Gran’s Dedication

My beautiful grandmother died today at 82 – May 19, 1920 – July 7, 2012.

I dedicate all of my work on The Jamaica Land We Love GALA in memory of my late grandmother, Olga May Thompson-Stewart-Hanson. In fact, I dedicate it to all Jamaican Grand-Mothers as we are all too familiar with the importance of their care. Mine was my hero, my champion, always consistently steps ahead, planning, plotting, persistently scheming toward my best. What a privilege to honor her on this occasion by employing all I have learnt for my land of birth; not only from her examples, her learned and even more brilliant unlearnedness, but also from all she caused through others, having steered me here. She is indelible, stoic and strong, the grandmaster among my mentors: by all of whom, I am the grateful amalgam, the bliss-filled harmony, the blessed out of many, one. It is sweetly symbolic and ironic that Gran gained her purest independence on this milestone of Jamaica’s 50th. And so I am humbled with the opportunity to offer her this thanks. I am forever in your debt, my sweet, selfless, lady Gran. This one is for you.

Taj Mahal, India

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Stars, sparkling, mystical in your eyes,
Hopes, high, flung up to the sky.
Feet, firm, naked on the ground,
In stillness, you fly.
Joy is your creativity.
Love is your goal.
Peace, your pinnacle.
And Light, your soul!
Yes, fly…

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Wishing you the best of the best in 2011 my friend.

~ Namaste, Len

image: Sabriya  Simon

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Forward From ObamaMania

I will forever remember Aretha Franklin hitting it home at the 56th Inaugural of the 44th President of the United States, Barak Hussein Obama, as she paradoxically belted out, ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ to the tune of ‘God Save The Queen.’ “Land where my fathers died…” symbolized so very much for so many. Our Queen (Mum) of Soul went on to wail, on and on, over every corner of the world, “Let Freedom Ring.” Eloquently, she set the stage for a future of ‘Change’ in the good ole US of A.

I was one of thirty-eight Canadians who hopped onto the ObamaMania Bus, in the wee hours of Saturday January 17th, to journey twelve anxious hours to Washington to live this moment live. Ranging from ages 12 to 70, diverse belief systems and heritage — Black, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, European and American expatriate, we placed our lives in the hands of a recalcitrant driver we had chartered for the ride. Dream-filled and determined however, we overcame, on this the most cathartic trek of our privileged lives. The seniors onboard recanted times when this would have been dismissed as audacious and unreal. Some of the youth among us who had previously been considered at risk looked now to be inspired, while the professionals claimed respite from busy schedules to honor what our joint struggle had come to realize. Renowned photographer, Michael Chambers and insightful documentary filmmaker, Marta Neilsen, focused their lenses to capture the emotions, the euphoria and beats, as each and every voice lifted and sung with glee, “…to Thee.”

On Sunday, many rose for 8:00 a.m. worship at the Washington National Cathedral. And were thrilled to learn that ironically, the ornately sculpted pulpit within this gorgeous architectural cavern was the site of Martin Luther King’s final sermon. Shivers immediately shot up my spine as I visualized him there, so many years before this manifest of his visionary Dream.

Later, we collected others and merged with half a million more for the free ‘We Are One’ concert at the symbolic Lincoln Memorial. This two-hour outdoor love fest pumped rhythm into our souls, warmed us with ‘One Love’ and revved up us to ‘Shout,’ foot-stomping country style. Pausing ‘In the Name of Love,’ Bono reminded us that “This is not just an American dream, but also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream…an Israeli dream and a Palestinian dream.” And an elegant Beyonce ushered us into the future with an all star ‘America the Beautiful’ grande finalé. The ObamaMania was sweeping, love and goodwill palpable, inescapable but the brotherhood did not end there. On our way home, chilled to the bones, buoyed up and full of pride, we were gifted with two free bus rides, as none had the requisite exact fare of $1.35. On the second, in thanks, we offered up our own command performance of ‘O Canada’ and everyone cheered. Back in the warmth of our hotel, we giddily relived the day’s adventure for we had become one family, not only with our fellow Canadians but also with all of whom we had and had not yet met.

