Easier to build strong children than to repair broken men
While many of the island’s working men’s, community and sports clubs are victims of their own failure to adapt to changing social, familial and business dynamics, they remain relevant and necessary to the micro-communities they serve while combining to influence — positively and negatively — the whole of Bermuda.
Michael Weeks, the Minister of Social Development and Sport, has under his remit, the clubs as affiliates of various sporting governing body charities.
The likes of the Bermuda Football Association and Bermuda Cricket Board, the custodians of the national sports, are the greatest examples of those who are beneficiaries of annual budgetary grants.
From a golden age of these clubs as profitable pillars of positive community and social involvement in the development of island youth, and gathering places for those of all ages and demographics, modern Bermuda has exposed a tragically dysfunctional and fiscal bankruptcy in the system, with the clubs, rather than acting purely as well-shaping safe havens, all too often painted as associates to the gang violence and other antisocial behaviours that afflict the country.
However, while acknowledging the changed scope that today’s clubs operate within, and how their failure to “modernise and keep up” with what such changes entail in terms of providing needed social services or avenues have aided their downfall, Weeks retains faith they have positive roles to play.
Only, though, if they adapt to maintain viability in positive community development and social interaction and development.
Weeks, who with the imprisonment of his sons in Britain this week for drug dealing, was given close-up view of the pitfalls of young men going off course, highlighted how too many discussions about the institutions start and end with that of the antisocial element that has attached itself, rather than the upwardly mobile and positive products — men that have come through these same systems, and have upheld reputable norms and enhanced Bermudian society.
“The community and sporting clubs in Bermuda have to come into the 21st century,” the minister said. “We focus a lot on the negative part of the community and sporting clubs. A lot of these [troubled] young men have been produced by these clubs, but that’s where our conversation stops.
“A lot of these successful black men that used to walk around in shirt and tie, much like myself, have also been produced by these clubs — and that is where my conversation goes. What happens is this and it’s important, so I tell this true story, sort of like a parable of what happened relevant to illegally sanctioned elephant poaching in south-west Africa.
“There was some poaching going on of the ivory tusks from mature elephants, whereby the poachers were killing the mature elephants and taking their tusks, and an unintended consequence of this was that the young elephants were being allowed to run wild without guidance.
“Now some of the white men wanted to simply slaughter the young elephants because they were stampeding the area and causing trouble to crops, and being generally disruptive in their behaviour.
“However, one of the elders in the area tribe suggested they hold tight and go to Kenya, gather a herd of more mature bulls and bring them down to the area being ravaged by the young upstarts.
“So they brought the bulls down and planted them in the middle of the tribal area, and the result was that all the stampeding stopped, the destruction of crops stopped and relative peace again prevailed.
“Now what’s the moral or lesson to the story? It’s that once the men were brought back into the fold, they were able to nudge the youth back into a more civilised and socially beneficial manner.
“So while some would want to simply kill to eliminate the problem, the elder or wise men understood their true value and sought to salvage the youth. This applies and fits in our community.”
Weeks estimates that seven of ten black men have emerged from these clubs, gone overseas and become educated, returning successfully to translated their gained knowledge into career and life success.
However, many are said to have detached themselves or have failed to reconnect in a tangible, beneficial way with the very club that produced them.
Instead, these men often venture into the government, private and corporate sectors, enjoying the trappings of this success amid the higher social classes while forsaking the very institutions that helped to raise them to the heights they now enjoy.
This separation has led to what has been described as a “brain drain”, whereby the expertise needed to operate is greatly diminished.
As a result, the lack of administrative business acumen and foresight have contributed to the present state of general disrepair.
“Rather than go around the club that produced us, like ‘The Barn’ [Dandy Town’s former wooden residence on St John’s Road, where the minister was raised and became vice-president], we want to go to Front Street and socialise,” Weeks said, the passion dripping from his every word. “All of sudden, the Cockspur ‘n’ Coke that you drank around at The Barn is not good enough because the water’s brown and something about that drink does not taste sharp, so they go to Front Street for what they perceive as a higher standard or the grass being greener.”
Desmond Crockwell, the anti-violence activist and founder of Visionz magazine, which emphasises the pitfalls of antisocial behaviour through the lenses of those having experienced its destructive manner, agrees that the more mature men must be involved if the younger ones are to be redirected positively.
He noted how statistics point to the exact scenario of the young elephants falling in line under mature guidance, with gang activity and violence known to diminish during periods when these have been employed to go out and speak to these “monsters” bent on destroying societal norms while sincere interest and care.
Crockwell’s view?: “We try to get older guys that have ‘been there and done that’ to contribute their stories to our magazine and also to speak out among their communities as a way of giving back.
“Statistically, we saw violence drop during those periods because young men respect older people, especially those they can relate to in their communities.”
Weeks describes himself as a living example of the club system, which has produced productive males in great numbers, and owes a debt of gratitude to many who have aided and directed him into adulthood.
The island’s clubs, particularly the black-dominated clubs that appear most adversely affected, require an assessment of their infrastructure, and for business and social structuring to be examined with a view to making them fiscally profitable and self-sustaining.
This is to be done while enhancing the helping services available to better understand and serve the young and old among the various communities.
“This ministry has been tasked from the last Throne Speech to do a needs assessment of the clubs to help them come into the 21st century, and this does not simply mean ‘bricks and mortar’,” Weeks said.
“They do need bricks and mortar, but a lot of them need love and other things. I’ll draw from a quote from Frederick Douglass, who said: ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’.”
He continued: “So other than the bricks and mortar, we have to focus on programmes. We may need to institute things like after-school tutoring, daycare services for our young and seniors ... I don’t have all the answers, but we need input and participation by all concerned.
“The reality is that before we got [racially] integrated, these clubs were all we had and we’ve had some of the most intelligent people come out of these workman, sporting and community clubs who have worked for the betterment of our people.
“It only went south when we stopped recognising the benefit that they were to us because they are where we came from, particularly we as black men.”
• Patrick Bean is a freelance sports writer who appears regularly on the radio talk show Sport Zone
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