Wed | Feb 8, 2023

Kareem’s Quest: Azeela sticking by his son’s side

Published:Friday | June 18, 2021 | 1:00 AMKareem LaTouche/Gleaner Writer
Freedom Skate Park is located in Bull Bay, St Andrew.
Donald ‘Azeela’ Valentine (left) and his son, Cory.
1
2

A little over a year ago, Bull Bay was one of the first communities to be quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic. Residents were fuming at how food items were being shared and the stigma that was attached to them. However, during the ordeal, a group of people worked arduously to build a skate park, boost the morale of the children, and keep them on a constructive path.

Even with the ordeal of COVID-19, sections of the community have not been able to evade the tentacles of crime, and, as such, the park has become a safe haven for many of the youths in the environs.

After a short drive past Harbour View towards Eight Miles, I drove for about 10 minutes before reaching the Freedom Skate Park. With the beaming sun directly over me and a large parking spot with no shade, I positioned my vehicle towards the perimeter wall.

At the entrance was an office in a container, with a Rasta behind the counter, and two adolescent males having a friendly chat. Their calm and welcoming mood set the tone for the entire venue, as everyone was in a joyful state. The office attendant quickly saluted me, saying, “Hey, is this your first time at the park?”

To which I confidently said, “Yes!”

He then proceeded to take me through the COVID-19 protocols before introducing me to the options available for first-time skaters. As much as I was eager to learn how to skate, I told him I was meeting the father of one of the skaters, Donald 'Azeela' Valentine, known by his stage name 'Azeela'.

DEDICATED FATHER

Azeela, a devout father to his son, Cory, has been teaching him how to skate from a young age. “I grew up in this community, and Billy Wilmot was very instrumental in introducing many of us to surfing and skating. So, when my son was very young, I passed on the knowledge by first putting him on a skateboard, in his diapers, and pushing him around the house,” the gleeful father recalls.

He speaks very candidly of his life, as well as the path he took, confessing that not all of his past decisions were good ones. “I used to be in the event-keeping business before Cory, but there were aspects of my lifestyle that I didn't like. So when I got him, I started to take Rastafari more seriously and changed some of my behaviours, knowing that he is watching me closely.”

The single parent, who is also a musician, made an amicable decision with Cory's mother to take sole custody of their child. “While she is a good person, I really never felt like she showed the level of responsibility that was needed to grow him. So I said, 'I'll take him, and you [his mother] can come and visit him when you want.' “

Now 10 years old, Cory is a renowned skater on the island, which has led him to appear in several music videos for artistes such as Romain Virgo and Protoje. “Sometimes when I see him skate, I'm in awe and sometimes, mi naah lie, I'm panicking. Because there are obstacle courses that are very dangerous and dropping is also a part of the sport. And if he gets a serious injury, it is me who will have to sit with him at Bustamante Hospital,” states a pensive Azeela.

The two share a very cordial relationship, more like that of mentee and mentor, as he reasons with Cory about life rather than chide him.

With the current state of the pandemic, Azeela has also had to spend less time in the studio and more time guiding his son. “Because they are doing homeschooling, I have to be over him to ensure he is doing the right thing. So I have not been able to record as much as I would like to, but I'm still grateful that Jah give me the strength to be a father to him.”

Fortunately for Azeela, Freedom Park has a homework programme in the afternoon, which Cory is a part of. This gives him well-needed personal time to work on his career and maintain balance in his life. “Round here, we take a community approach to things, like the African proverb. This is not a one-person thing. Everybody pitches in and gives motivation where it counts.”

For comments and feedback, email kareemsquest@gmail.com, or visit www.kareemsquest.com.

Fact Box

Who is it for: People who want to learn a new hobby.

Tip: Visit in the afternoon when the heat of the sun is not as intense.

What stands out: The cool free-spirit vibes that permeates the atmosphere.

What to carry: A cold beverage to drink and a small towel.

Degree of difficulty of activity: 3.5 out of 5

Must-try activity: A beginner's lesson in skating.

Contact: info@freedomskateparkja.com

Social media: @freedomskatepark

Location: Bull Bay, St Andrew

Length of journey from central points

Kingston: 30 minutes

Montego Bay: 2 hours 57 minutes

Ocho Rios: 1 hour 30 minutes

Savanna-la-Mar: 3 hours 50 minutes