Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Gordon Robinson | The making of a true hero

Published:Sunday | October 27, 2019 | 12:20 AM

Recently, interest has been revived in the call for appointing Louise Bennett-Coverley (‘Miss Lou’) as a National Hero(ine).

That Jamaica’s cultural legend would’ve been 100 years old on September 7 encouraged activism for her to be added to the list of National Heroes to escalate. The great actress Rosie Murray used the opportunity to announce that were it up to her, Miss Lou would be named a National Hero.

Btw, with all due respect to modern political correctness, my age, general decrepitude and affinity to the language have afflicted me with a speech impediment that makes it impossible for me to call a lady an “actor”.

Miss Lou’s credentials are impressive. She wasn’t just a cultural icon. She was the face of real Jamaican theatre. She led the crusade for Jamaican faces, minds and languages to be at the forefront of Jamaican creativity. She transformed Jamaican cultural expression. She was a beacon of excellence as poet, actress, broadcaster, and TV personality. On every broadcast and in every piece of creative writing, she exuded Jamaicanness.

It’s almost impossible for the Instagram generation to appreciate how difficult it was for Miss Lou to be who she wanted to be at the time she succeeded in her dream. She triumphed over unimaginable odds.

But if a National Hero is to be nominated from the field of culture, it’s my opinion that Robert Nesta Marley’s credentials far exceed Miss Lou’s, especially insofar as his international reach is concerned. Jamaica’s influence in the world has been incrementally advanced through politics, sports, and culture, but it’s become all-encompassing because of our music. Bob put Jamaica on the world map in a way nobody, including Miss Lou, did before and probably not even Usain Bolt has done since. No matter in what corner of the world you find yourself, you need only say you’re Jamaican to elicit the reflex response “Bob Marley!”

Bob has been called ‘King of Reggae’, but he ruled the roost in all three original Jamaican genres. Ska successes included Simmer Down; One Love and the more obscure Hooligan Ska and Destiny (subsequently sampled/remade by Buju Banton). During rock steady (still the sweetest period in Jamaican music), he excelled with Duppy Conqueror, Trench Town Rock, Screwface, and many more before Chris Blackwell took him international and he became a Reggae icon.

“Rise up this mornin’;

smiled with the risin sun.

Three little birds

p itch by my doorstep

singin’sweet songs

of melodies pure and true.

Sayin’, ‘ t his is my message to you-oo-oo’”.

Bob Marley’s musical impact is recognised and acclaimed worldwide. One Love was voted best song of the 20th century. His 1977 album, Exodus (56 consecutive weeks on UK’s music chart) was voted the Best album of the Century by US-based Time Magazine. No other Jamaican cultural icon, not even Miss Lou, can boast such global achievements.

But for me, the most crucial achievement of Bob’s work is that almost forty years after his death, the international influence of his music has intensified and shows no sign of waning. Jamaican fans of European football should visit (actually or virtually) a home game of Dutch four-time (three consecutively) Champions League winners AFC Ajax and hear over 50,000 fans singing the team’s theme song. Liverpool fans sing You’ll Never Walk Alone loudly and proudly. Ajax supporters’ theme song is taken from that Exodus album. It is Three Little Birds.

Don’t worry about a thing,

Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Singin: don’t worry about a thing,

Cause every little thing

gonna be all right!

The most recent hit drama from the world’s leading cable network, HBO, is Succession. It’s fiction but is reportedly loosely based on the Murdoch family’s media conglomerate. Towards the end of the second season, a Senate investigation is called into shenanigans in its cruise division. Family members testify, including young cousin Gregory Hirsch (Greg), portrayed in the show as a moronic incompetent child (the entire family save for the patriarch is portrayed as weak, timid, entitled, and stupid) who makes a hash of his testimony. Afterwards, at a gathering on the family’s yacht, Greg verbalises his regrets about how he approached the questioning.

“GREG: Like, I just keep thinking about things I wish I said to the senators. Like, I almost wish I just started out with, like, ‘No woman, no cry’. Like, what if I said, ‘No woman, no cry’ to every single question? Right?”

