Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial: Boys’ Town and Father Sherlock

Published:Sunday | November 1, 2015 | 11:00 AM

What ought to be a major celebration in Jamaica, which is to run for all of November, is scheduled to be launched today. We fear that it will not get the attention it deserves. Which is a great shame, for the country would have forfeited an opportunity for, at least symbolically, recommitting itself to making Jamaica a gentler, more decent and inclusive society.

In a sense, it should be two celebrations, one of institution; the other of person and personality.

The occasion to which we refer is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Boys' Town, a youth-focused, multidisciplinary institution in the South West St Andrew community of Trench Town, one of Jamaica's decayed urban areas with high levels of employment and, at least in perception, criminal violence. It is not a place that many Jamaicans, who do not live there, want to be, except to attend a football match featuring the Boys' Town team.

That's its reputation. It wasn't always that way.

For most of Jamaica's modern history, Trench Town has not been among Kingston and St Andrew's choice communities. It has long been poor, suffering the blight that follows poverty. But it had spirit. And it had Boys' Town, a home, learning and welfare institution founded in 1940 as a project of the Methodist Church and the Young Men's Christian Association by the Rev Hugh Sherlock - one of two brothers who were intellectually outstanding, patriotic and sport-minded Jamaicans. The other was Philip Sherlock, the historian and academic.

At its height, Boys' Town was the home of fine cricketers - the late Collie Smith was an alumnus - and entertainers. It might be compared to Alpha Boys' Home and music in its heyday. But more important, Boys' Town turned out decent, hard-working and committed Jamaicans. Mostly, they saw in Jamaica something greater than themselves.

In other words, they represented the ethos of Hugh Sherlock, who wrote the lyrics to Jamaica's national anthem but whose name, unfortunately, is much receded from national consciousness. Boys' Town suffered when Rev Sherlock's deep love for the institution, the outsized personality and the reverence he commanded from the community were removed by a call to higher office. But it suffered more by the deep political and ideological schisms of the 1970s and '80s and erupted in violent fights for turf.

In recent years, a group of committed people, working with government agencies and external partners, have been attempting to rebuild the Boys' Town institutions. A skill-training institution operates there, along with sports and other community outreach programmes. But as its management group laments, they face "severe threats from the blight of the surrounding environment, crime and violence, reduced involvement of young people, weakened organisational capacities and limited resources".

These very challenges make, as the group says, "the vision and mission maintained over the years more urgent than ever".

That vision of empowering communities for involvement in nation-building remains as relevant today as when it was being set out by Hugh Sherlock, of whose birth, coincidentally, 2015 is the 110th anniversary. It is not too late, we hope, for the Ministry of Youth and Culture, and the Government, to throw its weight fully and potently behind the Boys' Town celebration and a re-engagement of Rev Sherlock's legacy and the kind of Jamaica he hoped to help build.