Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Compelling conversations around Jamaica

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2020 | 12:09 AMStephen Vasciannie - Contributor
The Reverend Devon Dick’s ‘Enduring Advocacy For A Better Jamaica’.
The Reverend Devon Dick’s ‘Enduring Advocacy For A Better Jamaica’.
The Reverend Devon Dick
The Reverend Devon Dick
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From his position as pastor of this church, the Reverend Dr Devon Dick has offered readers his new book, Enduring Advocacy for a Better Jamaica. This is his third book, the other two being The Cross and the Machete and Rebellion to Riot. The first two books – primarily about the important role of the Church in aspects of Jamaica’s history – are much respected and, in some respects, set the stage for Enduring Advocacy for a Better Jamaica.

It is the advocacy in the book that is enduring; the title does not imply that those reading the book will have to endure the advocacy. Far from that, this is a highly stimulating, thoughtful book that may be read as a whole over a few sittings. Alternatively, given the high degree of organisation in the book, you may dip into different parts for Reverend Dick’s reflections on particular issues from time to time. When you read this book, you will be enjoying advocacy for a better Jamaica, and you will find the advocacy enduring.

The approach of presenting ideas to the public and then putting them together in a book is the strategy adopted by Reverend Dick for Enduring Advocacy. And for this book, the strategy has worked wonderfully. His book retains the freshness and precision that marked his columns when they first appeared in print. Not only that: even with the passage of time, the essays are topical and address underlying issues that remain with us today. This may be explained in part by the fact that Reverend Dick has sought, in his writings, to capture the enduring truths that pertain to the public issues about which he writes.

Consider some of the items addressed in Chapter 2 of the book, a celebration of Jamaica’s heritage:

• In ‘Three More Statues Please, the author argues convincingly for statues in honour of Nanny, George William Gordon, and Emancipation Park.

• In ‘Nanny: Mother of the Nation’, he enlightens us on aspects of the contribution of our only national heroine to the nation.

• In ‘Decriminalise Obeah in JA’, he tackles a controversial subject that retains its topicality over 14 years after his article was first written.

• And ‘A Boonoonoonoos Funeral for Miss Lou’ speaks for itself while it criticises our continued schizophrenia concerning Patois/Creole.

Incidentally, from this rich Chapter 2 on our heroes, one of my favourites is entitled ‘Change King’s House to Paul Bogle House’. That was suggested in a column from 2015; it is an eminently sensible idea from the thoughtful writer. I can only echo the sentiment and express the hope that we don’t wait in vain.

VERSATILITY AS A WRITER

Throughout the book, Reverend Dick demonstrates great versatility as a writer. His knowledge and expertise in history and heritage matters are well established, and, indeed, one might reasonably expect the pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church to demonstrate a certain affinity for the righteousness that exalts a nation (as is heralded in Chapter 3). Similarly, when he writes cogently on the importance of doing the right thing, as he does in Chapter 4, he is on his home ground. But the learned author shows that he has extensive knowledge and analytical prowess in areas that could surprise readers who don’t know his work well.

In Chapter 6, ‘Sports Analyst with a Cross’, he writes comfortably and authoritatively on a range of sporting issues. Some of these items are in celebratory mode. Thus, there is technically proficient praise for Usain Bolt in ‘Birth of a Track Star’ and in ‘Brilliant Bolt: Beijing to Berlin’, and there is respect and admiration for Asafa Powell’s 9.77 seconds in the 100 metres in 2005. Then versatility asserts itself. Reverend Dick discusses table tennis politics, analyses West Indies cricket, and draws apt comparisons between the Duckworth/Lewis system for cricket and GSAT gradings. He also casts a critical eye on boxing in the article ‘Boxing is Brutal’ and offers generous praise for Lionel Messi at the 2014 World Cup in his article ‘Messi – The Best Player’. On the cricket point, I have to say that I read the author’s analysis of West Indies cricket with a sigh. One line was especially telling. Reverend Dick notes from 2006 that “ we continue to say that the West Indies is a young side and about to turn the corner”. Thirteen years later, the young cricketers are elders or retirees, and the corner has extended for miles. Dick’s analysis is still sound today – problems remain in cricket.

