Tell of my Love to the Islands – The Untold Story of Kenneth David John

Often, the real stories occur behind the scenes. Often they are carelessly edited or discarded as unnecessary footage, despite their power and potential influence. Often they are the forgotten chronicles that might’ve spoken to hearts; inspired positive thoughts—subdued hatred.

I know one such story. It concerns the short life of Kenneth David John. David (as he was affectionately known) and I graduated on the same day. I from high school, he from this life. I was on my way to the church with my parents when my father received the unbelievable news. I did not know David as well as he did, but I sensed what happened to David would be the catalyst for unity and change.

This was probably one of the longest days for my father. His friend had apparently drowned. Consequently my father’s thoughts were scrambled, denying him the ability to concentrate. Who knows for certain if he truly grasped the essence of his daughter’s valedictory speech? The ceremony would eventually come to an end; the number of pictures taken would be small; and the journey home especially long.

On arrival in Des Barras we were greeted by scores of people in the streets. I’d never seen so many visitors to my small community of approximately 160 residents. I was convinced many of the strangers became aware of my section of our island upon the sudden death of the young parliamentarian. We’d only been recently blessed with modern lighting and our general infrastructure was still relatively archaic. While the rest of the island traveled contentedly on comfortable cushioned seats, we were still being forced to weather storms, troughs and tropical waves aboard what was then popularly known as “flat vans.” So yes . . . the new faces surprised me.

The search for David’s body commenced immediately. Hours turned into days of silent negotiations with the merciless waves of Grande Anse.Grief-stricken, the faithful sought answers in necromantic conspiracies: “Yo voyé David néyé.” (They sent David to drown.) No loving God would take away such a compassionate, selfless soul. Religious sagacity dictated that someone inebriated with envy had wielded the sword of obeah. For days, people sought explanations for the death of such a loving man and for a short time Babonneau was neither yellow nor red. All of the community wore black as united we searched the Grande Anse waves.

When the sea finally returned Brother Dave to us, an aura of calmness and relief covered the community. Some were relieved that Grande Anse had finally been merciful; others needed to see the corpse, if only to confirm what they still refused to believe: that our David had indeed been taken from us.

Days later, the departed young Babonneau MP would be laid to rest. The church that he loved so much would deliver a parting gift worthy of a musician. Chords were awakened and the procession began. We sang in our loudest of voices— “Tell of my Love to the Islands/Tell it Everywhere.” It was in that moment that I understood the true meaning of that song. I had heard it sung many times before but never quite like this. Now it told the story of a man who loved so much that he died loving. When my hands eventually touched the microphone, I would proclaim through the word of the Lord what great love is. The crowd was massive but there was no anxiety, no fear; just numbed grief that spoke only of love.

Years later, we remember David—the musician who allegedly played only one chord on his guitar: G major—the husband, the brother, the fireman, the taxi driver, the farmer, the teacher, the athlete, the community man. A committee headed by Michael Gaspard, who was elected as Kenneth John’s replacement in parliament, is now hosting several activities to celebrate the life of a true hero. They include a church service, a wreath-laying ceremony for all Babonneau schools, a cricket tournament and a panel discussion. While many welcome the initiative, some can’t help but wonder about the timing of all this. On social media, there are “let the man rest in peace” dismissals, the “better late than never” harmonies, while many others suspect a transparent political ploy designed to appease the hundreds who had waited all those years for some official acknowledgement that Kenneth David John was one of a kind.

The answer to what is hailed as a mystery was answered by the current parliamentary representative on July 1st, 2015 at Kenneth David John’s Memorial Service. “Why not now?” she asked rhetorically. “Why not celebrate this life of service, generosity and selflessness? Whatever the reason may be, it is a wonderful thing to remember such a man. It is a wonderful thing to recall the lyrics that he redefined by his actions on July 1st, 1998: ‘O my people . . . love all men everywhere. You may walk empty-handed but teach all men to care.’”

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