Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Recognising that there is a vast reservoir of untapped artistic talent in inner-city communities across Jamaica, one Jamaican has returned home with the unbridled passion and determination to take that talent to the world stage.
Wayne Russell - songwriter, poet, producer, publisher, director and teacher - has embarked on the hugely ambitious 'Jamaica Lives' cultural vision.
He aims to create a presence and generate revenue for Brand Jamaica through various artistic expressions in the global marketplace.
With a vision to "monetise art", Russell intends to use the proceeds earned to inject into various educational, cultural and agricultural projects in Jamaican inner-city communities.
"Just like how people galvanise around track and field, I want the next vibrant, global thing for us as Jamaicans to be art, especially cultural art," stated a passionate Russell.
"Jamaica Lives is a song, it's a production, it's a movement. It was born out of a poem that I wrote looking at the intrinsic beauty of Jamaica, the unique things that make Jamaica, that sometimes we forget as people living in the diaspora.
"So the movement is for Jamaica, but in particular it is for folks living in the diaspora who have given up on Jamaica. I want them to start focusing on Jamaican culture once again."
More than one month ago Russell came to Jamaica and launched the first phase of the initiative with a hand-picked selection of talented youth from several inner-city communities across Kingston, who are also students of his alma mater, Vauxhall High School.
Under the guidance of artistic director Raquel Russell, the ensemble has been working tirelessly on a number of choral speaking pieces as part of a theatre production that Russell intends to take on tour.
"I am going to take these kids from the inner city and create theatre that we can actually take on the road, to places like the United Kingdom and the United States," disclosed Russell, who is quite confident there is a huge market for Jamaican choral speaking.
"These kids are our ambassadors. These kids are from the inner cities that so many rejected and so many claim don't have a future. Through Jamaica Lives they are going to take over the world!"
The hope is that the production will be ready to hit the world stage by early next year.
Russell, who also teaches mathematics at the Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York in the United States (US), shared that Jamaica Lives was not only about unearthing and showcasing the island's artistic gift.
Working with a handful of individuals from New York, Russell is using his influence to raise money to fund several cultural, educational and agricultural initiatives across the island.
He has already started working with a number of agencies to implement these programmes.
Outside of his alma mater, Russell is working on projects with Holy Family Primary and St Michael's Primary schools, as well as an agricultural project, through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), in the section of Arnett Gardens known as 'Top Jungle' in south St Andrew.
The former member of the Jamaica Defence Force, who will also be celebrating his 50th birthday with Jamaica this year, is hoping that he will be the catalyst to inspire others in the diaspora to get actively involve in Brand Jamaica by adopting a project of their choosing.
"I strongly believe that the only way that Jamaica can really reach where it ought to is if we have a vibrant energy out in the diaspora and people recognise that this is my home and I need to get involved in its development," said Russell, who migrated to the US, 22 years ago.
Taking a break from filming the YouTube premier of the pieces Who Said So and Time at Vauxhall High School on Wednesday, members of the choral speaking troupe Lathiepha Edwards, Trudy-Ann Bowes, Shakeem Williams and Kaleela Walsh shared their excitement about the project with The Sunday Gleaner.
"This is a great programme because I really love drama. It allows me to express myself, while at the same time learning about myself," said Lathiepha.
"It shows me that I can do anything I want to do and makes me bold enough to go out there and do anything I set my mind to," noted Trudy-Ann.
For Shakeem, "This programme entails culture and meaningful things about Jamaica and ourselves. It is very inspirational and helps to showcase the many talent in Jamaica. I was a very nervous person, but now I am very bold to talk."
"Jamaica Lives allows me to interact successfully with a wide range of persons with different personalities," stated Kaleela.
The students are also ecstatic about the fact that members of the troupe will be given the opportunity to continue their artistic studies at an institution of their choice.
The artistic director was just as thrilled, noting that the project could not have started at a more appropriate time than during the country's 50th Anniversary.
"This programme is absolutely amazing and I embrace it wholeheartedly because I recognise that Jamaica is filled with talented young people and I think this is a platform for them to showcase what they have and we can help them to fine tune their talents and bring it to where there is no limits," stated Russell.
"These kids are just so remarkable and talented, so it's very easy to work with them."