Fri | Jun 23, 2017

Andre Hylton | August Town’s war and peace

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2017 | 3:30 AMAndre Hylton
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) greets reggae-dancehall artiste Miguel Collins, better known as Sizzla, during a march for peace by residents of August Town on February 5. Looking on is Eastern St Andrew Member of Parliament Fayval Williams (right). The residents marched through August Town in celebrating one year without murder, in 2016.
Residents of August Town, Eastern St Andrew, march while celebrating peace in their community on February 5.
1
2

It is often said that success has many parents and failure is an orphan.  There is no truer phrase to describe what is now happening in August Town, where there were no murders last year, and three so far this year.

It appears that those who so publicly claimed paternity for the murder-free 2016 have gone MIA since the St Andrew Eastern community recorded three killings this year.

But that is not surprising, as some of those who claimed to be mothers and fathers of the murder-free 2016 have no clue of the hard work, long hours and tears that culminated in a year that residents of the once volatile community rightfully celebrated. 

I also wonder if they have the testicular fortitude to do the work needed to ensure that August Town never returns to the dark days of its past.

I would like to present a broader picture on August Town’s journey from a battlefield to a peaceful community.

During my time representing the constituency, I coordinated and reinforced the efforts of multiple groups, including the Community Development Council, councillors, the police and the University of the West Indies.

I also give credit for the murder-reduction success in August Town to the work done by members of the community, including reggae artiste Miguel ‘Sizzla’ Collins, the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), the Church, youths on the corner, the business community and many other stakeholders.

The reduction in August Town’s crime statistics did not just happen over the last few months. 

My baptism of fire in August Town was in 2008 when I started my political journey as a caretaker. One of the peace builders, Leroy Lawrence, invited me to a meeting at Palana Restaurant, which was organised by the PMI at the height of a gang dispute.

The meeting was chaired by Horace Levy, a senior member of the PMI, and I heard, for the first time, the demands and expectations gang leaders had as they sought to batter their way to an end to the violence.

Peace treaty

But Mr Levy, with skilful tact, got them to reduce their demands to more realistic levels.

The peace treaty between the communities of Hermitage, Colour Red, Open Land, Jungle 12, Vietnam and Gola was signed at the UWI. Professor Barry Chevannes, Professor Gordon Shirley, Ken Wilson, the PMI, the Church and the UWI Township must be given credit for achieving this.

I realised that in addition to this peace treaty, the only way we could stop the violence was to offer an alternative to the misled youngsters.

To achieve this, I embarked on consultation with residents and stakeholders. Among these was community tourism, because August Town has a long and rich history.

The community was originally a slave settlement known as African Hill, which was renamed on August 1, 1838 to commemorate Emancipation Day. 

We have the colourful history of our great Preacher Alexander Bedward who in the late 1800s and early 1900s led the largest black church in the Americas.

People were baptised in the waters of the Hope River, below August Town and the Church spread to 125 congregations in Jamaica, Cuba, and Central America. 

The remains of Bedward’s Temple in August Town, is a beautiful site with a rich history, worthy of a place on our heritage map.

I worked with the then minister of youth and culture, Lisa Hanna, along with Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill, to have the site declared a heritage site and story boards were erected so visitors to the community could appreciate the history of August Town.

Further consultation with the tertiary institutions, in particular the University of the West Indies and University of Technology, along with the Papine Development Area Committee, resulted in a comprehensive plan for a university town.

This presented a great opportunity for homeowners of August Town to benefit from student rentals. A former Member of Parliament Damion Crawford and I met Dr Carol Archer from UTech and we subsequently were able to secure funding to finalise the design and consultation.

We then started to sell this vision to the community of an August Town free of violence, where students could freely travel for nightlife, rent rooms, support local businesses and by doing so bringing needed cash into the community.

The peace was in danger when a conflict developed between Goldsmith Villa and Hermitage, in which several persons were shot and one died.

Fear of war

As a caretaker at the time, I would get call after call from residents in fear of losing their lives and feared the entire August Town would fall back into a wholesale war again. As a young politician, I was at a loss as to do. But I knew I could not sit and do nothing.

One night, after an elderly resident had died from a heart attack during the hail of bullets from warring gangs, I made a call to Professor Chevannes. 

He advised that we should call a meeting with all the community leaders, the PMI and the then MP, St Aubyn Bartlett. The peace was saved.

After being elected as MP in 2011, I continued working with the stakeholders, the community and the youths, to bring back August Town to being a community of peace and Love.

There were many days and sleepless nights, when there was murder after murder, reprisal after reprisal. Many of the leaders who signed the peace treaty were murdered.
By 2014, murders in August Town started reducing significantly.

Annually, stakeholders organised an Emancipation Day celebration to mark August Town’s birthday. Robert Campbell and the African Gardens Group, UWI Township and UTech were among those who staged this annual event.

In 2015 we all wanted a murder free year and we also wanted a massive month-long celebration to mark August Town’s birthday.

I then organised a meeting with Sizzla and the elders of his church, Dwight Morgan, Ken Wilson, Michael Rutherford, and I asked Sizzla to spearhead the coordination of this celebration.

All stakeholders were invited to be party to the planning and I insisted none must be left out. For the first time in several years, all communities interacted and supported the event.

Special commendation must be given to all the peace warriors, too numerous to mention, who led the fight for the significant achievement last year.

I join the people of Jamaica in thanking all the stakeholders whose support has made this possible and congratulate the residents of August Town for their steadfastness in seeing to the positive turn around in their community.

- Andre Hylton is a businessman and former MP for Eastern St Andrew.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com