Sunday, October 28, 2012

TEDxJamaica - Totally Worth It!!

Yesterday I got up, got dressed, and went to fulfil a dream. Without a ticket or any certainty that I'd get in at all, I went to conquer a mountain. And I DID!

TEDxJamaica #accomplishwhatyouwill was phenomenal. I was grinning all day. And every couple of seconds, I looked around me, took a deep breath, and thought, 'Look at me. I'm here!' Then I gave out an inner squeal. The girl in me was giggling and skipping and dancing all over that place, even if the more mature character had to settle for bright smiles and lots of interesting, animated conversations.

I saw people there who I'd known from before. People who I'd already earmarked as movers and shakers. And I shook hands with dignitaries and people of like passion. What drew us to that place? A common understanding that greatness must be fed, nurtured and fostered if it is to last. So we all sat, and fed our greatness. And in between, we fed our faces.

I read somewhere that in order to function optimally, the brain needs plenty of psychological sunshine. Conferences like TED facilitate an inner and outer glow. It did more for us than give us a few sweet words. It lit a fire on our backsides and challenged us to, as Garth Fagan so aptly said, "D-O or G-O." It reminded us that there is no can't in try.

And, for me, it was a timely reminder that mountains can move, yes, they can walk. I've loved TED for years. Ask my friends and coworkers. I keep them up-to-date (sometimes against their will) on every new, interesting TED Talk that comes out, and I'm constantly inserting anecdotes and quotes and info from talks I've watched into every conversation. I've wanted to attend a TED Talk for, like, forever!! That was (one of) my mountain(s).

But I didn't go to this one. It literally came to me! TED came to Jamaica. And my only regret is that I missed the first two years.

So, this time around, I paid out of pocket. I missed another appointment I'd had. I went; I saw, heard, tasted and smelled; then I let that ambience swallow me up and transport me to worlds of exciting possibilities. I loved every minute of it.

TEDxJamaica was brilliantly organised and executed. My wish now is to see this information simplified and taken into schools so that our kids will have this kind of psychological sunshine as a regular part of their education curriculum. Can you imagine what a nation of TEDx'd kids could do?? They would really accomplish ANYTHING!

And then, as Donna Duncan-Scott boasted, we'd be "the best little island in the world!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heroes All Around Us

Yesterday was celebrated as Heroes Day in Jamaica. Our Government took the time to bestow national honours on those who have gone above and beyond the call of service in various fields at what was dubbed the 'Ceremony of Investiture and Presentation of National Honours and Awards' (so long and fancy-sounding) at King's House.

The Gleaner's lead story today, titled 'Bound By Bravery', tells the story of one of the awardees. It tells of young soldier, Ferdinand Trench, who risked his life to save Stephen Gabbadon, a policeman who had fallen over a dangerous precipice while directing traffic around a precarious junction corner. (See the full story here.) Trench received the Badge of Honour For Gallantry.

I find his story heartwarming and instructive. In Trench, we see a person doing something that is absolutely fantastically, inspiringly extraordinary. I love to read stories like these. I love to hear and see the moments when people seize opportunities to be and do something significant, invaluable, selfless ... I love when the better qualities of the human heart triumphs. Trench proves that bravery, 'gallantry' and heroism are traits that we all may possess.

But how and when and where are heroes born? I think the fact that we cannot put a place, date or time on this metamorphosis tells us – tells me – to be careful about how we treat each person we encounter everyday. It is a fitting reminder of the fact that regular people have seeds of greatness within them, and that the common men we pass daily on our streets could all be heroes waiting to be discovered.

So, as Miss Lou would say, 'walk good'. And never miss an opportunity to discover the hero in others, and the hero in you. Have a happy belated Heroes Day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Donald Sangster, Jamaica’s most unappreciated PM

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 23:

Forgotten and unrewarded

Call the names of Alexander Bustamante, Michael Manley, P.J. Patterson, or Edward Seaga, and Jamaicans immediately know to whom you are referring. Say the name ‘Donald Sangster’, and they may tell you about an airport, a bookstore – or, perhaps, a rum cream. Not many may be readily aware that Sir Donald Sangster was a prime minister of Jamaica.
Hartley Neita, former press secretary for the prime minister, decided to fill the gap of missing information about Sangster with his recently published biography, Jamaica’s Forgotten Prime Minister – Donald Sangster.

The book’s title alone is a rebuke to the nation for failing to better honour the legacy of one of its premier leaders; on Tuesday, September 18, no punches were pulled as panellists Ken Chaplin, Michelle Neita and Patrick Bryan discussed the topic ‘Preserving the Memory of Our Prime Ministers’ at the Bookophilia bookstore and cafĂ© in Liguanea, Kingston.

Chaired by University of the West Indies Professor Rupert Lewis, the evening was characterised by a continuous flow of animated debate punctuated by healthy doses of laughter from the audience, which included communications specialist and media veteran Marcia Forbes; Donna Parchment Brown, CEO of Dispute Resolution Foundation; Prime Minister Sangster’s son, Bindley Sangster; author and educator, Dr Alfred Sangster; educator and theatre personality, Jean Small; former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Anthony Johnson; and former Security Minister Dwight Nelson.

“If we feel that the history of our country is sacrosanct, then we need to preserve it,”noted Michelle Neita, daughter of Hartley Neita and editor of the biography. She argued that with only nine post-Independence prime ministers, it was tragic that Sangster’s name and legacy were so obscure, and suggested the establishment of an organisation to record their tenures of different prime ministers – something like a mini-museum.

Ken Chaplin, former national press secretary, asked how the memories of prime ministers could be preserved when the country’s record of development had been far from impressive. Crafting a compelling vision of the dismal state of the nation’s education and economy, and referring to the link between crime and politics, Chaplin decried the non-performance of Jamaican prime ministers over the years, and asked if this below-average record was worthy of memory at all.

He ended on a positive note, however, suggesting that, in spite of all their shortcomings, prime ministers’ memories could be preserved and emphasised the need for “consistent and extensive national action”.

UWI historian Patrick Bryan, who delved into the heart of Neita’s book. “On the surface,” Bryan said, “the PM has not been forgotten, so why is he called forgotten?” He went on to explain this was because of the shortness of Sangsters’ term in office and the very limited knowledge of his personal contributions to nation-building.

The veracity of this point was later proven when Ambassador Johnson noted areas in which Donald Sangster was critical to Jamaica’s nation-building:
- making Jamaica the ‘tomato capital’ of the region. He noted that if Sangster had stayed alive, we would still have a vibrant vegetable industry in St Elizabeth;
- being an avid supporter of CARIFTA, to the point where he was given the moniker ‘Mr Commonwealth’;
- supporting the building of the Donald Sangster International Airport at a time when others would perhaps not have seen fit to do so. This facility was later named in his honour and is now the largest airport in Jamaica; and
- procuring a contract for Jamaica to export oranges to New Zealand

Summing up, Dr Alfred Sangster said the PM was “forgotten and unrewarded”. He noted that the importance of Neita’s book lay precisely in the fact that it shed light on a man who had worked hard for the benefit of his nation, and would dispel some of the myths and mystery surrounding his tenure. 

“He represented perhaps one of the last prime ministers who could walk in any crowd and be comfortable,” Sangster said. “We, as a family, are proud of him.”