Now THAT’s the kind of impact a national hero makes on the world.

JAMAICAN MOTHERS

Still, I don’t understand this obsession with national awards and formally naming multiple national heroes. Jamaica has produced so many unsung heroes in every walk of life whose decisive contribution to the nation’s development earns them nothing more than personal satisfaction and fulfillment. If it’s a heroine you want, my nomination would be Jamaican Mothers as a collective.

In a column headlined She Leads the Children, published August 23, 2015, I made a similar point while honouring my own mother.

I wrote then:

“It’s fashionable to honour modern, strong Jamaican women.

It’s also right. But I find many modern ‘feminists’ too ignorant or forgetful of women upon whose shoulders they stand, but for whose usually unheralded courage and accomplishment, despite crushing odds, some….wouldn’t be able to take themselves so very seriously today.”

After citing my mother’s seminal against-all-odds contribution to Jamaica’s development through business, banking, and motherhood, I concluded:

“Joyce Gordon-Martin, née Hall, born July 11, 1924, died on Old BC and the Ampersand’s birthday, March 26, 2004. No national honour required. You will be remembered.”

Don’t worry about a thing

c ause every little thing

gonna be all right.

On October 22, another nationally unrecognised heroine was laid to rest at Meadowrest Memorial Garden. Her name was Aletia Adina Campbell, affectionately known as ‘Mama’. She traversed this life for 89 blessed and productive years; worked hard to overcome early adversity; nurtured, taught, and mentored her children; and left a strong, solid Christian legacy in the way that Jesus taught, exemplified, and expected.

NO NATIONAL HONOUR REQUIRED

I never met ‘Mama’, but I’ve seen her work product. Many moons ago, when my infamously short fuse ran out and I stopped contributing to The Gleaner (the first time), my phone rang after three weeks or so. For some strange reason, I answered (unusual). It turned out to be a stranger who was also ‘Mama’s’ baby daughter, Jenni (then Gleaner managing editor).

“You don’t know me,” she began. “My name is Jenni Campbell and I’ve called to tell you that you have been absent from The Gleaner’s pages for too long.”

She followed up the call with a personal visit to my home (where I’m routinely kept captive); met and kept company with the Old Ball and Chain (who wielded her deadly walker); and made it her mission to address my concerns no matter how peculiar they were to an irascible old Hermit and accordingly tiresome to the rest of the world. That routine has been repeated as that fuse subsequently shortened to near invisibility.

Btw, I haven’t seen contributions from Daniel Thwaites (apparent biases aside, one of Gleaner’s best writers) since that unnecessary apology to the leader of the opposition was published despite the “offending” column containing, in my humble opinion, zero defamation. Daniel, I empathise. Unfortunately for you, Jenni Campbell is no longer there, so you won’t find any balm in Gilead.

Jenni was a superb PAJ president and an outstanding managing editor. When she volunteered for redundancy in the RJR/Gleaner merger, I considered it an irreplaceable loss to media. She believed it was her chance to pay closer attention to her vocation as a farmer but was called by another friend to help in the political arena, which treacherous waters she has been trying to navigate with her innate clarity of thought, administrative skill, and patriotism. In other words, she’s a principled misfit.

Jenni’s strong Christian background and life essence have never turned her into a sheep, and in my conversations with her on Christianity, she exposed a depth of understanding of her deep and abiding faith’s complexities some prominent theologists can only dream of attaining.

So, yes, I’ve seen Mama’s work. It is good. Her family must be sad but that, too, will pass. Mama ran her leg of life’s relay and the baton is passed to her children who, if Jenni is any example, will continue the work of teaching, nurturing, and mentoring. That’s the greatest contribution any hero(ine) can make on Earth.

Aletia Adina ‘Mama’ Campbell, July 7, 1930 – October 4, 2019, rest in peace. No National Honour required. You will be remembered.

To my friend, Jenni:

Don’t worry about a thing

cause every little thing

gonna be all right!

Peace and Love!

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com