Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Basil Jarrett | Where have all the heroes gone?

Published:Thursday | December 9, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Late cultural icon the Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley, ‘Miss Lou’.
Late cultural icon the Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley, ‘Miss Lou’.
Bob Marley
Bob Marley
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SO RIHANNA is now a national hero. To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand, I do believe that there needs to be a modern interpretation of what it means to be a national hero. I mean, slavery has been abolished since 1834, and...

SO RIHANNA is now a national hero. To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand, I do believe that there needs to be a modern interpretation of what it means to be a national hero. I mean, slavery has been abolished since 1834, and if the only measure of someone’s heroism is their fight for emancipation or their march for civil rights or national independence, then we would have already met our lifetime quota for national heroes. So I applaud this interesting twist on the concept of national hero. On the other hand, though, I can’t imagine the irony I will feel the first time I see Rihanna’s face on the same $100 bill that I’m using to pay for my Moët while making it rain in a Bajan nightclub.

So I’m not going to be drawn one way or the other on this Rihanna issue. But Barbados’ declaration and the news that it generated last week, gave me a moment to pause to ask, where are our own modern-day Jamaican heroes? If we took a leaf from the Barbados playbook, then a handful of persons would immediately head to the top of the queue. Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce would be obvious favourites, while oldies but goodies such as Bob Marley, Miss Lou and my personal dark horse, Oliver Samuels, could start dusting off their CVs.

Modern-Day National Heroes

But I want to look a little bit deeper to ask:Where are those Jamaicans who are upholding the traditional ideals of what a national hero or heroine should be, and burning themselves into the national psyche of what we as a people should aspire to?

We may no longer have slavery or the civil rights movement or national independence to march for, or to fight against, but surely there are urgent, modern-day social ills to be opposed and defended against. Criminality, lawlessness, corruption, abuse of power, an unfair justice system, unequal access to healthcare, child neglect, classism, social prejudice, bad mind…where are the bulwarks that are willing to sacrifice personal and material gain in pursuit of the greater good? Where among us are those Jamaicans who are demonstrating real physical and moral courage, standing up against insurmountable odds, speaking truth to power, and, like Bogle, Sharpe and Gordon, willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the good of our nation?

I look around and, unfortunately, I don’t see enough of them. Too many of us are content to remain silent, turning a blind eye to our problems as a country while accepting social injustice and other maladies as simply the cost of doing business in Jamaica. Where are the Jamaicans who are speaking and acting out, challenging the norms of the day and demanding more from ourselves and from this great country? Never before in the history of mankind have we been blessed with such incredible access to communication technologies to amplify our voices and make our thoughts heard. Yet it appears that our sense of nation-building and activism has actually been dulled by this technology, with half of us content to hide behind our keyboards and Twitter burner accounts, while the other half is happy to just show up for the comments.

Say no to Corporate and individual greed

We must begin to risk sacrificing wealth, status, fame and fortune; to say ‘no’ to corporate and individual greed, selfishness, nepotism and abuse of power. Jamaicans must now stand up and become our own heroes. We must start to set examples for our children that teach that there are more valuable things in this life than ‘eating a food’ and beating the system. Integrity, ethics, morals, family, loyalty, principle, honesty, discipline, justice and doing the right thing are worth much, much more than material gain. If we do not do this, then we will always be at a disadvantage, always bemoaning how much better this beautiful country could be. Our silence will always be bought, and the haves will always have the have-nots under their heels.

As a student of Roman and Greek mythology, I’m a massive fan of movies such as 2000’s Gladiator. In that epic story of Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by a then much slimmer Russel Crowe, the movie’s hero addresses his loyal troops before a monumental battle. He tells them to imagine where they will be after the fight and reminds them that “What we do in this life, echoes in eternity.” We should all be asking ourselves, how will we be remembered when we are gone? What will our legacy be? How will history judge us? In my own quiet time of reflection, I ask myself these searching questions. How many people will remember the car I drove, the house I lived in or the companies or boards that I presided over? Not many, I hope, because my car leaks oil occasionally, my house has a termite problem, and the only board that I spend any amount of time on lately is the bench of my weekly basketball game. Instead, we should hope to be remembered for the good and true principles that we’ve defended, the less fortunate that we’ve stood up for, and the genuine friendship and loyalty that we’ve offered to our brothers and sisters. These things may not bring national hero status, and partygoers might not ‘shell down’ the bar with dollar bills with our faces on it. But like the Roman general, our stories and lessons of integrity, courage, principle and justice might just very well echo long after we are gone.

In putting this article together, I had the Bajan songstress on repeat in my playlist. I also did some research on her philanthropic and charitable work for UNICEF and her home country, combating HIV/AIDS, paediatric cancer, and child hunger. Really impressive and, dare I say it, heroic stuff. It has certainly changed my view of her somewhat. Now I won’t feel so bad the next time I’m raising my glass to the weekend and pouring it up in the club, if and when they ever reopen, that is.

Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a communications consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management.