A genuine Jamaican brown man
Julian Reynolds, GUEST COLUMNIST
It is often serendipitous the paths that relationships take. You can never define how you and someone will interact based on other people's experiences with the someone you are having your experience with. Such was the case with me and Francis 'Paco' Kennedy. I had known of him, and more so his father, Luis Fred Kennedy, long before Paco and I met in 1998 when I participated in a trade and investment mission to Jamaica organised by the United States (US)-based National Minority Business Council (NMBC), the business organisation of which I am a member in the US.
Growing up in the 1950s and '60s in Kingston, I often heard my father bellowing disparagingly about the "unfairness" of the Kennedys, particularly Luis Fred, who was a prime mover as head of Grace Kennedy & Company in the operations of the Kingston Wharves, and the Shipping Association of Jamaica, the body representing the industry leaders in the shipping industry in Jamaica.
My father, Edmund 'Roy' 'Churchill' Reynolds, was a port worker and trade union representative for the stevedores in Kingston. And it appeared to me then that the conflict between the workers and the owners was ceaseless. And as such, Luis Fred and my father were in constant battle, and on occasion, my father would be critical of Francis being groomed to continue "the exploitation" of the port workers by the owners of Kingston Wharves, along with the other owners comprising the membership of the Shipping Association of Jamaica. My father's pet phrase in opposing them was "not over my dead body" would "Kennedy and shippers" get away with whatever it was they were proposing or "demanding".
trade and investment
In 1998, I was privileged to be one of the organisers of a trade and investment mission from the US to Jamaica that comprised minority and women business owners from America seeking to enter into joint ventures and make investments in the Jamaican economy. On the agenda was a visit to Grace Kennedy & Company Limited, representing a large Jamaican business, and to the Jamaica Stock Exchange.
A friendship was established, and my partners and I suggested doing a second mission the following year in October and invited Grace Kennedy to be one of the local sponsors, along with JAMPRO. At the 1999 mission, Kennedy, and Morin Seymour, in their capacities as chairman and executive director, respectively, of the Kingston Restoration Corporation (KRC), approached us from the NMBC - John Robinson, president, Fritz Earle McLymont, managing director of the NMBC Global, and me - to assist in identifying and attracting American resources in establishing "an empowerment zone" to downtown Kingston. "We don't want to try and reinvent the wheel," was how Paco put it, knowing that the US government was emphasising empowerment zones as development mechanisms throughout America.
A working relationship was established between the KRC and the NMBC, but as too often happens, and to the detriment of Jamaica's development, changes in the political leadership kill projects and thwart progressive moves intended to drive growth and development.
The request of Mr Kennedy and Mr Seymour, however, acted as a stimulus to me and Mr McLymont, as Jamaican-born US entrepreneurs, to continue our interests in Jamaica. I continued working with Mr Kennedy and Mr Seymour by establishing, in 2006, Sounds & Pressure, a company committed to the cultural value of Jamaican music to drive tourism in downtown Kingston.
Paco became a committed supporter of the Sounds & Pressure mission. And he supported not only with words, but action, by mentioning in meetings with government and other officials, the importance and significance of Sounds & Pressure to the long-term vision of revitalising downtown Kingston. And as he moved from the chairmanship of one entity to the other - KRC, Urban Development Corporation, Kingston City Centre Improvement Company - he did not shun focusing on Sounds & Pressure. And on two occasions when we were confronting large bills, he contributed to offsetting these costs. He and Mr Seymour impressed upon us the importance of having a strategic business plan done.
He advised us not to continue the tour of the musical heritage sites in downtown Kingston until we got financing to renovate and make better attractions of them. He counselled us not to depend much on the Government long before it became popular to cry paucity of the state coffers, he made us aware that "they have no money". Once I mentioned to him the irony of the labour disagreements between our fathers and us working together, and he chuckled in his infectious way and said, "The old scoundrels."
Whenever I was in Jamaica and had to meet with him outside of office hours, we would do so at the Terra Nova, and even when I broadcast ahead that it was my treat, he always, with grace, humility, and genuineness, paid the bill. And he never failed to ask how my wife was doing in her fight against lung cancer.
Earlier this year, John Robinson, in his capacity of president of the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum in the United States, with affiliation with the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle, contacted me with a suggestion to nominate Francis Kennedy to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The next induction ceremony and dinner is in Seattle in April 2015. And if accepted, it would make Mr Kennedy the first non-American businessman to be so inducted, joining an illustrious company of 50 great Americans such as John H. Johnson, Reginald Lewis, Earl Graves Sr, and Ernesta Procope, who have contributed to minority business growth and development in the US and internationally. I made the application for his nomination, and the management of the Hall of Fame contacted him about it.
It sounded splendid and well deserving of a man of Paco's achievements. Yes, he was born into wealth and privilege and possessing the right colour to strive in the Jamaican society, but he built upon what he inherited, in contributing in making Grace Kennedy one of the largest conglomerates in the Caribbean and strived relentlessly in giving back to the city of Kingston, in particular to downtown Kingston, as highlighted in The Gleaner's editorial of Wednesday, October 29. I saw him as a statesman, one who was not driven to use his position for personal gain, but as his civic duty to make Jamaica, and in particular Kingston, a better place.
Upon my planned return to Jamaica in November, I intended to call him and remind him to take it easy. Knowing of his medical condition from earlier in the year, I had expected for him to not seek re-election as president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and was surprised that he had been returned to that position.
His death has left a great void for Jamaica. I can only hope that it will serve as an inspiration in making progress towards restoring pride and prosperity to downtown Kingston.
Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds is a writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur operating in the US and Jamaica. His novel, 'A Reason For Living', will soon be published. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.