In the preface to Enduring Advocacy for a Better Jamaica, Reverend Dick reminds us of his purpose in writing the columns that comprise the book. For him, the publication is part of his Christian witness. We must celebrate this: one of our leading religious ministers has expressly chosen to apply Christian principles and Christian sensibilities in the analysis of public affairs over the years. In so doing, the author has given us a valuable list of items that should guide us in our thought processes and our daily lives.

Christian approaches to public affairs are reflected in many of the items. To begin with, in his Chapter 1 discussions, ‘It’s Personal’, he acknowledges the paramount role of the Christian family in guiding his own life, as well as the life of the community. Although these articles are, in fact, quite personal, they enhance our appreciation of Reverend Dick; his tributes to his mother and father, as well as his description of aspects of his relationship with his wife, are heartwarming gems of love, affection, and gratitude that I encourage us all to read. ‘In Praise of Mama,’ ‘My Father who Fathered Me’, and ‘Has Your Life Brought Joy to Others’, together with other essays in Chapter 1, could only have been written by a committed humanitarian with a strong sense of positive values and an open heart.

In other chapters, the author demonstrates both Christian love and love for honour, righteousness, and fairness. He does this not by asserting his positions in a high-handed manner but, rather, by thoughtful enquiry, clear and uncompromising reasoning, and, perhaps above all, reliance on well-researched evidence. In many of these essays, as well, we are called to have honourable lives not because this is easy but because it is right and just. And in living honourable lives, we must be fair to others. We must not abuse school students for the glory of our schools, politicians should not attend dons’ funerals, the minimum wage should not institutionalise poverty, and the Church must repent when it transgresses, as it did in the Olint matter. And to this, I should add: people should get married in clothes.

HONESTY IN PUBLIC LIFE

He also calls for honesty in public life – his article on ‘Wrong Picture of Paul Bogle’ should prompt further thought among our leaders.

In preparing his book, Reverend Dick has encouraged criticism and assessment by inviting seven commentators to opine on its contents. These commentators – Wyvolyn Gager, Beverly Lashley, Garnett Roper, Paul Ashley, Courtney Campbell, Hubert Lawrence, and Georgia Gibson-Henlin – are all distinguished in their respective fields. They have added to the high quality of the book and contributed to the notion that analysis is enhanced by cross-fertilisation of ideas: thesis, antithesis, synthesis is a term of art that the author may have taken up in his victorious days of debating with the Reverend Clinton Chisholm and others at the UTCWI in the 1980s.

Interest in the book may also be stimulated by ‘The Editor’s Top Ten Picks’, found on Page xxxv. Readers can compare their favourite items with the editor’s list and with items specially rated by friends and family. On this point, I would also select ‘Lock Down Those Lock Ups’, written in 2008; our history concerning the treatment of persons in detention brings us no credit as a nation. It is good that Reverend Dick and other public commentators have reminded us of the need to respect human dignity.

Finally, permit me to make a general comment on freedom of expression. Enduring Advocacy is a tribute to this freedom, for Reverend Dick has been able to speak his mind. To be sure, there are restrictions on free expression designed to preserve personal reputation and to prevent disorder. But that said, we should be vigilant in the fight against unnecessary barriers to free expression. Free expression is a personal value in its own right because it is essential to individual development. But it is also a key component of democracy. Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and other constitutional freedoms are not mere paper rights; they are important elements in the way we live as human beings. And in pursuing free expression, we should be given leeway to undertake research so that, like Reverend Dick, we can put forward evidence-based studies. Persons should have significant access to government documents in good time unless there are particular, and particularly strong, grounds for the State to withhold information.

I completed reading Truth Be Told, an important book of conversations between Glynne Manley and Michael Manley. Our former prime minister is candid on various points and quite critical, for instance, of some of rivals. If one wants to test the validity of some of his criticisms, it would be good to have public access to Cabinet documents from, say, the Manley, Seaga, and Patterson Governments open to researchers. In my view, this would enhance governance, promote self-knowledge, and remind our leaders that they are accountable to the people.

Enduring Advocacy for a Better Jamaica is a joy to read from start to finish. It is written with precision, attention to detail, and a perceptive spirit. In the main, Reverend Dick avoids preordained posturing and platitudes and seeks instead to recommend solutions for the enhancement of life in our homeland. The book is the work of a thoughtful churchman whose love for humanity, and for Jamaica, emerges on every page.

- Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie, professor and former president of the University of Technology.