Penetrating West Kingston's 'hot spots'
A WEEK has passed since the West Kingston Planning Committee's (WKPC) last meeting at the Tivoli Gardens Community Centre and The Gleaner's 7 North Street headquarters becomes the latest venue for the committee to converge.
It is a meeting facilitated by the non-governmental organisation, Peace and Love in Society (PALS), one of the key stakeholders in the project to transform Tivoli.
Sitting around the table are familiar faces of the WKPC: 'Razzle,' Alaphia Chambers, Pauline Perez, Ian Barrett, and Patrina, otherwise called 'Scooby'. Also in attendance is a younger contingent of members - Ikon Morgan, 'Prince', and Horace Glen, who are also committed to being part of the change they want to see in their community.
At the top of the order of today's meeting is the proposed route that their unity walk will take, clearly a contentious issue as a difference of opinion quickly escalates into an argument. There is disagreement about the planned route of the walk. Most of the group wants to tread streets they refer to as hot spots - areas where the threat of violence against them is real - as a show of defiance against those who oppose peace in West Kingston, but fears over their safety is a source of some friction, indicated by raised voices and befuddling crosstalk.
"Monitors, remember your training!" bellows Janilee Abrikian, general manager of Peace and Love in Society (PALS) and trained mediator, who has been chairing the WKPC's weekly meetings while the organisation continues to find its feet. Abrikian's instruction brings order to the intra-group banter. The chatter ceases and instead, each party awaits his turn to speak.
Despite the WKPC being formed free from outside influence, the role that PALS has played in its genesis, survival and future existence cannot go understated. The 'monitors' that Abrikian refers to are west Kingston residents, who act as community watch persons, trained in conflict resolution by PALS to ensure that youth are not congregating on street corners where the allure of gangs and crime is unmistakable.
"Denham Town at di bridge, Wellington Street Park, Shooters Hill - a deh so the hot spot," explained Alaphia, a heavyset woman who delivers each word with a calculated pitch and tone, commanding respect from the group.
"We want Denham Town and Tivoli to be one, most of all. A deh so we a work pon. A deh so mi fraid fi go up the road."
Prince, a young man blessed with eloquence and impressive diction, sat across the table from Alaphia and nodded in agreement.
"A dat mi a seh from first. We waan penetrate Denham Town and Tivoli," Prince said with an enthusiasm that has begun to characterise each of his verbal contributions to the WKPC.
A moment's silence passed and then a large sigh filled the audible void, emanating from across the room, as 'Razzle', nearing his boiling point, had to let off some steam.
"Ahhhh, God! Let me tell you this," said a frustrated Razzle.
"We nuh waan go tru certain community; we nuh ready fi dat yet. There is a feud between certain yutes, making some of the grounds hotter than sun. So nuh care weh yuh tell certain man, from them see certain man and certain hype and certain man a go use the walk and hype to pass pon certain corner fi hype. We nuh want dat!"
The unity walk symbolises the committee's first major project and its credibility and morale depend on its successful execution. Much is riding on the walk being a success, not just for the survival of the WKPC, but as Razzle's grievance suggests, the safety of many of west Kingston's participating residents, and indeed, the WKPC.
"What we want, we want a yute can go down a Tivoli without fear seh a man a go see him do him something," said Alaphia, in response. "If we don't make sure seh we have that, then we can't make the walk speak out fi we."
The WKPC wants 'yutes' to walk alongside them and other West Kingston residents on Emancipation Day. Reclaiming and transforming Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town from it ominous past requires a united front - with both old and young walking side by side. With the walk's route now set, there is only advertising left to do.