THERE’S NOTHING like a sports victory to uplift everyone’s spirit, but what do those victories really mean? While we celebrate the Trinidad and Tobago men’s win in the 4x400-metre relay last Sunday at the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in London, England, I wonder what lessons we can learn from the victory Jarrin Solomon, Jereem Richards, Machel Cedenio and Lalonde Gordon earned for this country. How can we use such wins to inspire us as a nation?
Every day I ask myself why we have young men who can demonstrate such faith, courage and determination, and then have other young men who fail to achieve on an equally stunning level. There must be a way to make these sports lessons life lessons so that they can be applied to help more young men achieve their goals.
For a brief time — less than three minutes on Sunday — Solomon, Richards, Cedenio and Gordon made us all forget the problems this country faces. They restored hope in our young men, and so we replayed their victory over and over on the Internet. I did just that, marvelling every time at the determination of these young men. It certainly uplifted my spirits until I learned that the Pizza Boys down the street from me had just been robbed.
Then, I began to wonder, once again, why is that some young men stay on the right track and some go down the wrong road? Is anyone in this country trying to figure this out? Sports victories always create a buzz about pouring more money into sports, but what about other ways we have of paving a successful path for our young men?
Who is looking at how to elevate poor boys in poor communities — or even in our prisons, for that matter — so that young men can have the opportunities to succeed — not just in sports, but in life?
With the kind help of the Ministry of Community Development and the former Ministry of Justice, I introduced a skill-based programme in the Port of Spain Prison and marvelled at how excited young men were to learn how to make furniture from PVC pipe.
Most young men want to succeed, but too many teenagers and young men in this country don’t have support. They are lost souls battered and abandoned in our schools that don’t dig deep enough to discover their gifts or support their dreams.
Some boys are lucky enough to have a supportive family. They are strong enough to conjure up their own dreams and go after them, but sadly this is not the case for many young men. We forget success doesn’t come from a vacuum. It comes because someone — a parent, friend, teacher or coach — singles out a young man for praise and development.
Our schools only nurture the boys that are not deemed difficult. Our educational system skims from the top, educating those who can neatly fit into the colonial system of education while casting aside the ones whose gifts are not easy to identify. Often, these are the most creative ones. I know because I find them in prison.
In this country, we have become very complacent in writing off our young men. We jump on the bandwagon when they do us proud in sports, but flippantly reduce their failures to some simplistic notion like having no father at home, as though their failure can be reduced only to that.
So, I ask again. What does it mean when young men succeed in this country? What does it show us, and how can we learn from it?