Mon | Feb 6, 2023

MenTour|Born leader: Teen tries to stay positive amid the pandemic

Published:Friday | April 23, 2021 | 12:11 AMKareem LaTouche/Gleaner Writer

Described by his principal as a ‘born leader’, Seth Stephenson* sits on his chair, with a knapsack on his thigh, a stoic look on his face, and a black slippers to go with his school uniform.

His assertiveness during our conversation is noteworthy, as his responses reflect analysis and a sense of practicality to any question he is asked. “At first, many teachers thought he was rude, because he didn’t back down from anybody. He would listen to your side of the story, then he would insist you hear his side. When I assessed him, I realised he reasoned like a man and not necessarily like a boy,” disclosed his principal.

INNER- CITY LIFE

Stephenson was quick to highlight that he has had to endure a lot of mental trauma from a tender age, as he navigated his way through inner- city life. “At primary school, I had this friend name Clayton, he was always a funny person. He had to pass some rough communities to go home and one day some boys tried to rob him. He started to fight back and dem stab him up and kill him. When I heard the news it hurt me bad, sir, come in like nobody nuh care,” revealed Stephenson.

Multiple cases like these have led non-profit groups like UNICEF to partner with Fight for Peace in 2019, to help children cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an article published by UNICEF, child psychologist Dr Ganesh Shetty stated, “A lot of these kids are robbed of their childhood or exposed to violence like witnessing domestic violence and gun violence at school.”

A 17-year-old, Stephenson is also no stranger to hardship, growing up in an inner-city community, in St Andrew, that is plagued with crime and unemployed males. “One night while coming back from the shop, a car stopped in front of me. Then I saw some men come out with guns and robbed a lady. It kinda shake me up, sir, because I was so close to everything.”

Rather than being the victim, he has been tempted to be the perpetrator, like some of his friends who seek to achieve economic empowerment, by turning to a life of crime.

“More time, you pass a corner with some bad men and dem pree you fi months, to see if you can hold your mouth and if you are cold-hearted. Then dem give you something to hold and see if you can manage it, you keep it, if not dem tek it back.”

The reality of this lifestyle was evident on March 9, when a 16-year-old boy allegedly linked to the Indiscipline Gang died of gunshot wounds, following a shoot-out between the police and gunmen in Rose Town, Kingston.

JAMAICAN ECONOMY

The trend of teen-related crimes has been growing upwards, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, where the Jamaican economy has taken a massive hit. This was revealed by Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke. He disclosed that the pandemic has decimated foreign exchange inflows, which accounts for a major portion of Jamaica’s revenue stream.

In a Gleaner article, he reported that foreign exchange inflows from tourism are expected to fall by 74 per cent for the 2020-21 fiscal year, or a US$2.5-billion decline, which he said has set back the country by 30 years.

Stephenson’s household has faced the brunt of these consequences as his father, the main breadwinner, passed away in November 2019. “He was a taxi driver, sir, every morning him get up and go out to work. He used to eat unhealthy for years and that start mess up everything. By the time he tried to change, he got a stroke and blood clot in his brain,” Stephenson recollected.

With this glaring experience, he started looking for a job to make up for the financial deficit at home. “I really started to look a job once my father got sick. I had to figure out how to feed myself and contribute to the house. So I started washing some pots for a lady and this took up a lot of my school time. I really want to go to class, but reality come first.”

After missing several months of class, Stephenson is hoping to create a balance with work and school, as he seeks to get his academic life back on track. “I am really praying that I can start going back to face-to-face class, sir, because I would have a better chance of learning this way. Before the pandemic, I was doing really good, especially in my electrical class.”

MenTOUR sessions are aimed at encouraging and motivating at-risk male teens to stay on a constructive path. The Youthlink-endorsed initiative is held at high schools islandwide both virtually and in person and is sponsored by Foska Oats and Betting, Gaming and Lottery Commission.

*Name changed to protect identity.