Betty Ann Blaine | How loud must children cry?
The gruesome murder of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis has once again shocked the country, causing widespread outrage and condemnation, as it should. Regrettably, however, neither the circumstance nor the public reaction is new.
The children's monument in downtown Kingston is testament to the long history of violence against children. The monument's base, designed to etch the names of those of our citizens under the age of 18 years who have died violently or tragically, is now completely out of space.
Our country must now decide whether we will extend the base of the monument, or do something about the brutal and wanton killing of our children.
The names reflected real, living human beings - young children with identities, personalities and promise. They were sons and daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins. They were a part of humanity, a part of the Jamaican society, and they had their own stories.
One such name on the monument is that of Ananda Dean, after whom the Ananda Alert is named. Ananda was a delightful 11-year-old with indescribable potential for greatness. She was sharp, witty and full of energy. She had the most captivating smile.
Ananda was a quick learner who could memorise anything in a flash, as she did when my friend and I taught her and others the 91st Psalm. She was one of the first ones to recite it without a hitch.
Ananda was the apple of her father's eye, and even now, 10 years after her murder, Dean says he breaks down and weeps when he's reminded of things his daughter said or did.
"She was the most loving child any parent could have - the perfect child," Dean recalls. "She cared about her siblings and everyone else around her. Most of all, she was the best little helper you could find. She never complained about doing chores around the house; in fact, she would ask if there was anything to be done."
He shared the story that only recently, the shopkeeper in the community reminded him of the day when Ananda pulled the biggest joke on her brother Junior by pretending that she fell off the bicycle they were both riding and was badly hurt. Ananda insisted that she couldn't move and had to be lifted and carried all the way home. The shopkeeper said she got a good laugh watching Ananda grin as Junior struggled to carry her home.
Thirteen-year-old Shanoya Wray's name would be expected to be etched in the monument, if only there was space. The body of the teenager who went missing was positively identified a little over two weeks ago. It was reported that her charred remains were found in a bathtub in Mona, St Andrew.
Beauty and promise
With heavy hearts, Shanoya's aunt and grandmother recall the beauty and the promise of their loved one's life. "She was expected to be a prefect in school in September," her grandmother shared. Her teachers loved her, and some of them even came to her nine-night, or wake.
"Her dream was to go to college and become a teacher. Shanoya was a quiet, loving child who would help with her three-year-old brother and her baby cousin. But what she loved most of all was putting on make-up and nail polish on everyone in the house. She had her own make-up kit.
"Her nickname was 'Diffy'. She got the name when she was just born. Her older cousin, Joseph, was asked to take a look at her upon arrival from hospital and was asked, "How does she look?" His response was, "Different," hence the name Diffy.
"Diffy loved to sing. Her favourite song was Rise Up by Andra Day. Jennifer Hudson was another one of the singers she loved.
"She never liked walking street," her grandmother added, "She would only go on the road for school or to buy her fried chicken back and fries on Fridays, and only with one of us."
Two years ago, there was also widespread public outrage, and the country mourned the death of 14-year-old Jamaica College student Nicholas Francis. Described as a "quiet hero", Nicholas was savagely murdered - stabbed to death on a bus en route home from school. It was reported that Nicholas was killed for his "cheap watch and cheap banger" phone.
Young Nicholas, who served as an altar boy in his church, was remembered as a "calm and quiet" child, one of the quietest among the children in the family. That somewhat rare quality of teenage self-discipline was confirmed by his teachers and his peers.
Nicknamed 'Patty Man' and 'Supligen Man' for his love for food, Nicholas was also passionate about technology, and according to relatives, when missing, would always be found behind a computer.
This young role model not only counselled and cautioned his schoolmates, he built relationships with youngsters in his own community, sharing his lunch money with them and encouraging them to excel in school.
There are countless other names in addition to Ananda, Shanoya and Nicholas. In fact, there are more than 2,000 names currently inscribed on the monument - some siblings, and some only a few months old.
In October 2016, the KSAMC added 214 more names to the monument, leaving a 24x32-inch space that could only accommodate 20 more children. What this means is that along with the over 70 other children who have perished over the past two years, the latest case of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis of Arnett Gardens may not be memorialised on the downtown monument in its present form.
The good news, however, is that all of these children can be memorialised in our hearts. More important, we can keep their memories alive by taking action to ensure that we put a stop to child murders and dedicate our lives to the ongoing campaign to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
"How loud must the children cry?" we ask. It seems to me that the answer belongs to all of us.