If only one of our self-important politicians could’ve been there, what lessons he or she might’ve learned, the first being that as a collective they are not nearly as revered by the nation’s young—de youts!—as they would like to believe. Most of the Vide Bouteille Secondary School students at my motivation session on Thursday afternoon identified the long-deceased Kenneth John as Philip J. Pierre. (More about that elsewhere in this issue.) Following, my address:
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This is not the first time I’ve been invited to address students at this school. While I can’t precisely recall the first occasion, I do remember clearly that having delivered my speech I had a wonderful time taking questions from my audience. Answering young people’s questions has always been for me the best part of these outings. So know I shall be expecting you to ask whatever you wish, no holds barred. And remember there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers!
I am here on very short notice. Your principal allowed me little time to prepare. Nevertheless I jumped at the opportunity to engage you in another rap session, perchance to discover whether what’s going on in the heads of the leaders of tomorrow—that’s you!—is any different from what’s going on in the heads of the leaders of today.
But first let me introduce myself: I am the publisher of the STAR newspaper and SHE magazine. Some of you may have seen me on TV hosting a show called TALK, interviewing prime ministers and other government officials, not to say some of our nation’s so-called best brains. Or you may have caught some of my appearances as a guest on other TV shows.
It’s only fair I should confess that I hold no university degrees. No doctorates, no diplomas, no school certificates. But I am a published author of several books on politics and on the sport of bodybuilding, as well as thousands of newspaper and magazine articles published locally here and overseas.
As a competitive bodybuilder I won every championship I entered, sometimes more than once: Mr. America, Mr. World, Mr. Universe and so on. Of course, all of that was before I messed up my spine in a car accident. For several years I didn’t know how badly I’d been injured. I recently underwent an operation in the US, which explains my walking stick.
It is important I also acknowledge that when I was just fourteen I was expelled from Saint Mary’s College. Yes, as in kicked out. And now, you’re thinking, Wow! What did he do that got him expelled from St Mary’s College? Was he caught smoking marijuana? Did he refuse to trim his hair as directed by the principal? None of the above, I’m afraid. But I will be happy to tell you the sordid details if you’ll all stand up together and shout: Why were you expelled, Rick?
OK! So let’s get on with it. My father was away from home, trying to make a living for his family in the oilfields of Aruba. Back in the day, you couldn’t just pick up and go to New York or Miami on a visitor’s visa and then settle down to the exciting life of an illegal immigrant in Brooklyn—as many Caribbean people are forced to do in feverish pursuit of better days. While my father was overseas, my mom kept the home fires burning. One of the especially nice things she did was enroll me at St Mary’s College, at the time operated by some holy men from Ireland, among them not a single black face. They called themselves the Presentation Brothers.
I was the first student to live at the school’s hostel. Every Monday morning my mom would have someone deliver to the Brothers’ residence at Vigie a basket of ground provision, fruit, fish and so on—enough to sustain me for a week. The holy Irishmen and I shared the same cook, but never the same dining table. I ate my banja and macamboo and dasheen in a corner of their kitchen.
The only other human being in that kitchen was the cook’s gofer, a girl my own age. I have no idea why she was never at school. As the months went by we became friends. At meal times she would cosy up to my corner and we’d engage in the usual talk that makes sense only to kids. You know, the kind of stuff that now passes for serious conversation among Facebook “friends,” BB addicts and tweeters. With good reason, and for as long as I live, I will remember that young lady’s name. At any rate, her first name: Lita. I never discovered if it was short for Lolita.
One Saturday morning while I was relaxing in bed with Batman, someone knocked on my door. My visitor turned out to be one of the holy Irishmen I’ve been telling you about. He was all sweaty from walking in his leather slippers and white cassock all the way from his own quarters, a fifteen-minute trek, at least. He wanted to have a private talk, he said, and invited me to walk with him. Three or four times we strolled around the sunny college compound, while the holy man lectured me on the difference between the subjective and objective views.
Almost as if he were revealing the secret location of a much sought after treasure chest, he said: “It’s important you listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you, Learie.” Back then I was Learie Carasco; not Rick Wayne. You can ask me about that later.
Said the holy man: “How you see yourself; how you judge your own actions; how you rate personal achievements, your potential and your accomplishments; how you see the world. Your sense of right and wrong, what’s moral and what’s not, that’s the subjective view.”
I understood him to be saying what I thought of myself really didn’t amount to S.H.I.T. But please don’t understand me too quickly. As I’ve already explained, my roadside lecturer was a holy man, one of God’s special agents, and God’s agents never ever, ever, ever use S-words. What does matter, he said, what’s most important, is what other people think of me. “In life that’s what counts: the objective view!”
