Dr K'nife minces 'shotta image'
Paul H Williams, Gleaner Writer
The events of the last two weeks have turned the spotlight on inner-city youths once again, and, for the most part, it is the negative sides of them that are being projected, with the dons and 'shottas' in their usual leading roles.
Unfortunately, the don and the shotta are not an illusion. They are real and dangerous, products of our broken social and political systems.
Yet, while this unwholesome image of the ghetto youth is commonplace, not all of them are shottas. In fact, contrary to rumours and media projections, only a few are. One man who is of the view that the stereotypical criminal ghetto youth is the product of writers and commentators is Dr K'adamawe K'nIfe.
"I want to make one thing very clear. The perception about these kinds of communities is wrong because a lot of time the people who are researchers and writers do not even interface with the people in these communities," he declared.
Born and bred Matthew Harvey in Arnett Gardens, popularly called 'Jungle', Dr K'nIfe has seen and heard it all, the good and the bad, and though he could have easily been gripped by the tentacles of the negative dynamics therein, the positive ones were stronger and more appealing, so he allowed himself to be embraced and nurtured by those.
"The positive in the inner-city community is stronger than the negative. That's why you don't have many more youths involved in crime," he reasoned.
When he passed his Common Entrance Examinations, the expectations of him were high though he lived in an area called 'Shotta Corner'. Being a student at the prestigious St George's College earned him the alias 'Doc' among his peers with whom he played 'scrimmage'. He listened to their voices and he knew it could happen.
The expectations of him grew as he progressed to sixth form at St George's and intensified when he got accepted to read for a degree at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where he took up residence on Block B, Taylor Hall. The 1992 freshman was 'renamed' Knife by his seniors. He quickly became very influential and was eventually nominated block representative.
Now, he's the holder of three degrees: a bachelor's and a master's in economics and a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in sustainable development at the University of Surrey, England, in collaboration with UWI, the awarding institution.
He also morphed from Matthew Harvey to K'adamawe A. H. N. K'nIfe to reflect Rastafari, spirituality and African ancestry.
Dr K'nIfe is a researcher/lectuer and strategic planning and entrepreneurship specialist in the department of Management Studies, UWI. This is the path he has chosen, not the one he was told to tread on, or not to. Many of his peers focused on sports in high school, but he chose academics.
For, unlike what many people think, not all ghetto youths are expected by their peers and associates to get involved in criminal activities. In most cases, it is an individual choice born out of the need to survive, he said.
"A lot of us youths were not involved with guns, even if we were not in school."
As a matter of fact, the youngsters who show potential are protected from temptations and pitfalls by their older siblings, who will put their lives on the line for them.
"The greatest joy that these youths have is to see their little brother doing well. You better believe it," Dr K'nIfe said.
He recalled handling a gun once and being told not to fire it, since he might love the sound and want to hear it over and over again. He also remembered getting some amount of financial assistance from his brother while he was on campus.
He said: "Every step of the way you have so much support, it was a joy to see you moving forward."
A brother and many of his childhood peers are now dead; some are fugitives abroad; some are in jail. But Doc is still around playing a very important role in the lives of many unattached youths in the country, especially through Youth Crime Watch Jamaica. He's using his skills as an entrepreneurship specialist to effect change.
He said he had always wanted to do this and that's why a PhD was always something he wanted to hold. He didn't just want a job after high school as an arbitrary job could not give him the opportunity to give back to his community.
Though he's no longer living in Jungle, he has never left it. It is where his people are. He's there regularly with his own children to be among the people who have been calling him Doc long before anyone else. He has met their expectation and isn't a promise that was sucked in by the vortices of crime and peer pressure.
He still regards himself as a 'Junglist', forever holding on to his roots, for he said, "I am going to feel more comfortable with the people I grew up with, not that I am uncomfortable around other people ... . And any man who comes from a particular community and decides that he's not going back and tells himself he's too uncomfortable with himself is living in an illusion. It's a life of pretence."