Many Jamaicans don’t react well to others’ success.

An online comment by “Roanja” regarding my Jamaica 50 Mayer Matalon tribute was a prime example.  Although seemingly attempting balance while replying to one of the most inane online comments ever, “Roanja” exposed a fundamental flaw in psyche by writing: “there’s no question that the opportunities…available to this gentleman, albeit ‘had neither silver nor gold spoon thrust into his mouth at birth’, were denied to 90% of Jamaicans of his generation.

Now it’s this sort of blissful ignorance that retards progress.  Similar assertions are repeated daily by persons who, if asked “which opportunities?” would struggle to name one.  It stems from a deep-rooted psychological certainty that success is possible without hard work.  This triggers our Anancy attitude resulting in lottery scams; bogus visa sales; and the worship of Dons over Teachers.

The truth is the only place success comes before work is the dictionary.  What opportunity did Mayer have that 90% of Jamaica didn’t?  Was it education?  Or was it the opportunity to see his parents work their fingers to the bone yet still fall short in the simple obligation to educate all their eleven children?  Maybe it was the opportunity to avoid parties, nightclubs, new shoes and other trendy fashions in favour of putting his head down and working day and night (saving every shekel) to build a family business.  Perhaps it had something to do with the belief that close-knit families make the best business partners so that the opportunity he was gifted was the ability to bite his tongue instead of having an argument with family in order to keep the business going.

It’s success that attracts benefits.  Benefits can’t turn failure into success.  Success is multidimensional.  Financial wealth is but one measure of success.  Some true examples:

My father’s vocation was teaching.  Nicknamed “Skullhead” (frequent barbershop customer) by students, he was a top class tenured JC maths teacher; Housemaster; and, as a quality gymnast and left-arm medium pace bowler, JC’s Sportsmaster.  He was old school so Mum, although an accountant and among her generation’s brightest, didn’t “work”.   But he gave it all up to seek modest private sector employment because his emoluments couldn’t support us all.  Still, he struggled but his children never knew.

While others played or partied, I studied.  It’s what I could do.  I never needed reminding to do homework.  Unbeknownst to me, Dad couldn’t afford my secondary education.  My older brother had attended JC (teacher’s son; free!).  Fortunately, I won a “Government Scholarship” (paid for everything) to JC in the Common Entrance.  For childish reasons, I refused to go.  Somehow, Dad wangled a transfer to Campion (despite it being a private school).  I (mostly) continued my studious habits so, when Michael Manley offered free education, I was positioned to accept and enter U.W.I.  Twice married, Dad’s success was in supporting two families.  Both parents’ success was educating their children.  Mine was grasping that educational opportunity with both eyes and a brain.

Eleven-time Champion Trainer, Wayne DaCosta, was no scholar.  He started in the Gleaner’s accounts department earning the princely sum of J$20 per week.  As a trainer, he started with one horse (like another all-time great, Kenneth Mattis).  Now he’s maliciously called “Big Trainer” and characterized as “Small” Trainers’ oppressor by those whose short-cut methods to success haven’t worked.  In the early years, he “cotched” in his mother-in-law’s home; walked everywhere (punters derisively nicknamed him “Walkfoot-Ooksie”) until he could buy a car and then a home; and, although, seeing him now, you wouldn’t believe this, he often went to bed hungry so the horses could eat.   Like Mayer, Wayne’s success came from persistent diligence plus invaluable support from Liz, his beautiful wife of 32 years, with whom he’s completely besotted.

There are more.  The Goodisons (including “Bunny”, Barbara, Lorna) grew up in downtown Kingston, poor but proud.  Their successes were born in their Mother’s values and attitudes which they emulated.  Her success was their upbringing.  Ian Boyne’s “Profile” interview of Dr. Neveta Sutherland is required viewing for Roanja.  “Butch” Stewart worked full time by age 17.  He studied; worked for a trading company; saved for 5 years; risked his meagre stake on a ticket to New Jersey; met with Fedders Air-conditioning’s President’s nephew; convinced him with charm (and paying cash for the first shipment) to make him Jamaica’s distributor.  Voila, Appliance Traders.

A variety of opportunities have always been available to 90% of Jamaicans.  Few will do what’s necessary to benefit.

Peace and Love


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