I RUN an independent operation called RESCU. We don’t have all the resident equipment necessary, so there is juggling for ‘Free services’ from friends and sympathisers of the group. What we have is the knowledge base, mostly from experience and street-wise connections, to deliver on the subject matter we target, revolving around drug use and social culture pressures and lures towards delinquency. In 2018/19 we were invited by a headmistress of a school in Charlestown to talk to students. The headmistress insisted that we focus the presentation on her male students and provided some insights that I was familiar with.
Elton McCray, who was the tech man recording the session, and I arrived at the school. I divided the students into two gender groups and proceeded to address them. But before we reached the presentation, we did a little reconnaissance before any engagement by appearing on the location early, while preparations such as moving of desks and benches are going on and reached out to the children, since we were not dressed formally. We are most times interpreted as workmen until session time. By then we’ve got some targets on the ball, this time was no different. There was one group of young males, with a prime talker who identified his ambition to be a songwriter; another wanted to own a store, etc. So when the session began I identified this group to come up front as the conduit group to deflect by identifying others when the session conversation currents rise and fall.
The sum of the engagement was that the school has a library. In questioning the wannabe musician, he knew nothing about the history of music from a Guyana perspective, even to the 70s-80s. He didn’t know about the ‘String Bands’ nor of local singers whose talents persisted even without legal and institutional support, even though from the late 80s onward the boom box-music sets had eclipsed the talent-driven bands, except for Jazz groups that performed at the ‘Side Walk Cafe’ and a few other places. With every foreign act imported here, they brought their ‘Bands’ but mediocrity overwhelmed our scene, especially since local drug cartels had taken over local and imported public entertainment, eclipsing the success of over 100 years of string band entertainment and excellence.
This music-ambitious youth was in deep trouble. I didn’t want to direct deflection that sufficed a blame-game shift to the school’s official limitations; the aim was to deal with the enthusiasm of the individual student as peer inspiration. This is where the problem began: there was hesitation and resistance from this youth and his ‘posse’ with respect to a relationship with the library. His body language — glances to approving males across the multitude — expressed his response to my insistence on visiting and exploring the library. “ No sir, I don’t go in the library,”he said. Obviously, the library was now “Sissy territory.” In my school days, you had to be tough for the Friday afternoon grudge fight, and you also had to not fall below seventh space in a 20-something class population at term exams, to be cool. So our ‘Student’s companion, the First Aid in English’ and the library were musts. I also had ‘class artist’ on my side, to the irritation of my teachers, because most of the Valentine hearts and other tasks looked familiar.
None of the males responded affirmatively when I asked for career choices, so I turned to the young ladies for comparative help. To my surprise, the group who were positioned upfront wanted to be Lawyers, Civil Engineers, a novelist, etc. The young male who wanted to open his business was reluctant to discuss how he would finance the initial stage of his business. I emphasised the necessity of research, using the need to understand what a ‘Power of Attorney’ is and can mean if you inherit or own a house, need to be out of Guyana and place the wrong expression of this document into the hands of someone you trust, but should not. If the school library does not have this information, then the school librarian will advise you to a library that does. I urged the male students to choose a constructive career and break away from stupid and unproductive advice, or they’ll be working for the young ladies in the front bench in less than the next 10 years. To follow the dreams and passions you have to you’ll need to, or naturally lose some friends in doing the right thing.
I discussed the complexities of that engagement at home (which was never published on the RESCU Facebook page because McCray never got the video-computer-collaboration fixed). While doing this article, I was wondering if the crossover of females into once-considered male domains was the cause for some male sub-culture reaction based on passed social norms, but where would these youths get that phobia from? As a young man, women were already breaking those norms. My daughter had a more practical interpretation.
At her school those cross-over discussions never generated gender-based inclusiveness. She also suggested that unless a school has a robust, functional industrial composite, inclusive of an IT hub, a feeling of being disadvantaged would creep into the mindset, because also, the costs of higher education in those areas are prohibitive, though in-school experience would be a definite step on the threshold. My wife did indicate that though cooking is perceived as a female domain, the options for professionals of the field (Chefs) are predominantly male. Wherever the interpretations lead, there need to be interceptions, and the Headmistress understands this. A generation of men was told that men will always get by; they will always find something to do. That era is gone. Semi-literate muscle labour is a thing of the past, as facilitating multitude employment to support current livelihoods, this is our reality, whether we act on it or not.