Wenford Patrick Simpson continues motivation series
OCHO RIOS, St Ann:
There is no compelling reason why Wenford Patrick Simpson has to come back to Jamaica annually to seek to motivate and inspire young people. After all, his childhood years in Jamaica, and in particular St Ann, where he attended high school, were not easy.
But according to Simpson, now a celebrity chef in New York: "My mission right now is to motivate, to give back, to inspire, to tell them 'You can do it.'
"There was no one to tell me I could do it, so I'm coming back and giving them what I didn't get.
"I was born in Clarendon, grew up not knowing my father much. He left me and my sister when I was five, that was when I last saw him," Simpson told Rural Xpress as he began his story.
"My childhood was rough. I remember certain times in my childhood I had to go to the neighbour's yard to clean their pig pen and sweep their yard and chop the yard to get food to eat."
Growing up with his younger sister, he usually had to prepare meals for her.
"I remember one day I was making cabbage and I accidentally put curry in it, and my sister laughed at me so bad it brought tears to my eyes, and I looked at her and said, 'Watch and see, I'm gonna be a great chef one day.'
"That inspiration started building from there, from that mistake. I took a negative and turned it into something positive."
Later, they moved to Steer Town, St Ann, where things didn't get any better, even as he started attending Marcus Garvey Technical High School.
"My mom was dating a guy who was living in Steer Town and that's where a rough patch of my life transpired. I lived in Steer Town during the teenage years of my life going to Marcus Garvey. The man didn't really like me and my sister so every now and then he would get on me and my sister and my mother."
At the point when he finished high school, he was forced out of the house.
"One night he came in and he was angry about something and he was like, 'I don't want your damn kids in the house! I want all a unnu to leave.' So to lessen the stress of the problem I got up that night and packed my bag with two little pieces of clothes and said, 'Mom I'm leaving.'
She responded: 'Where you going?'
"I don't know, but I can't stay in this house because this man is going to kill either you or me or my sister."
Simpson went down the street and sat on a wall. His mom joined him, crying.
"I asked her, what do you want me to do? I can't stay here."
At that time, however, he had just started working at a hotel in the area. So that night he went to work as usual.
After his shift ended he had nowhere to go.
"I started hiding and sleeping on the hotel premises at night, mostly in the golf cart room, until I got caught one night. The manager who caught me reported me, I got a warning.
The following night I still didn't have anywhere to go, all I did was to find somewhere else in the hotel to sleep. Until I got caught again".
He eventually got a room to share, which he did for a while.
"One evening they were giving away cruise ship jobs in St Ann's Bay with Mr Joe Dawkins," he recalled. A friend encouraged him to go. So he did. This was around 1990 when he was around 18 years old.
Six months later, the job was confirmed. But he had to buy his ticket to the USA to take up the offer. He had no money.
"My mom called a friend of hers in Canada, the friend took my information and booked the flight. Even now I don't know who this person is. My life took off from there."
Simpson's big break
Simpson spent around nine years working on the cruise ship Royal Caribbean, before moving to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and later, New York. In New York, he worked at various hotels and restaurants, including Red Lobster and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, before being appointed executive chef at BB King.
There is a lot more to his story than what you read here and Simpson has used his experience as a motivating factor for young people, as he journeyed to several schools across the island to speak. Despite his humble and rough beginnings, he has been able to excel and become a top name in his chosen field. Others, too, he believes, can do it, if encouraged.
After a successful first year in 2016, Simpson returned to Jamaica in April to continue impressing on the youth the importance of working hard and remaining focused on their goal.