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Taking Pride In Community
The residents of Nelson Street and the surrounding districts, deep in what the police have identified as “crime hotspots,” a community that has experienced decades of underdevelopment, have begun to identify the solutions to their problems; and frankly no one else can. That realisation became clear to me during an enlightening afternoon/evening spent on Nelson Street during which the residents of the area, past and present, recognised and celebrated their “icons.”
Among those honoured were sport achievers, community workers, those who have been successful in business, former government ministers, a former calypso king and notable steelbands such as Desperadoes and All Stars. The staging of the ceremony just prior to Independence Day, and in the manner they did, meant that the residents were saying that they have to take hold of the problem of young men (especially) who have gone astray because of the lack of positive guiding forces in their lives, inclusive of broken families and dysfunctional communities.
In many ways, those who organised the ceremony, many of them having graduated out of the area but returning occasionally to where their navel string is buried, are very different human beings nurtured and socialised in an environment very different from the one in which the youngsters of today are coming to manhood.
But because they know of the struggles against the stigma and perplexities of what coming from Nelson, George, Duncan, Mango Rose, Piccadilly, Goat, parts of Prince and Duke streets and the old Marine Square area meant, they are now best positioned to initiate change in this generation.
One of the icons honoured said to me that his greatest achievement in life is the education of his five children into professionals. He said while his parents were poor, they had the ambition that their children and grandchildren would never adopt criminal lifestyles and would one day achieve.
Former professional footballer, national coach and innovator of the Strike Squad Everard “Gally” Cummings told me his football groundings “started right in the back there,” pointing as he did to the Dry River which runs between Nelson and Piccadilly streets. I walked up and down Nelson Street looking at and recognising a few of the stalwarts of the “Plannings” and surrounding areas that stretch as far as lower Belmont.
One of the people seen was this woman who used to be queen in Saldenha’s band; she was one of the most glamorous and beautiful of women in town in the 1960s—Jean Assing. The message I took from the celebrations was that the organisers are attempting to promote self-worth and self-value. “It does not have to be how it is with you; we had our difficulties too,” they are saying to the young men.
Not unexpectedly, the young men and women were absent, probably not trusting to come too close with the heavy police and army presence. Maybe, too, they were simply disinterested, unbelieving that the gathering had anything to do with them.
What the organisers did, wittingly or not, was to identify the steelband as an institution around which the rejuvenation of their community could take place. I have never forgotten the revelation of then Senator Ainsley Mark, when he said of himself and his boyhood community, south-west of Nelson Street, that when they came into downtown on Carnival days, they were behind City Symphony as it was their statement to the world.
I transport myself to Tragarete Road and Ariapita Avenue in the middle-class west of PoS where the mighty Desperadoes from the Hill, Silver Stars, Harmonites and other bands played over the last week on the streets. I realised anew with continuing astonishment at how we, perhaps not “all ah we,” but we nevertheless, are grounded in this steelband culture of achievement and pride.
De Blacks, de Browns, de Whites, de Notre Dame white—and if you are interested you could ask me who constituted that group—de Indo-Trinis, de blessed Douglas and Travesaou, who the Mighty Dougla, who had his barber shop down George St, once wondered, bemused: “If dey sending Indians to India and Negroes back to Africa can somebody please just tell me where dey sending for me…poor Dougie.” The point being that we are locked into the sociology of the steelband and must use it positively.
The issue for the residents of Nelson Street and surrounding areas is how to build upon the start they have made. I will be bold enough to conclude next week with a few suggestions.
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