We are missing a rite of passage for our youth
I would like to take time to do something I have not done enough of. Growing up as a young man for every boy can be a challenge.
I could only imagine that if for every age there is a unique challenge, then every neighbourhood, family, environment, school or even church produces its own specific circumstances for an individual's growth and development.
By the time I was approaching my teens, my father was already in his late fifties and I lived in a mixed neighbourhood. I never thought of being privileged because everywhere I went, particularly among my family, they all owned their own houses and many were self-employed.
Yet near and at the periphery of my neighbourhood, there were some who were indeed extremely poor — not having things such as glasses to drink from or dishes, three children sleeping in one bed, no toilet, etc.
I was always a target when I moved about beyond the neighbourhood to football matches or roamed the streets socially, not fully understanding why.
Fighting was the right of passage for boys in all my territories, aside from school. It included South Shore, Warwick, Cedar Hill and Camp Hill — or Hill Top — and Port Royal Field in Southampton. It's just the way it was; you played a game and would be lucky to escape without a scuffle with someone trying to earn a mantle.
However, that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a day that changed the equation for me. My neighbourhood cricket team, which was totally mixed, played a game against Southampton Rangers' junior team at the Empire Field.
We won, I was the top player with most runs and wickets. After the game, Willard Raynor, the coach, invited me to play for Southampton Rangers.
I could not believe my ears — “yes”, I gladly accepted. Before, it was a chore to walk up Camp Hill; these were my street enemies.
I can almost hear them now: “Ray Davis is down by Rollys getting ready to walk up the hill” and “Quick! He's coming!”.
I always had to keep my eyes on every opening or road because I knew they would be somewhere.
I joined the cricket camp led by Lee Raynor and Shiraz Ali, which went on every day. Southampton sports field was the venue for a free cricket clinic coached primarily by Lee or Shiraz, but occasionally attended by Eldon and Sheridan Raynor.
Suddenly, my feeling of being an alien was transformed. I was accepted; I'm now a Ranger. The fights did not end, but I was “in” and that was OK. I excelled in cricket, becoming a regular in the BCA team — the mixed league, ie, black and white. I also played for the Second Division team and, eventually, was the youngest regular member of the First Division at about 15.
I am one who never had a lot of clothes. As mentioned, my father was old-school: I got a set of clothes about twice a year, along with a pair of shoes. I guess when I appeared at the field, I must have looked like I was of the very poor because by summer my Easter clothes were pretty worn.
I recall Shiraz Ali took me to his home and gave me a complete set of cricket clothes. Doeskin, real doeskin pants and shirt, the sort of yellowish-white — not the bright-white, cheap clothing — and real cricket boots.
When I put them on, I felt like cricket. I would run up and down the field as though I was in Cup Match. Now I felt am really “in”; I am accepted and have clothes to prove it.
At this point, it is hard to complete the story because of the tears of gratitude. I need to thank Willard Raynor for that invitation and, in particular, Shiraz Ali for making me feel special. To be included also by the greatest team Bermuda will ever see is also worthy of mention. Before all those men pass, I wish to thank them. However, the reason for this column is to suggest that every boy and every girl needs something similar. It is better when we have some sense of feeling included.
Too many people struggle in that area. I know persons who have mental challenges, but are otherwise perfectly normal, their bane in life being the struggle to be accepted.
Often, young men, because the stereotyped “bad boy” image has become prevalent, walk and talk in an altered fashion simply to feel accepted. I did it and I'm sure, if we are all honest, many of us did it.
I look today and wonder why these young men wear their pants and have to hang them past their bums, where the real ornament is the underwear. They walk with their legs splayed to prevent the pants from falling off entirely.
It is hard to counter that behaviour when it's the world where they feel acceptance and have an affirmed dignity. I don't know who the Shiraz Ali is for them, but there has to be some equivalent who represents the normalcy we appreciate in our world, and who invites them to a more progressive mode.
We need to reach out in whatever way we can to save the world of youth, one hand at a time.
Thank you, Shiraz Ali and Willard Raynor, for the hand you extended me back in 1965 and thank you team for adopting the kid from up the street!