I was standing on East Road, part of Trench Town, with dreams of running a Basketball programme for disenfranchised young people, that would use the sport to teach them important life lessons from the Bible and help prepare them for adulthood. Across the street was a section of open land that looked like a good space to develop into a basketball court, so I began to stroll in that direction to have a closer look. A little hand clasped mine tightly, pulling on my arm. As I looked down there was a boy of around seven or eight years old, looking very worried.
He said: “Sir, don’t go over there. They will have an open shot.”
It was the first time I had walked around in Trench Town, it was 1999, and I was 23 at the time. I had not yet understood that this was the borderline between the PNP and JLP strongholds (the two main political parties in Jamaica). However, I immediately understood, from the intensity of this little boy’s fear, that this was not a safe place to be.
Thankfully a lot has changed. On the other side of that piece of land was a church that had been burned down in the fighting between politically connected gangs, and it is now restored and we use it for our youth programme every week. Young people from both sides attend without fear.
As Jamaica has got into election mode again over the past few weeks there have, sadly, been discouraging moments for this country. Accusations, lies, slanderous remarks and ridicule have been thrown by would be ‘leaders’ on both sides, while the party faithful have followed along, dressed in their party colours, looking more like a crowd going to a sports match than an electorate preparing to choose their next set of national decision makers. Far worse than this, two people have died in seperate incidents when shots were fired into crowds supporting one of the parties.
One sight that stood out against this backdrop was when I watched two crowds of people in Trench Town on nomination day, one dressed in green (supporters of the JLP) and the other in Orange (supporters of the PNP); and these two crowds were hugging one another and waving one another’s flags, chanting: “We are one people!”
In 1980, 739 people were killed in political violence around that year’s election … many of them in Trench Town and surrounding communities … so to see people dressed in orange and green hugging one another in the street is, quite simply, beautiful.
It takes a frightening level of arrogance and blindness to take the life of another human being, just because they support a different political party. The verse above, from Psalm 25, shows that both knowing what is right, and knowing God’s way, start with humility.
What I witnessed that day in Trench Town was an act of humility, right-eousness, and love. People not taking themselves too seriously, and respecting, even celebrating, the differences in others. Please join me in praying for this kind of spirit to be present right across Jamaica as we go through this election time.