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Kareem tells of struggles growing up in Beetham
My name is Kareem Josiah Marcelle, 23. I am the son of Sherma Wilson, radio talk show host and former PNM alderman in the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation. Growing up in the community of Beetham Gardens has been no easy task. From very young I knew that it was a rough road ahead. I grew up initially in a nuclear family with my three other siblings. My mom was a pre-school teacher earning a monthly salary of $1,500 and my dad was earning a little less at the fish market.
They tried to make ends meet but at times it did not; having us worried as to where our next meal will come from.
My dad migrated to the US when I was on the July/August vacation going into Std Five at Sacred Heart Boys’ RC School. Initially he said that he would be back in time to assist us in going back to school.
That never happened as his plan all along was to migrate, marry his new wife, and start his family abroad. It was a painful experience with my mom having to struggle to get us ready for school and to actually send all four of us to school at the very same time. When I started the first term, I remember my mom telling me that she would buy one shirt for me to start school and when things got better she would buy more. I was so afraid that it would rip or even get a distinct marking, I barely played.
My absenteeism at times was high as mom did not have the funds to send us to school every day. However, even when home we had to be busy in our books.
Forced to raise three young men and one young lady, my mom put her emotional heartbreak aside and stood up as a warrior. She got stricter as she was now the only disciplinarian in the house.
She knew that with my two elder brothers being young adults in Forms Three and Four, she had to toughen them up or else the streets and the gangs would raise them. She checked our bags every day to ensure that we didn’t come home with one more pencil or pen that she bought. We had to account for everything to her to prove that we would never steal anything or accept things from strangers. It is something that we all grew with; high morals and values though financially poor. Eventually, however, my older brothers dropped out of school to assist with the situation.
My mom was not pleased with this as she wanted all of us to stay and complete school; but, my brothers knew she could not afford it.
‘Dad murders wife, attempts to burn down condo’ About four years after my father left, news broke that he had just murdered his wife and attempted to burn an entire condo. At this time, I was a Form Three student of Trinity College, Moka, and my mom was doing a lot better with us as she got a new job as a radio talk show host. Nevertheless, this unfortunate news rocked and shocked us all. I began thinking that my plans and dreams of being the Prime Minister would be controlled by the narrative that my father was a murderer.
I would be hypocritical if I say that it did not cross my mind to give up on school and go down a wrong road. In fact, if I wanted to become a criminal, the perfect opportunities and easiest way would be found right on every block in my community. It crossed my mind simply because criminality pays off in communities like ours.
There are success stories of young, poor men like myself at the time, who decided to join a gang and turned gang leaders. The success story was when you see the fancy vehicles, government contracts, gold, money, respect, and girls the gangsters would have. However, God and my mother’s guidance of rich morals and values is what kept me on the right path even when I doubted.
Even when my father was sentenced to 35 years to life at the age of 55 years, I struggled but pushed and received eight CSEC and then six CAPE unit subjects.
My struggles have motivated me to help and inspire others hence my heavy involvement in community and national activism work. The very same selfless work that has allowed me to be in pursuit of my dream career of being an attorney and the Prime Minister of this great country (UWI’s Makandal Daaga Scholarship in Law).
‘I want to transform negative image of my community’ One of my immediate goals is transforming the negative image of my community and show the public the different sides.
There are many others like me in my community who have been on a positive path and have continued to excel in academics, sports, culture etc. It is, however, a task at times to get people to join the process in community work. Most people that excel from the community leave and hardly ever look back. It is not something I can blame them for because it is a hard and risky job to even live in or furthermore work with the community. However, there are many positive role models that are coming forward to assist in transforming the community.
Behind my public success stories still lies so much pain and frustration that I have to deal with on a regular basis. If it is not the criminals or the police it is sometimes the wider society that judge and scorn you when they know you’re from Beetham. I have had to run for my life on three separate occasions due to this senseless Rasta City vs Muslim war that has been ongoing.
In fact, I was mistaken for a young man that I grew up with some time ago and had four gunmen shooting at me for over five minutes. They apologized to my family and sought forgiveness.
Less than a month later the actual young man who was involved in crime was killed. That could have been me. God alone knew how and why I made it. These things open up your eyes differently and ask yourself “Is it worth it?... Is it worth it to be fighting for a community and people that you can innocently die in?” These are the questions I often ask myself, but when I watch and listen to our younger ones living in fear and hopelessness, I know it would not be God’s plan for me to give up them.
‘Police treat young men from my community like criminals’ Even with the police for example, my contact list is filled with personal contacts of executives of the TTPS, Minister of National Security etc, but yet still not even I am protected from being considered a common criminal in the community when I don’t have on my shirt and tie. The norm has become that the Police Service is allowed to treat young men from communities like mine as criminals once they are “young, black, and wearing a three-quarter pants below their waist.”
They kick down doors, curse you, beat you, degrade you and even shoot you as they see it fit. It is heart breaking because I know that the officers are doing these things because they’re frustrated with the fight against the criminals in these very same communities. However, when they treat everyone as criminals, it allows the residents to also see the police and the criminals as devils; and when there comes a time to choose, the residents often chooses the devil that they know, which are the criminals. The IATF Division of the TTPS has been taking significant steps to improve this relationship and they must be commended. The Port-of-Spain CID Division should take heed. This is the sad reality the majority of the residents from Beetham, Sea Lots, John John, Picton, and all over Laventillle are sick, tired, and disgusted of, this war that continues to take the lives of innocent civilians, even our school children and women. Many people call and give the TTPS information about crime but they’re scared to come forward as witnesses to a justice system that doesn’t deliver justice on time or to a Witness Protection Programme that does not protect their family as well. From the moment they do this, they and/or their family would be killed. The statistics are there to be proven.
Most people want to assist the TTPS in its fight against crime like myself. It is why I have continued to partner with the relevant authorities to achieve this goal.
It is a long and difficult road but I am determined to make it side by side with my community. Despite this ordeal that took place with my family and members of the TTPS, I can assure you that I would not let this deter me from achieving my community, national, and personal goals.
—(As told to reporter CHARLES KONG SOO)
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