents went to the North Coast in Jamaica on a holiday. While playing tennis, the ball girl assigned to them changed their life forever. My mother was a lecturer at Church Teachers College in Mandeville Jamaica, so it was scandalous to her that a “schooler” (the patois for a school aged child) was not in school and at a resort retrieving balls on a tennis court. As the clique goes: To make a very long story short, twelve-year old Simone (not her real name) came to live with my parents by the end of the weekend. When Simone moved to Ingleside she was leaving Flankers, a notorious squatters village in the North Coast, behind. This transition can be compared to Will Smith’s transition in the television show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith transitioned from a ghetto in Philadelphia, being raised by a single mom; to a mansion in California and living with his aunt, a professor and her husband, a judge. My mother rallied the troops. I came home that summer after my first year at McGill to help her transform Simone into a young lady. I taught her English. Shocking as it may seem, even though Simone lived in Jamaica all her life she spoke very little English. In fact, her grammar and diction was so inferior that she could not get accepted into a regular high school. My mother had to “pull strings” to get her into one of the most prestigious schools in Mandeville; Bishops. This was basically done as a professional courtesy after my mom promised to have Simone speaking English by the end of summer. Another movie that comes to kind is My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn’s character and Simone had so many similar experiences as they transformed their lives.

Simone was a very special child and I guess my mother’s gift of discernment was bang on. Simone was so grateful for the opportunity and had a hunger for a better life that once she came to Ingleside she never looked back. Simone worked day and night practicing her English and learning the names of basic things like a knife and a fork, the difference between a saucepan and a teapot and many of the nuances of the English language. It did not take her too long before she realized that everything had a name. Simone was forbidden to speak Patois. By abolishing the word “simting” (something) from her limited vocabulary she gained hundreds of new words in a matter of a week. After a month of intense English instruction, etiquette and social integration Simone began studying other subjects zealously. Academically she was functioning at a grade two level. Simone went from being called those people to academic excellence, winning just about every accolade upon graduation from High school; achieving high ranking in tennis in Jamaica; earning a tennis scholarship to a university in Texas where she graduated summa cum laude; to earning a PhD. in Criminology to working as a professor in the United States of America.

Had it not been for the kindness of strangers who on that summer day while on vacation made a commitment to improve the life of a special little girl, one could only shudder at what could have been. Simone’s biological mother had several kids for just as many men. She even mocked her daughter for being a “mule” (virgin) and had to be temporarily estranged from Simone as she had placed a high priority on Simone losing her virginity to prove she was a woman. Today Simone is a well-educated, independent woman making a positive difference in her community. She is still single and in her late thirties with no children out of wedlock. Something like this does not happen to girls from Flankers.

My parents got the whole community to journey with them to transform Simone’s life. Simone’s story serves as an example of what one person, one family and one community can do to positively transform one person’s life. Ghettos are not gated communities and it is our moral imperative to work with all children to improve their circumstances. If you disagree, perhaps I could change your mind for the selfish reason: your children need educated, intelligent and productive people to marry. So let us not tarry there is work to be done. 100 Strong, Big Brother and Sisters and the United Way are a few of the great organizations that are looking for mentors. Find a youth to mentor and begin journeying with a young person and making a positive change in their life. So Walk Good. Belle Marché


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