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Peace agent - 'Sharon' determined to keep violence away from her tough inner-city community

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 3:00 AMErica Virtue

For more than 20 years, a little angel has walked among the residents of a section of Trench Town in south St Andrew carrying a message of peace and tolerance.

Joy Matthews, known to almost everyone as 'Sharon' is obsessed with a desire for peace and security in her small impoverished community known as Lyndhurst Greenwich, where violence sometimes force residents to peep from behind zinc fences rather than leave their houses.

Lyndhurst Greenwich, which neighbours the equally tough Whitfield Town in southwest St Andrew, is no different from other inner-city communities, and with high unemployment, gang violence and the all-too-frequent killings and reprisals.

But Sharon is the difference in the area. She makes peace her mantra and is never too tired to listen to both sides of the story, and she has heard many stories in her life.

"This is my community. I cannot buy a house uptown, neither now nor in the near future. So, if I want to live in peace here, I have to make sure that peace is here. I just make it clear that anybody do anything wrong around here is going to be reported to the police," Sharon told The Sunday Gleaner.

It is a position she has stated publicly, and despite the brutal fate that many Jamaicans labelled 'police informers' have met, Sharon does not feel threatened and is determined to continue her stance to rid the community of wrongdoers.

Her quest began more than a quarter century ago and she credits the late Herman 'Buffy' Johnson, who was a big part of efforts to get residents of the two communities to live in peace.

"This foolishness of people killing people because of grievances, carry feelings, and gang violence is just rubbish. People must learn to live together, disagree and still be alive tomorrow," declared Sharon.

She recalls a gang feud which resulted in the deaths of individuals from both communities and Johnson - who had just returned from overseas - and said she did not want to live in hiding.

"I always get involved in the communities and the activities. I always tell them to stop the foolishness 'cause I am going to tell the police. They leave me alone, 'cause they know I am like that. But I don't wait until the place is sore before I get the police involved," declared Sharon.

According to Sharon, there was one occasion when rival gangs from her community and Whitfield Town were involved in a bloody feud when she was called by Buffy who wanted them to put their heads together to restore the peace.

With no fear, she travelled to Whitfield Town to join Buffy and the two determined that the blood-letting had to end.

Their work was rewarded with an end to the violence and peace between the two communities for the last 20 years.

But unfortunately, Buffy was murdered. A victim of gang members who did not want peace.

Prior to his murder, Buffy relied on members of the churches in the area to build the peace in the community, and Sharon has continued that trend.

She has also been a liaison officer with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) since its inception 12 years ago and has spent the past 13 years as a member of the Inner City Development Council, which provide housing for the poor and back-to-school assistance to children.

"We praise God for the PMI, Dr Elizabeth Ward, Pastor Bruce Fletcher, Horace Levy and Dr Henley Morgan, 'cause there is a need and I go to them when the requests for help come," declared Sharon.

She knows that the drive to maintain peace in the area is a long, hard battle as there are some members of the community still intent on gang violence, with some saving whatever little monies they get to buy guns and bullets.

"The sky is the limit for me for peace. I also try and make use of all the educational opportunities to elevate myself. So I try to learn as much as I can, so I can be of assistance to the communities."