The world can seem an awful place at times, the young die early, the good suffer while the bad it seems lives a happy and contented life, that those who try to make it from the bottom seem to always end up shafted by the system and the beasts that it creates. This, however, is not true (though the obstacles are real and plenty) and history both past and present is replete with examples of persons who have risen from nothing to become maybe not billionaires, but solidly middle class.
Examples of rags to riches stories are plenty in the world generally and Jamaica specifically. The prime historical example for me as it relates to overcoming life’s obstacles is George Stiebel the patriarch of Devon House. Now it is true that Mr Stiebel was not born into poverty (the fact that he could afford to go to high school in those days speaks to that), however he was born to a Black mother and a Jewish father which in those days (and now) invited much harassment of both the racial and anti-Semitic type. Now here we have a man who is automatically disadvantaged because of his skin colour and fathers religion, a man who faced social discrimination, a man who dropped out of high school and became a carpenter to make ends meet, and yet through graft and grit, he became Jamaica’s first black millionaire. This is a man whom after all the nastiness and hardships that society laid upon him was a massive philanthropist and a man with a deep understanding of the socio-economic needs of the masses during his time, and while he wasn’t perfect (who among us really is) he showed that in this country, sometimes if you work hard enough your efforts are rewarded.
Another prominent and easy example is that of Michael Lee-Chin and his rise to riches from humble beginnings. Here we have a man who was born in pre-independence Jamaica, again of bi-racial origins and again facing the racism and classism that came with that along with the fact that he did not come from a wealthy background. Again we have a person who didn’t have much growing up, made his way through school, took on a lowly landscaping position as his first job and eventually paid his way through school in Canada. After his studies and after much shrewd investing he has become the poster child of Jamaican success what with his Portland Holdings, and again even though not perfect has given much to his nation of birth and is at least trying (in the way he knows best) to improve a lot of the nation as a whole. Again here we have a shining example of a person overcoming life’s obstacles to become a success.
An example further afield of a person who rose from nothing to become a success story of the ages is that of Benito Juarez. Now Juarez unlike the above mentioned was dirt poor at birth and lost both parents as an infant, he was of full Indian (American Indian) descent and again like those mentioned above faced the ridicule and racism that came with it (on a larger scale too because he didn’t have the luxury of being a mestizo). He went through a long period of his life uneducated and working hard, but again through graft, hard work and his skills, he not only became the president of Mexico, he became what is probably the greatest Mexican full-stop (and this in a land that is home to many legendary figures).
Yes, the world is harsh, and yes there are many obstacles put up (quite a few deliberately set up too), but persons can and do regularly rise to the top in spite of them. Looking at Jamaica again, the majority of us who are of African, Indian or Chinese descent and are either middle-class or rich owe our success (and that of our children) to our fore-parents who rose above those very same obstacles of what was then blatant racism, classism and in most cases abject poverty, to either slog their way up the totem pole, or to ‘ban dem belly’ as we would say in order to send their children to school (while drilling into them that they had to work ten times harder for success) and ensure that they rose from the mire that they were born in. We face many obstacles in our lives, many are high mountain peaks and seem insurmountable, but (and I’m sorry for sounding corny here) even Everest was conquered, all of us face our Everest, whether we climb it or not is in many ways our choice.