Monday the 19th, Martin Luther King Day, a day of service, many of us wiled it away in newly formed bonds, revisiting history and imagining the future at admission-free Smithsonian galleries and museums. Some scoured the scores of Obama-endorsed, makeshift souvenir stands searching for memorabilia to bring back home the love. Much of it was garish and repetitive as if one supplier had cornered the mass market. Still though, enough was unique, crafted carefully with hope and pride. Free enterprise, like cobblestones, paved Washington sidewalks while the consuming crowds, a ravenous waking giant, gobbled it all up expanding and redoubling itself as day set into night. We all took pause to dream of what we would do, once home, to aid our own in need.

Inaugural Day, January 21st, up at 3:00 a.m., many of us excitedly layered on our warmth, bagged our lunches, donned our Canadiana and braved the cold to board our Canada Coach at 4:00. Due to strict security precautions, our surly driver deposited us some distance from Washington’s National Mall and catapulted us into our greatest challenge yet. Cold and driven, we emerged from Union Station only to fall in behind thousands more. But the bitingly cold dawn could not diminish our euphoria for this was to be the day the world would truly transform. We hoisted our Maple Leaves and trooped on like soldiers as hoards of passersby warmed us with heartfelt cheers, “Yeah Canada!” People streamed in endlessly and the crowds swelled rapidly. Gridlock stared us all in the face. “The gates will open at 8:00 am.” “We had previously been told 5:00.” As daylight peeked and the dark night sky faded slowly into blue, our once eager faces were to freezing into place and our spirits dared threaten to wane. We became desperate, sought out aid and found a large and forceful officer guarding a discrete gate. After engaging with him in a fiery exchange, we managed to convince his calm partner that all of us had been invited to a reception at the Canadian Embassy only steps away. Eventually and miraculously, we were nodded through, “Canadian! Canadian! Canadian!…” And all fourteen were in! Then instantly like a mirage, our oasis was in sight, rows of red and white flags fluttering proudly aloft the Embassy in the brisk morning haze. We jumped joyously for our freedom, the officer’s kinship, and visions of warm Canadian smiles. Out fearless leader, Patricia Scarlett of Scarlett Media, championed selflessly to admit everyone, but in the end, only those key to the documentary would be allowed through our own unwelcoming gates. I dared to enquire of the icy woman who tried to wall us all out, “Are you Canadian?” But was in no way surprised at her defensive “I am” in retort. We resigned to concede the fight for sadly it was one of our own that had forced us to break up and buck up to brave the rest of the day. At 11:55 am, at the first sparkle of sunlight, the first Black leader of the United States was officially sworn in with the Oath. The salute of twenty-one guns and torrents of impassioned, tear-filled, cheers ensued. Each boom seemed more amplified in profound underscore to the magnificence of the time.

A tall skinny Black man with large ears, a funny name, and no family connections to Washington’s power elite, had dared to dream of becoming the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Many had tried to dissuade him but he held fast to his vision. Now, 6 months into his presidency, popularity in the balance, he continues to champion on, to revive the economy, improve healthcare and increase opportunities for all through education. These would normally be daunting tasks for faint of heart. And many continue to wince that he’s taking on too far much. But Barack Obama has already proved his backbone, dare and mettle in becoming President. I look forward to January 2012, when we can all cheer again in triumph, well-done and welcome back.

– Len D. Henry

 

The Return of the Prodigals

On September 26th, 2006, I departed Toronto on my maiden trek home to, the motherland, Africa. I am pleased to share a few of the blessings of this incredible voyage. I am grateful to Carole Adriaans, Founder/President of South African Women for Women (S.W.W.W.) and Board Member, Gwen Coffen for hosting my inimitable pal, Kevin Pennant and I on this expedition. Prior to departure, we had produced a very special event featuring some of Canada’s brightest stars, to commemorate S.A.W.W.’s 10th Anniversary, The 50th Anniversary of The Women’s March to Pretoria and to recognize Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, S.A.W.W.’s Woman of Distinction 2006 Award. In gratitude of our efforts, Carole generously invited us to be her special guests at Bishop Desmond Tutu’s 75th Birthday Gala in Johannesburg, on October 7th. A gesture I will never forget.

 After two days airborne, we landed in Johannesburg. We floated through a few divine moments with Bishop Desmond Tutu, then flew an additional two hours to Cape Town, where, atop Table Mountain, way above the clouds, I had my first epiphany. I suddenly actualized that though I have been proud all along of my Jamaican heritage, Jamaica in fact, was but a stop over. “Africa is my home”. And with that ‘the good the bad and the ugly’ raced into my soul at a dizzying and most disarming rate.

