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Wants greater say for those at 'grassroots'

Woodrow "Woody" Mitchell (in wheelchair) receives his certificate from Dr. Douglas Manley at the Stella Maris Pastoral Centre, Kingston, on Thursday night, after he was awarded the Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence for 2002. Looking on is Mrs. Mitchell. -Winston Sill photo

Wants greater say for those at 'grassroots'

THE PRESTIGIOUS Norman Washington Manley Founda-tion Award for Excellence for 2002 was presented to 53-year-old managing director of Walkerswood Caribbean Foods Ltd., Woodrow "Woody" Mitchell, in Kingston, Thurs-day night.

Attaining the award for his "outstanding service to the community in recognition of the critical role played by the community in human development and fulfilment, Mr. Mitchell told a packed audience at the Stella Maris Pastoral Centre, Kingston, that it was a "humbling experience" to be chosen.

"In Walkerswood, we have tried to create wealth for our people," he said. "The development of our community has been a sustained effort that has involved persons as far back as the 1900s."

Presenting the citation at the ceremony, chairperson of the 2002 Norman Washington Manley Search Committee, Norma Segree, praised Mr. Mitchell for "his integrity, hard work, determination and the respect he has earned" in galvanising "a community to sustain an enterprise (Walkers-wood Caribbean Foods) for over 20 years, providing a sound economic base for people in this rural community".

"In a time when many persons in the country seem to be dependent on handouts and exhibit little or no traits of self-reliance," she continued, "this man has been able to provide leadership at the grassroots level, building the self-confidence of his fellow Jamaicans so that they have successfully initiated and sustained their livelihoods."

"He represents a remarkable triumph of courage in adversity," she said. "For this man to have been able to mobilise a community in spite of these odds and to have sustained it is a tribute to his leadership skills. In addition there is an element of humility and selflessness which is quite remarkable in view of his and the community's achievements. He maintains that he was the instrument, it is the people in the community who made it happen."

Mr. Mitchell was born in Brompton, St. Elizabeth, on May 30, 1949, was involved in a car accident in 1972 which left him wheelchair-bound. However, despite his disability he has played a distinguished role in the development of the Walkerswood community in St. Ann, playing a vital role in the establishment of a community centre, post office, shopping complex and a restaurant.

He has been at various times secretary and treasurer of the Council and president of the Youth Club. Walkerswood Caribbean Foods was established in 1976 as a cottage industry, but blossomed into an enterprise that has become a household name across the world. The company, which produces a range of sauces, seasonings and canned foods, now employs 60 people and exports 85 per cent of its produce.

"A vibrant company now exists and is owned by the workers under an employment share ownership type programme," Mrs. Segree said. "(Mr. Mitchell) promotes the spirit of partnership in the community. "In collaboration with the farmers and workers at the factory, he continues to experiment and to investigate in an effort to expand the product line."

The Norman Manley Award is presented annually to individuals who achieve distinction in their fields, where the work is of relevance to the advancement of Jamaica and whose achievements are of original and permanent value. The first Award was made in 1970 to Dr. Thomas Lecky for his work in agriculture. Other awardees include Louise Bennett-Coverley (arts), Ken Hill (trade unionism and industrial relations) and Abe Issa (tourism).

Part of this year's awardee's philosophy has been to strike a balance between wealth creation and wealth distribution. "We must arrive at the point where we try and derive balance," he said. "Unfortunately there exists now a serious disconnectivity between local government, central government and local communities."

He called for those in power to give "the man at the grass roots an opportunity to contribute fully to the democratic process, and not once every five years".

He was greeted with a standing ovation from an audience including Minister of National Security and Justice, Dr. Peter Phillips, Jamaica Labour Party's spokesman on Education, Science and Technology, Anthony Johnson as well as members of the diplomatic corps.

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