Club Enlightenment, a beacon of hope for Jamaican students (Part I)

L-R: M Club Enlightenment members Malik Vernon, Christopher Menzies, KayAnn Harrison, Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens, Samara Brown, Social Media Marketing Coordinator of OnPointPress.net and Kimani Veron.

L-R: Club Enlightenment members Malik Vernon, Christopher Menzies, KayAnn Harrison, Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens, Samara Brown, Social Media Marketing Coordinator for OnPointPress.net and Kimani Vernon.-Charles Glover Photo.

By Carmen Glover

During the period when he attended the prestigious high school Kingston College, in Kingston, Jamaica, Hector Stevens developed the gift of gab. As he progressed to the University of Technology, known in the 1980s as the College of Arts, Science and Technology, he majored in mechanical engineering while continuing to eagerly discuss ways to improve the circumstances faced by students across the island. It is therefore unsurprising that Stevens has harnessed his diverse interests and corralled them under one broad umbrella with the establishment of Club Enlightenment, an organization designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop a plan of action for their lives.

“The idea for Club Enlightenment ‎was conceived on November 23, 2013 because of my observations at the time that that the youth didn’t know how to think,” Stevens said, musing over the club’s genesis. “The objective for the club was to discover my life purpose in terms of mind, health, body and wealth then share that with students so that they could improve their lives.”  For Stevens, the journey to self-discovery stemmed from past turmoil in his life.

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Christopher Menzies received rousing applause after singing two songs for the guests.

“After 19 years working for a company I was fired because different management took over and they wanted to micro-manage me‎. They changed the whole culture and I wasn’t in alignment ” he explained. “After my dismissal I did some soul-searching for two years.” In retrospect, Stevens ‎realized that his period of introspection centered squarely on five specific areas of his life: mind and body, which he addressed through rigorous participation at the gym; reading a lot to develop new tools; Learning to relax because, as he described it, “Over the years I was working 14-hour-days so I decided to get more rest so that I could think clearer;” developing a new way to support his family and establishing a spiritual base.

The two-year hiatus stretched into four years, while friends and family eyed Stevens with mild to intense curiosity and some measure of skepticism as they wondered: What is going on with Hector? But Stevens continued to march to the beat of his own drum, convinced that God was leading him to fulfill his intrinsic purpose in life.

Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens is committed to steering students to a path of discipline and success.

Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens is committed to steering students to a path of discipline and success.

“After four years of self-discovery and self-expression I wanted to impart a new way of thinking on teenagers that I met in a social setting, particularly playing football” said‎ the former college soccer player. But the transition to his role as executive director of Club Enlightenment was not entirely smooth and the students that Stevens wanted to mentor were shrewd. They double-checked what he said and conducted surreptitious stake-out exercises to ensure that his actions matched his words. Once be passed their investigations, a process about which he was blissfully unaware, the students, who fondly refer to Stevens as “Uncle Hector,” approached him to have a series of conversations, from which the framework for Club Enlightenment emerged.

“Most of us are seeking more than the shallowness of life,” said Christopher Menzies, 19, a versatile singer, producer and writer who treated the OnPointPress.net staff and other guests to stirring musical renditions as a prelude to this interview on Sunday, August 17 in St, Catherine, Jamaica. Kimani Vernon, 20, a chemical engineering major at the University of Technology (UTECH) in Kingston, agreed.”We were searching for something new,” he said. For Kimani’s 17-year-old brother Malik, a computer science major also at UTECH the pull of Club Enlightenment was fueled by a desire to escape a cloud of darkness that had enveloped his psyche. “I wanted a solution. I wanted to wake up and smile,” he said, “Uncle Hector told me to think positive and after a while I became happier.” Kay Ann Harrison, 24, who is interested in writing a book about her life, found Club Enlightenment and clung to it like a weary desert traveler who gets a sip of water to quench her parched lips.

Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens, KayAnn Harrison and Christopher Menzies share their thoughts about the club with OnPointPress.net staff.

Club Enlightenment Executive Director Hector Stevens, KayAnn Harrison and Christopher Menzies share their thoughts about the club with OnPointPress.net staff.