Now, should anyone make so bold today as to suggest my opinion is altogether without value, that what matters is what he and his friends think of me, you know I would immediately tell him where to shove his ignorance. But hey, this was my schoolteacher, not to mention my landlord, a saint in my mother’s eyes. So like a good Catholic boy I kept my thoughts to myself: “Thanks for your kind advice,” said I to the holy man, “I’ll keep that in mind.” And obviously I’ve kept that promise!
But the Irish brother still had his coup de grace to deliver. “Take your relationship with Lita,” he went on. “You may think there’s nothing wrong with it, you’re the same age, you share similar interests and all that. But what are other people thinking? Many of our neighbors, regular churchgoers, have complained to me that there’s nothing innocent about that relationship. In your own best interest, and in the interest of St Mary’s, I strongly suggest you put an end to it. Otherwise, we’ll have to let Lita go. Which, you’ll agree, would be a great pity. She’s our cook’s niece.”
Several Saturdays later, my mom left our Laborie abode to do some business in Castries. By the time she returned by bus, long before she actually disembarked near our home, word had reached me that I was in deep trouble. Somebody’s son had told me what his mother had told him: that my poor mom had sobbed uncontrollably all the way from Castries over the shame I had visited upon her head.
Did I tell you my dearly departed mom was what is generally referred to as a poto l’eglise? She did all the things expected of the best Catholics: she prayed to all of the stone statues at her church; monthly confessed her sins to a stranger, took regular holy communion and believed with all her heart and soul that thousands of years ago a 15-year-old Jewish girl who had never had sex, somehow had gotten pregnant, delivered her baby and still retained her virginity—all of that at a time when cosmetic surgery was unheard of and ladies had little choice but to live with whatever their mama gave them.
And now you must be wondering why my poor mom was so angry and embarrassed. I soon learned the hardest way that while in Castries she had taken the opportunity to call on the holy men from Ireland to find out how her fine Catholic son was doing with his studies. Sadly, what she discovered had broken her little heart. And now she was going to break every bone in my little body. You see, what the holy man from Ireland had told my mother was that almost from the moment I set foot at St Mary’s I had engaged the cook’s assistant in something called fornication—which even the devil would’ve admitted was a damn lie.
Of course my desperate denials did nothing to dissuade my mother from beating me to a pulp and then pulling me out of school. Years later, after I’d been round the world and back, I was reintroduced to Lita, by now a fine and respectable resident of Gros Islet. From her own still pretty lips I learned that our holy Irishman had had his own special motives for wanting me as far away from Lita as possible, special motives that had nothing whatsoever to do with the objective views of nosey Catholic neighbors.
Which is why to this day I am always suspicious of grown-ups, whether in ankle-length skirts or in cassocks, who blame every conceivable evil on the young, more often than not without the smallest evidence. Mamai jourdi this, mamai jourdi that . . . jeune tiffi this, jeune tiffi that. The truth is that in Saint Lucia nothing has changed in the past 100 years, when it comes to sex. Well, I lie; two things have changed. Today’s young people know it’s impossible to get pregnant and to have a baby and still remain a virgin. And they know condoms can save you a lifetime of problems!
I truly believe getting kicked out of St Mary’s was the best thing that ever happened to me. Don’t get me wrong. I may not have a doctorate but that is not to say I consider education unimportant. Actually, I can think of nothing of greater value to human development than a good education. On the other hand, I learned that whatever you want can be yours, provided you are willing to work your butt off to get it. I’m living proof of that.
There is no such thing as a free lunch; as important as are university degrees, nothing beats an individual’s determination to achieve his ambition!
As I speak, Julian Hunte, who attended neither St Mary’s nor any university, comes to mind. Just this week he received a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen. I know several famously successful writers, poets, musicians, inventors and so on who never attended college. But they did not become successful by sitting around all day, smoking weed and feeling sorry for themselves. They understood they had the choice of staying down when life dealt them stunning blows—or getting up again, dusting themselves off and getting back to work.
In my house are more books, videos and tapes than you’ll find in all of Saint Lucia’s schools put together. A long time ago someone said reading is like traveling the world, and I have no reason to disagree.
On the other hand, to expect young people to take interest in seemingly pointless study is equal to spitting at the sky. Those who have dedicated their lives to educating the young, should seek to discover why so many are dropping out of school; why so many are not interested in passing their exams. Ask them. I suspect their reasons might have a lot to do with a lack of incentive. Educators would do well, as part of their job, to demand from the relevant authorities employment opportunities for their students after they graduate, other than STEP, a depressing disincentive!
