Sat | Nov 17, 2018

82-year-old Jamaican seeks to inspire youngsters

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMGlenda Anderson
Contributed Photo Kenneth Blake
Kenneth Blake

Age might just be a number for Kenneth Blake, who, at eighty-two, has only recently pulled back from an active work life, which gave him a chance to be in Jamaica, England, and the United States.

Blake tried his hand at creating enterprises, not getting bogged down by failures, and trying to balance family and work relationships.

Recently, in an interview with The Gleaner from his home in Florida, USA, Blake spoke slowly, almost haltingly, but there was a calmness to his tone.

Last year, Jamaica-born Blake released his first novel, Survival of a Delicate Orchid Among Thorny Weeds, which is a 216-page autobiography in which he lays bare his life, a fusion of colourful snippets of culture in pre-Independence Jamaica.

From his experience of travelling on a tramcar for the first time to living in Allman Town now an inner-city community but an area which once formed part of 'residential' downtown Kingston - Blake's writing pulls the reader into the simple narrative.




The work could do with rigorous editing, but the language is honest and forces empathy.

Struggles, it seems, came embedded in him. Born prematurely at just six months, there were several scary moments for his parents. He migrated to England as a young man and was drafted into the army at the start of World War I. He returned to Jamaica, where he lived for a while, then he migrated to the United States.

He had his share of being at the top rung of the corporate ladder. He was a senior manager at a major bauxite company in Jamaica and later, landed several major construction contracts in England and Jamaica and as the owner of a real estate agency in New York.

Blake's story highlights the dogged determination of a man who defied his age and circumstances to emerge as a successful entrepreneur.

The book also details his experience as a returning resident to Jamaica and his failed efforts at setting up a labour union here.

Despite his personal challenges and the struggles to overcome them, Blake hopes to offer a learning tool and inspiration to the readers.

At age 68, he attended classes then sat and passed exams to receive a licence to work as a real estate sales associate in Florida. At age 71, he was juggling work as a painter, carpenter, and handyman, and real estate salesman or as he calls himself "a double agent".

"One moment I was dressed for the office, the other moment I could be wearing my overalls, and instead of a briefcase, I may be carrying my tool bag. My equipment was always in the trunk of my car."

Two years later, after several failed ventures, including a printing service and restaurant, he was looking for a fresh start and he migrated to Ocala, Florida.

"I was 73 years old, unemployable, struggling to support a dying business and my domestic obligations. I had no support ... ," he recalled.

"I had lost my real estate income completely and failed in an attempt with a new business venture, but I had never lost my mind. I accepted my failures and kept moving on!

"I believe someone can be helped just by hearing my story. I have had some success, but there were many, many things that I had to overcome to get there. I want youngsters especially to know that they can do it, too," he says.

He says that the work is to "help younger persons to cope with life's challenges, especially if handicapped by racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic constraints."