“When I left high school I was isolated. I would stay home alone, no interaction. In my family, I could not speak my mind. I was shut down,” she recalled. And then she discovered the power of the pen. “I began to write poems. With Club Enlightenment, instead of being fearful I came to assess things differently. I’ve learned that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” she said, explaining that her defining moment came when she got a job in sales and had to speak persuasively. “I decided to face my fear,” said the former reserved young lady. “These days I wake up and visualize the day that I want to have that day.”

Malik, who experienced clashes with his father in the past, said Club Enlightenment has changed his outlook and impulses. “I thought I was treated unfairly because I questioned everything and I wanted to be accepted.,” Club Enlightenment changed all of that, he said, “Uncle Hector told me to tell my dad that I loved him and listen to him. I have a friend who was in the exact situation but he didn’t want to listen.” Through his involvement with Club Enlightenment, Malik has developed the capacity to communicate his thoughts respectfully and listen to his parents and other adults, even when he disagrees with their perspectives. His older brother Kimani, said he was “on the other side of the spectrum,” from his sibling. “I was a perfectionist and people used to tell me I looked sad. Meeting Uncle Hector helped me smile more,” he said, an intense expression creasing his face. “I realize that my father is going to be himself and that I get most of my personality traits from my mother who is more laid back.”

Musician Christpher Menzies entertained with songs.

Musician Christopher Menzies entertained with songs.

Upon reflection, Menzies realizes that he has come into his own due to his involvement with Club Enlightenment. “My household was dysfunctional and I was trying to get out of that environment. I used to talk to Kimani, who is my neighbor and schoolmate,” he said. “I used to always hear him talk about Uncle Hector and the group. I talked to Uncle Hector and he gave me words of wisdom.” Menzies said that his involvement with Club Enlightenment came “when things took a big turn in my life. I got kicked out of my home but I was determined not to let that deter me from succeeding.” With the help of Club Enlightenment and Kimani, Menzies said things are getting better. “I’m on a journey to become a more positive person,” he said, and his music helps to keep him grounded. “I sing, write and produce,” he said. “I try to record myself to see if I’m getting better. If I get a chance to sing for people, I do it.”

Stevens said that the camaraderie provided by Club Enlightenment’s participants lead to a strong, supportive community that bolsters students’ self-esteem and highlights their innate talents. As the club approaches its first anniversary, Stevens is exploring ideas to expand the programs and services he offers so that current and future students can develop a broader range of skills and expertise. “My aim for Club Enlightenment is to expand in other venues, such as high schools,” he said. Judging from his track record of listening to his heart and depending on it to guide him, Stevens will undoubtedly achieve all his future goals for the club, and more.-OnPointPress.net.

Phenomenal woman Dr Maya Angelou leaves a towering legacy

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De. Maya Angelou poses with Samara Brown in 2002 at the opening of the Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem, New York.

By Carmen Glover

While working as an associate editor for a Brooklyn-based newspaper in 2002, I went to Harlem, New York, to cover the opening of Hue-Man Bookstore, an African-American establishment that was the brainchild of the ex-wives of three former New York Knicks players, including Rita Ewing, the ex-wife of Patrick Ewing. I entered the store and saw rap mogul Jay-Z in a corner talking to then-Knick Charles Smith, while late actor Ossie Davis chatted to his wife Ruby Dee and actor Wesley Snipes held court with his Asian date. And then I saw her. Dr. Maya Angelou was seated regally on a stool, holding a cane, her eyes shrouded by a pair of dark glasses.

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Dr. Maya Angelou shares a light moment with her only child, son Guy Johnson

I approached her and introduced myself. Then I explained that I just left my daughter upstairs at the Magic Johnson Theatre with friends, to my chagrin. “Go and get her,” Dr. Angelou told me in her rich, firm voice. I didn’t need to be told twice and my daughter, Samara, squealed, “Really?” when I told her who was downstairs. After shaking Samara’s hand and agreeing to pose for a picture, Dr. Angelou issued instructions to my daughter: “Hold your back straight,” she said, as my daughter complied with alacrity, while the photographer who accompanied me on the assignment snapped the picture.

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Dr. Angelou and her mother, whom Angelou said told her “We’re going to have a happy baby” when the teenaged Angelou told her she was pregnant but not in love with the father.