We live in a world daily becoming more unfamiliar even to our best educators. Pointless expecting our young people to adhere to the moral codes of biblical times, moral codes that by and large are close to absurd in today’s enlightened world. And I’m not referring to the Ten Commandments!
Recently, when it was reported a woman had stabbed her lover to death, several misogynistic callers inundated a particular show to gripe about how men had ceded their manhood to women. They forgot to mention the obvious: women strive harder than do most men in our region, in just about every sphere: the classroom, the workplace, the home. Just check the statistics.
One caller actually quoted Scripture in support of his misanthropic notion that women were created mainly to be of service to men. I mean, really. Is there one young woman or man sitting in this room who believes a wife should speak only with her husband’s permission? Or that modern-day women should attire themselves only clothing that covers them from head to ankle?
Let me shift gears just a little bit: Do you realize when you disconnect from what’s happening in your country, when, say, you drop out of society, you actually contribute to Saint Lucia’s countless problems? Do you talk to your parents about the day’s news? Do you even follow the news? Have you ever wondered why rape, among the most often committed crimes in Saint Lucia, is seldom discussed by the media and never in parliament? Have you ever wondered why? Do you realize, when you BB naughty pictures of yourself to your current boyfriend you risk seeing them on the internet the minute you’ve broken up?
How many friends and close relatives have you lost in the last year or so, who were raped, battered senseless or murdered by insecure boyfriends? Do you ever discuss such things with your parents who, with their vote, determine the kind of government we have in this country? Do you care that what our acknowledged criminal politicians talk about in the House, on TV and from the platforms has nothing whatsoever to do with your future, immediate and otherwise?
Are you happy with your school environment? Do you feel safe here? Do you discuss your fears with your teachers? Do you trust your teachers enough to speak openly to them about the things that bother and prevent you from concentrating on your studies? Do you have a school library? A school gym? Gymnastic classes? Those of you who have been blessed with special talents, how much encouragement do you receive from the officials your parents elected to serve you? Or are you satisfied to live quietly with your frustrations—until you can no longer keep them under control?
I ask you, teachers, is it any wonder so many of our young people have removed themselves from the Saint Lucian reality, and chosen instead to live, if only vicariously, in Los Angeles with the Kardashians?
Take a look at these pictures. How many can you identify? Do you know we have in Saint Lucia two heroes’ parks? Do you know their location? Can you name some of our heroes? Not that I’m all that crazy about individuals declared heroic by self-serving politicians who believe they alone are made of hero material. But some special individuals went the extra mile in the interest of others. Kenneth John, a taxi operator, was one such man.
Shortly after winning the Babonneau seat for the Labour Party in 1997, Ken was at Grand Anse Beach with friends when a visiting couple got caught up in the riptides for which the area is famous. Ken didn’t think twice. He jumped right in to assist. Somehow, he managed to save the husband but not his wife. Or for that matter himself. At Ken’s funeral ceremony his party showed up en masse in their red shirts, some with crimson faces, conceivably from crying crocodile tears. Dozens of touching speeches were delivered about Kenneth John’s demonstrated heroism and when the tear-soaked prime minister announced a hero’s park would in six months or so be named in his honor, there wasn’t a Saint Lucian—yellow or red—who disagreed.
A spot near Government Buildings, overlooking the polluted Castries waterfront, was marked out for the wonderful purpose. But nearly 16 years later there still is nothing anywhere in Saint Lucia to remind the young in particular of the courage of Kenneth John, who had lost his life trying to save a total stranger. For a long time three or four long steel pipes implanted in the ground and pointing at the sky served as a tourist attraction. They would get off their cruise ships and head for the area with their cameras, convinced the steel pipes were of some special significance, a local sample of modern environmental art.
Little did they know all the pipes represented was wall-to-wall mediocrity. These days the spot that was supposed to be a hero’s park named after Kenneth John has been turned by one enterprising guy into a market that offers for sale made-on-the-spot coconut-husk birds.
Let me end abruptly, in the interest of time, by reminding you of the words of a famous Puerto Rican baseball legend. His name was Roberto Clemente. And what he said was: “A Nation without Heroes is Nothing.”
I implore you to remember the following. It is taken from a well-loved song I’m sure you know: “When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth: that a hero lies in you!”
I assure you, no truer words were ever written, spoken or sung by Mariah Carey!