The Courage to Lead: A Heartfelt Breakfast with UWI Students

January 31st, 2016

My father sometimes came out with this extraordinary expression: “Screw your courage to the sticking-place.” He was a man of great courage himself, and although I was always a little vague about where the sticking-place was, I think I got the gist of it. This is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Of course, the courage I am talking about here is not about murdering a king, but about determination and fixity of purpose.

Minister Lisa Hanna: Leaders have to "dig deep" into their courage. (My photo)

Minister Lisa Hanna: Leaders have to “dig deep” into their courage. (My photo)

The University of the West Indies, Mona’s UWILeads got off to a vibrant start for the new semester last weekend. The Student Leaders’ Breakfast focused on “The Courage to Lead.” With Nadeen Spence, Student Services and Development Manager at UWILeads at the helm, I knew the focus would be right; but I must admit that the morning’s discussion went further and deeper than I expected. I did not regret having to get up at a disturbingly early hour on a Sunday morning. The coffee and conversation soon set me straight.

The students had the benefit of a passionate presentation by their guest speaker, broadcast journalist and businessman Cliff Hughes; as well as a conversation with three women politicians, who were frank and engaging (Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, Minister Lisa Hanna and Olivia Grange, M.P). Hughes pulled no punches: born in the year of Jamaica’s Independence, he said he had witnessed “thirty years of decline.” He had no illusions about the Michael Manley era of governance, describing the period of Manley’s leadership as “lost years” that did a great deal of damage. Interestingly, he also made a Shakespeare reference – Marc Antony’s funeral speech in Julius Caesar, which he studied at Excelsior High School. “The evil that men do lives after them” was perhaps the line he had in mind. So, we know Mr. Hughes is disappointed in our governance, and cynical about the political tribalism. So, Mr. Hughes, shouldn’t we just throw up our hands and give up?

No, said Hughes – in fact “Now is the time for you to step up.” There is much work to be done, and our young people need to get serious, was the message. What should their mission be? Whatever is in the best interests of Jamaica (Hughes’ patriotism is always quite striking). “We are proud,” he added, “but somehow we have lost our way.” Hughes challenged the students, asking them if they were on track, and ready for what UWI Guild Vice President Lavern King called “authentic leadership.” He asked them whether they were applying their knowledge, and using their powers of critical thinking? In other words, are they leaders or followers, going along with the flow of things?

Cliff Hughes believes young people should do what is in Jamaica's best interests when seeking leadership. Is this realistic? (My photo)

Cliff Hughes believes young people should do what is in Jamaica’s best interests when seeking leadership. Is this realistic? (My photo)

Hughes expressed a major concern that also resonates with me. He is worried that young people, whether in leadership or not, have bought into their elders’ model of political partisanship, “removing the notion that we are Jamaicans.” I wonder why this is; is it the lack of critical thinking that Hughes referred to? Or is it that following one’s elders guarantees a safe and secure path to success? Senator Malahoo Forte later commented that young people think they need to be “accepted” by older politicians to get ahead; but suggested they should “look critically at what politicians say and what they do.” For most of our young people, however, critical thinking may be a luxury they cannot afford; these days, it’s survival that counts.

And yet, Hughes emphasized, young aspiring leaders must be strong. “Without character,” he noted, “You are going nowhere…Character will anchor you.” Indeed, one must hang onto one’s principles for dear life; temptation is strong, corruption is around every corner, and times are hard. I asked Hughes to elaborate a little on the issue of character, and he told us about his own upbringing in Kingston’s inner city. His hard-working single mother instilled strong values into him and his four siblings. I should have asked this follow-up question, however: What if a young person has not been fortunate enough to have that kind of guidance while growing up? Where and how do you develop this character? Find a good role model, perhaps?

Olivia "Babsy" Grange, M.P., believes in the political status quo, and the parties as institutions. (My photo)

Olivia “Babsy” Grange, M.P., believes in the political status quo, and the parties as institutions. (My photo)

During the ensuing discussion, veteran Member of Parliament Olivia “Babsy” Grange (who in her speech inspired us with the courage of our National Heroes) observed: “You have to be in politics to make a difference.” She believes you must be working in the system, calling the two political parties “important institutions.” Yes, they are; but Hughes disagreed that it must be politics or nothing; just get involved in community leadership, he asserted. The important thing is to start somewhere.

President of the UWI Mona Guild of Students Davianne Tucker: "Execution is critical." (My photo)

President of the UWI Mona Guild of Students Davianne Tucker: “Execution is critical.” (My photo)

Our National Heroes were not educated or trained for politics, Ms. Grange pointed out to us. Cudjoe did not testify at parliamentary committees, nor did he speak at forums in uptown hotels. Minister Hanna encouraged student leaders to “dig very deep” into their reserves of courage – they will need them. The young UWI Mona Guild of Students leader Davianne Tucker advised her peers to be always ready to listen and learn; to surround oneself with “positive” people; to be flexible and patient.

Ms. Tucker made one important point too: “Execution is critical.” Once the talking is done, make sure it is done – and done properly. A courageous mindset is one thing; courageous action must follow.

Finally, although there is some doubt as to whether the man actually said it (many quotations are incorrectly attributed, these days) Cliff Hughes cited a famous saying by President of the United States Andrew Jackson:

One man with courage makes a majority.

One man with courage makes a majority.

Congratulations to UWILeads for their dynamism and their focus on issues that really matter. With the general elections likely to be just a few weeks away, this discussion was as relevant as it was stimulating.



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