Many people from all walks of life no doubt have personal stories of the moment when they met Dr. Angelou and how enthralled they were by her poise, wit, grace and spirit. Dr. Angelou described being a mother as a blessing and as the world mourns the passing of this literary icon it is important to remember her son and his family in our prayers. Her son, Guy B. Johnson, released a statement on Wednesday morning which read:

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“Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8 a.m., EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, he said through a video that he “grew up in her light.” Angelou gave birth to her only son when she was 17. They lived in several cities including Accra in Ghana, Cairo in Egypt, New York and San Francisco.

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President Barack Obama gently kissed Dr. Angelo’s cheek after awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom .

Dr. Maya Angelou lived a life that was exceptional in its scope, vast in its reach and profound in its impact on her admirers and students of literature across the globe. The first volume of her autobiographical series “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is required reading in schools across the United States, and it details her early life, her childhood trauma and her indomitable spirit that defied challenges and abuse.

She inspired a legion of ardent fans with the lyrical texture of her poetry, the rhythmic flow of her words, the compelling prose of her novels and the sage wisdom inherent in her counsel. She spoke about the joys she experienced as a mother to her only son and the determination that propelled her to achieve professional success.

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Media maven Oprah Winfrey has described Dr. Angelou as a “mother, mentor and friend,” often citing her words of wisdom and the solace they have brought her over the years.

And along the way she inspired others to follow her path, or carve their own, never losing sight of what is important. When she delivered her rousing inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, we were riveted with wonder, admiration and pride at the beauty evoked by her voice and words.

Media maven Oprah Winfrey has spoken lovingly about Dr. Angelou and shared stories about their friendship, while inviting her to share her wisdom on various episodes of her show over the years. And so as we grieve, it is important to celebrate the life and legacy of a woman who lived fearlessly, powered on by a burning passion to achieve. In a statement about her death U.S. President said:.

American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

American poet Maya Angelou reciting her poem ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, 20th January 1993. (Photo by Consolidated News Pictures/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time-a brilliant writer, fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life Maya was many things-an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer, but above all, she was a storyteller and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their meaning amidst the clouds and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.”

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Yes, Dr. Angelou caused us to aim higher, to reach for more. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, she went on to create literary works that resonate across the world but she was not exclusively artistic. She contributed to the civil rights movement by working for both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She later taught at Wake Forest University and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008. During her youth, she was a calypso singer and she claimed Caribbean heritage through her paternal grandfather, who hailed from Trinidad & Tobago.

Brutally raped at age 7, by her mother’s boyfriend, Dr. Angelou stopped speaking after the culprit was found murdered when she revealed his identity to her family. “I thought my voice killed him,” she explained about her self-imposed, five-year silence after the traumatic episode. But her spirit drove her to success and her thirst for knowledge refused to be quenched. As a result, people all over the world were blessed to see or hear her recite some of her powerful works including her spectacular poems: “Phenomenal Woman,” and “I Rise.” In her last Twitter post on Friday, May 23, 2014, she wrote: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” In expressing his grief at her death, former President Bill Clinton said:

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Former President Bill Clinton had a long friendship with Dr. Angelou.

“With Maya Angelou’s passing, America has lost a national treasure. The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace. I will always be grateful for her electrifying reading of “On the Pulse of Morning” at my first inaugural and even more for the years of friendship,” He also sent his “deepest sympathies” to her son.

Winfrey, in her statement, covered the trajectory and nuanced complexity of their relationship, which spanned years and experiences that dripped with meaning.

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“I’ve been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister and friend since my 20s. The world knew her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. She won three Grammys, spoke six languages. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”

For many of us, Dr. Angelou’s enduring legacy will be the template she left that defines resilience: the ability to get up and rebound despite struggles, obstacles and disappointment. Her attitude showed the conviction of someone who had things to do, someone whose ambitions and determination propelled continuous movement, someone who set clearly defined goals and tackled them with grit and courage.

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Dr. Angelou has been called back home to rest in the arms of her heavenly father but for us who remain, it’s important to take the time to read her works, understand her life and make an effort to emulate her ambition, drive and refusal to offer excuses instead of being completely focused on achieving our goals. Rest in peace, Maya Angelou, your life and legacy will live on through us–OnPointPress.net.

Carmen Glover is an award-wining journalist and editorial director of OnPointPress.net. Follow her and OnPointPress.net on Twitter @OnPointPress_.