State fails to lead by example


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Category: Reflections 11 Jan 09


It was obscene to witness the state deify—and ultimately claim—the late Jizelle Salandy at her funeral. She, like all our sporting stars, shone, despite the Government, not because of it. Brian Lara was given land and money after he became the finest batsman ever, with his talent and hard work. Similarly, George Bovell was recognised as “our” Olympic hero, after his family personally took on the responsibility of training him in the US. Ato Boldon was spotted in Jamaica, groomed in California. We fall short because the State leaves our young people in the mud, fails to invest in their training and education, fails to lead by example, and neglects them.

We fail because the State itself is so indisciplined and given to shallow, loud, self-serving muscle-flexing show-off gestures: large buildings, large conferences, large parties, Carnival budgets, instead of building solid sports academies, nurturing children towards excellence, training teachers, social workers, creating remedial schools for those who can’t read and write, providing real jobs, providing support for victims of crime, pushing, applauding, supporting, discipline, hard work, enterprise. Why, then, are we all so surprised that the boys in gangs want the same things our leaders, the politicians want and get: expensive fast cars, colognes, shoes, clothes, bling around their necks and fingers, and easy money? The people who represent the State are themselves so unimaginative, so lacking in development, that apart from two statues of calypsonians, we fail to hold our real heroes up in the light.

Free fall

Beauty queens are treated as State achievements, having streets and planes named after them, while two Nobel laureates, both lauded as the finest writers and poets alive today, remain unrecognised. (Derek Walcott, by living here, encouraging talent, building the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, can claim Trinidad as well as St Lucia. This is Naipaul’s birthplace, his inspiration for his early works, the place he visits and revisits). There should be a Molly Gaskin Street and plane to encourage us to plant trees, to grow our own vegetables, to pick up rubbish, to recycle. Are we telling our young girls that bikinis count more than books? An entire generation of schoolchildren is growing up without knowing about CLR James’ sharp intellect and commitment to cricket and our region.

The extraordinary Dr Eric Williams has been relegated to the dusty place of an afternoon history class. CLR James’ State funeral was held with great pomp, his body brought home and draped in the national flag. But in his lifetime he was exiled, and after his death he was forgotten. These men and women, living and dead, define us as a people, provide a mirror to help solidify our broken identity, remember our history, helping to bring us into our own as a nation made up of uprooted people. In India, the homes of Nehru and Gandhi were turned into living sites, through which thousands of students passed each month. These men and their ideals are as alive today as they were during independence, their philosophy woven into the core of every family, the fabric of the Indian psyche.

The stark truth, also, is that Jizelle is a victim of a country in free fall. She, who was so disciplined, would have followed the rules if there were any to follow. With the daily slaughter on the roads, we would have thought there would be a nationwide drive to educate drivers, to bring in traffic police, to demonstrate how serious the authorities were about speeding, drinking, to demonstrate the power of consequences. Even Paris Hilton got sent to jail in America for messing up on the roads. Jizelle was young, and safety needs to be drummed into the heads of the young, because it is the nature of youth to believe in one's invincibility. It was not. There were no traffic police, no breathalyser tests, no speed watches, no public education, no checks and balances. 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur