Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Malachi Smith: poet, policeman, philanthropist

Published:Friday | August 19, 2016 | 8:00 AMMichael Reckord
Oku Onuora
Jean 'Binta' Breeze
Tomlin Ellis (left), Owen 'Blakka' Ellis (second left), Malachi Smith (third left), Yashika Graham (third right), Calvin Mitchell (second right) and Tommy Ricketts at the close of the 22nd anniversary fellowship of the Poetry Society of Jamaica at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in May 2011.
Malachi Smith (left) accepts the Independent VoYces Lifetime Achievement Award frm Judith Falloon-Reid at Strawberry Fields, Robin's Bay, St Mary, in November 2011.
Malachi Smith
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This is the first of a two-part article on Malachi Smith, a policeman, performance poet and philanthropist,

Malachi Smith joined the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to fight crime, but it was crime that forced him to emigrate to the United States in 1987. And here's further irony: soon after settling in Florida, he joined the police department.

He has done very well in law enforcement and at least as well as performance poet and philanthropist. Recently, on one of his annual trips to Jamaica, Smith told me of the incident which pushed him from his homeland.

Driving to work at Criminal Investigations Branch (CIB) headquarters one night, he saw an old man beside a little pick-up parked on the highway, in the vicinity of the Berger Paints factory on Spanish Town Road, St Andrew. It was raining and he was putting a tarpaulin over appliances in the vehicle's bed.

"Suddenly, six guys with machetes ran from the Riverton dump area and started chopping the man. I was on the other side and there's no way to drive over (the traffic island). I could only stop, shout and fire two shots," Smith said.

"When I drove over, I saw he was badly injured. I took him to the hospital and contacted the Hunt's Bay Police Station. I found myself wrestling with a fire in my belly, asking myself, 'do I want to continue living in a country with such animals?' They could have just taken the appliances; the old man couldn't resist them."

The answer was no and Smith emigrated. He left behind not only the JCF, but the collective Poets in Unity which he, Chris Bailey and Tomlin Ellis co-founded at the Drama School in the then Cultural Training Centre (now Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts).

'IT WAS BRUTAL'

"The group included established poets like Oku Onuora, Mikey Smith and later Jean Breeze," Smith said. "We wanted to unearth young talent, mould it and workshop it. I think we did a good job. It lasted quite a few years and then morphed in the Poetry Society of Jamaica, which is now 27 years old."

Smith performed at a Poetry Society meeting on the Tuesday night preceding the interview. It led to friends on Facebook suggesting that the early Poets in Unity material be published

"We hadn't been publishing and we were doing very little recording," he explained. "So now I'm going to talk to Tomlin and Tommy Ricketts (president of the Poetry Society) and see if we can start cataloguing the work."

In Miami, Smith sold cars briefly then started working as a protection officer on the Metro Rail. He also started going to school, all the while continuing to write poetry.

"It was brutal. I was working 10 hours on the Metro Rail while doing my associate degree. A female professor fell in love with my poetry and started using it in the state exam and helped me get a full scholarship to go to FIU (Florida International University)," he said.

After a pre-law programme there Smith did a bachelor's in Mass Communication, majoring in Public Relations and minoring in English. After joining the Miami Dade Police Department Malachi obtained a Master's degree in Criminal Justice Administration, as well as other certification in controlling crime. "So I have a lot of expertise and I'd like to come and help out here," Smith said.

In addition to working in law enforcement Smith is deeply involved in community service, especially with members of the Florida area's powerful Jamaican Diaspora. A few years ago a destitute Jamaican woman was seen wandering the streets. She was found to have stage four cancer but the authorities couldn't locate a relative. The matter was mentioned on the air by Miramar County commissioner Winston Barnes, a well-known Jamaica broadcaster. This led to Smith and Jamaican attorney-at-law Dahlia Walker-Huntington's involvement.

Smith organised a concert with his friends in the entertainment business ("A whole bunch of big time artistes"), while Walker-Huntington located a relative of the woman in Jamaica. Enough was raised to send the grateful woman back to Jamaica with money to start a bank account and buy medication.

"After the concert she cried and said she'd never experienced so much love in her life. She passed away about a year ago," Smith said.

(Next week: Smith as philanthropist and international performer.)