Carole and Gwen immersed us in the history, lore and eccentricities of South Africa through their friends, acquaintances and indelibly etched memories. Passionate and painful stories unfolded at lunches in Kamammas’ kitchens, at dinner parties hosted by colored South African socialites; groundswell performances by children, youth and diamond in the rough artistes; surreal tours of oppressive black townships; tragic colored districts and white wine country. From Cape Town to Johannesburg, tour guides, white Lisa, colored Ronel, black Lutendo and black-come-colored couple Mandisa and Ronnie, confirmed and affirmed Carole and Gwen’s recollections of South Africa’s apartheid years. Kevin and I were rendered speechless.

The ever-reverend Ronnie christened us with Xhosa names; Carole/Thenjiwa (trusted), Gwen/Sindiswa (protected), Kevin/Monwabisi (happinessmaker), me/Daluxolo (creator of peace) and delivered us to our Atlantic baptism on a beach ironically called Monwabisi. On top of that, a newfound genius/friend, the Muslim philosopher Mohammed, tale after tale, schooled us in the history of religion and South Africa from his perch way above The Cape. He so amused us so much we had to return for more at the restaurant of Peter, ‘the Greek’. What joy. What passion!

Kevin, Mama Gwen and I sailed the Atlantic to Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island cell and were altered by the former inmate/guide’s authentic accounting of how it really was. We were crippled and simultaneously fortified by Mr. Mandela’s will and fortitude to have survived and triumphed. Next, Franschoek, Khayelitsha, Langa, Stellenbosch, we then toured the Garden Route to Oudstshoorn, Knysna, Port Elizabeth and Addo. We rested at a variety of five-star B&B’s, where we were continually faced with reminders of the atrocities of Apartheid. Blacks staff white-run and owned establishments, where ‘we couldn’t before’ – so now, why and how? Conflicted passions consumed us with increasing fervor and the days zoomed by. The deal was finally sealed at a squatters’ camp in Soweto when an impoverished yet spirited South African brother joyously and profoundly greeted Kevin and I with ‘Welcome HOME my Brothers’. We got it. And as if for the first time in my life, I wept.

By the time we got back to Johannesburg, as Kevin spins it, I “got booted off the island.’’ This was largely due to our unique vulnerabilities coupled with the many challenges we all have had to face. So alas, I did not make it to the Gala. But I’m genuinely thrilled for Kevin that he did. He again met the Bishop along with Alfre Woodard, Samuel Jackson, Carlos Santana and the incredible Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela, to name a few of the 700 global guests. What a thrill!  I was genuinely pleased when I heard because you see, Kevin and I really fused our friendship on this journey. Everything he experienced, I experienced. Everything I experienced, he experienced. It had been the standard, for us as friends, to approach challenges from different perspectives, but on this journey we, more and more often, arrived at mirroring conclusions – a truly empowering co-journey.  As fate would have it, I was blessed to reconnect with an architect friend whom I had met only six months earlier in New York. Talk about six degrees.  Soon he and I came to realize that, though oceans apart, we had some very rare and special people in common. My new compatriot hosted me in Johannesburg and laid out for me, the new South Africa, the emerging black middle class, the new freedom to express – new life, new hope – such a treacherously “Long Walk To Freedom”, and still so many miles to rout.

I departed South Africa on October 8th for a scheduled trip to Cannes to attend my first ever, MIPCOM, one of the world’s premiere television and film markets.  The others stayed on for two additional days in Johannesburg. On their final morning, they joined the indomitable Winnie at her home for a private breakfast and the formal presentation of her S.A.W.W. award. ‘She is such a wonderful spirit’ Kevin lovingly recalls.

At MIPCOM, I joined my television colleague, Patricia Scarlett to sell our new television series “Making Fashion Reel’. My South African awakening opened, prepared and launched me perfectly into Cannes. I arrived with a new knowing, a quiet confidence and the most profound centeredness. I was adrenalized the moment I arrived in Cannes. We met a number of potential partners. Networking with familiar as well as new, local and international, industry friends within this forum went a long way in concretizing my fashcam dream. Everyone we met affirmed that “Making Fashion Reel” and the   fashcam concept is ‘exciting, fresh and new’ and ‘right for now’. What incredible joy on top of bliss!

Life – God’s divine plan continues to unfold. I wish you peace, love, joy and most importantly grounded gratitude on your blessed journey.

  – xo/Daluxolo