For the Reckord | Malachi Smith keeps in touch with home
(This is second of two columns based on an interview with Malachi Smith, policeman, performance poet and philanthropist.)
Malachi Smith migrated to the USA in 1987. However, for the past 14 years he has returned to Jamaica annually from his home in Miami Dade County, Florida, mainly to do philanthropic work.
He also seizes every opportunity to perform. Writing and performing are Smith's passions and he is on the eve of retiring from law enforcement to focus on them.
Smith's charitable activities began in earnest when he was elected president of the Jamaica Ex-police Association in South Florida. He immediately decided to increase the membership. "There were about 25 people in it at the time and I grew it to over 100," he said. "It became the number one Jamaican association in South Florida."
Former police officers from various chapters in the US would come to Jamaica for the annual police sports event at Elletson Road, Smith said. He challenged them to do more than engage in sports and other fun events. "They agreed and after three years, we began our first police station refurbishing project at Four Paths, Clarendon. We gave the station a refrigerator and VCR and painted it beautifully," Smith said.
The group subsequently moved on to refurbishing police stations all over the island. "Then," Smith said, chuckling, "someone asked me, 'why not do something for children, instead of wasting money on police?'"
The led to the project's expansion to include schoolchildren, beginning with students in Black Rock, Portland. Over 60 children were given backpacks with educational supplies and toiletries, and one person decided to sponsor the students' lunches for six months.
When members of Smith's group returned to a school in Burnt Savannah last year, they were pleased to see a new classroom had been built with the cash previously donated. "They had our pictures all over the place It was heart-warming," Smith said.
The group has also given medical supplies to the police convalescence home in Black River, St Elizabeth, and to hospitals and clinics in the parish where they were working on a police station project. They also award scholarships, based on students' academic achievements and financial need. "We give a Jamaican scholarship for a high-school student. In the US, the scholarship is for a college student," Smith said.
Smith is now working on his eighth poetry album, along with a Jamaican producer. Middle Passage is his favourite from his catalogue, as "it gives a look into my soul."
One of his current poems, How You Mek Her Massa God?, is in praise of women. It was inspired by Tarrus Riley's She's Royal and is performed to a rhythm by saxophonist Dean Fraser. It was entered in an AKA Media Inc competition and won in the Reggae/Inspirational category. "They created a web page for me and had a media blitz," Smith said. "It has been receiving rotation play all over the globe - Australia, China, Japan, all over the United States, Canada and so on."
Smith is also a playwright, with Crosses being his most significant to date. About the difference in the treatment accorded to Haitians and Cubans arriving illegally in the US in small boats and on rafts, it was mounted in The Pan-African Book Fest staged some years ago at the then Philip Michael Thomas Theatre in Miami Dade county.
"A New York director was brought in to direct it It was a huge success - sold out," Smith said.
He has performed his poetry in St Kitts & Nevis, Canada, various parts of the USA, Nicaragua, Columbia and at a festival last year September in Taiwan. "At the opening ceremony I read Kumina King, which I wrote when Professor Rex Nettleford died. The place exploded," Smith said. "On the final night I did a poem that won a gold medal in Festival years ago, One Way. I had the rhythm tracks."
It was also well received and Smith was invited back to this year's festival, but he can't go. "From October 5-10 I'm going to go South Africa and I'm coming to Jamaica two days after that with some other Jamaican performers from Florida for a series of performances," he explained.