Ronald Mason | Peter Abrahams: What a man!
You do not choose the family into which you are born, and for extended periods, you are guided and controlled by those members with whom you are in constant contact.
I had the distinction of being the first grandchild and I spent my formative years with my grandparents. They were both exceptional persons who lived exceptional lives despite the odds they faced. Neither of them had much formal education. They both completed sixth grade at different primary schools.
My grandfather was to give living emphasis to living by the sweat of your brow. My grandmother was the proverbial right hand, without which he was severely handicapped. They together had seven children, one of whom, I was told, died early. They made, as a family, the decision to put all of their working lives into two institutions: the Church and the school. A review of their life's endeavours over 50 years of marriage indicates that they both invested long term and heavily in both. All six of their children were formally educated to the tertiary level and they always opened and closed the church.
I came into this family, and instantly, my grandparents invested in me. I was made to learn everything. I would sit at my grandmother's feet daily while she read The Daily Gleaner. At that point in time, the back page of The Gleaner had a headline that read 'Government Notices'. These were to become the first two words I ever learned to spell and read.
Once my grandparents became aware that I could read before I was three years old, I was mandated to read the Gleaner feature Tell me Why daily. This began my exposure to thought process and communication.
Peter Abrahams was still illiterate at age 11, and his educational journey never stopped until he departed this life last week at age 97. He was a South African by birth, fathered by an Ethiopian.
Peter Abrahams understood the power and use of language. He had a regular commentary on RJR. I was invited to listen - and listen I did. I was told it was never more than two typewritten pages long. I never met the man, but he had an enormous impact on my life. He made me aware that it was acceptable to think about politics, governance, public perceptions, and the aspirations of a people and speak out about them.
A native son
In his many commentaries, I never got the impression that he was angry because he never raised his voice. His pieces sought to provide background food for thought for the persons who were to build this nation. He had the courage to adopt Jamaica while it was still a colony.
Abrahams grew and acted like a native son, always in my memory, seeking to boost our potential. He was not alone in this respect because two other commentators come to mind, namely, John Akhar and Frank Hill. These three men sought always to identify our national potential and offer guidance as to how to maximise it. Others did offer commentary, but they always came across as having nothing but political objectives and not appealing to our national interests.
At this stage of our history, where our achievements for the last 54 years fall woefully short of what our attainments should be, we need to revisit the need for 'wise men'. Those who offer sage advice and deliver it wrapped in the motives of national interests. Those who will cause us to think and reflect on our own roles. Who among us can fulfil this in 2017?
The education system produces much more mediocrity than excellence. Those with the excellence very soon depart the shores or seek to hold their corner. The trials of the Church, as an institution, are very much in the forefront of public focus at this time. Which national church leader, at this point in our history, comes to mind as being worthy of a listening ear? Where is the replacement for the Rev Cleve Grant, Rev Sam Reid, Rev Ashley Smith, and Archbishop Carter?
Where is the parliamentarian to replace Edwin Allen, who championed the cause of children and education for their own sake? Any candidates come to mind who currently occupy space in Gordon House? Where there is no vision, the people perish.
We keep giving people accolades primarily because of the office they hold and not for what they represent in the national arena. Churchmen are persons whose jobs, for which they are paid, require them to wear distinguishing items of clothing. This does not distinguish them as persons of worth, but rather among the fortunate to be employed.
The politicians occupy Gordon House because they pledge fidelity to a political party and only in passing do they offer encomiums to the people they are supposed to serve. Inspiration is nowhere to be found. "My uncle is an obeah man" is supposed to generate praise for one's intellectual contribution to solving crime.
How can these current leaders be evaluated in the same light as Peter Abrahams?