Noble: Raising the next generation—on Akeal’s “escape” and Tyeisha’s travails

Akeal Hosein, the latest West Indies cricket sensation, described his father, in an interview published on CricInfo, as “the perfect role model” who worked two jobs and one evening collapsed with exhaustion upon walking through the door.

He was a man who spoke to him with respect and as an equal—no threats, no big sticks of discipline hanging over his head if he stepped out of line, just “regular conversation”.

(From left) West Indies players Rovman Powell, Akeal Hosein and Romario Shepherd.
Photo: CWI Media

Dr Randy Seepersad, the well-respected criminologist, discussed the issues facing this generation in a recent Sunday Guardian article.

“[…] GenZ offenders have skyrocketed in the last four years more than any other age demographic—seven per cent in Trinidad and 3.4 per cent in Tobago; and it’s not just youth from impoverished communities but wider.

“That generation has been subjected to a variety of failures, family breakdowns, joblessness, community, politicians, and systems, and is turning to gangs.” (UWI and Arizona State University criminologist Charles Katz, 2023).

Some Morvant football fans enjoy their evening out during Pro League action between Morvant Caledonia United and San Juan Jabloteh at the Morvant Recreation Ground on 16 October 2016.
Photo: Sean Morrison/ Wired868

Consequently, he recommended the return of anti-gang interventions. These successful programmes were halted because the IDB funding had ended.

A particularly successful one was called Project Reason, based on a USA model. It was built on the principle that crime is a public health issue, like drug addiction.

The facilitators “train carefully selected members of the community, trusted insiders to anticipate where violence may occur and intervene before it erupts. And we engage the entire community to change behaviour and recognise that violence is uncool and there are other solutions to conflict.

Police officers square off with Morvant/Laventille residents after protests against the police killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

As a Laventille lad, Akeal’s Cricinfo profile was headlined: Akeal Hosein’s great escape. The headline implies that one must escape a place like Laventille. Yet, if role models leave the area, how will it prosper?

Raj Chetty, a Harvard University professor, found that role models matter. The advantage of wealthy families is that their children have more exposure and access to opportunities and high-performing individuals. They get to dream bigger dreams and travel farther.

At 31 years, Hosein is just outside the Gen Z age cohort (12 – 27 years). But he lived in Laventille while growing up. He knows the challenges of gunshots and the need to lie on the ground.

Children at Rose Hill RC Primary School in Laventille react to the sounds of gun shots.

Like several older Laventillian men, Hosein’s father worked to the point of exhaustion yet did not earn enough to raise his family comfortably. The young men see this struggle. The existential question for them is economic: “Why work in traditional jobs?”

As products of a failing, under-resourced educational system, their limited job opportunities pay poorly. The stigma of their neighbourhood follows them. Trust is in short supply for these youths.

Tyeisha Griffith, the breakout star and leading goalscorer in the recent Republic Bank National Youth Football League (RBNYFL), is a 19-year-old from Eastern Quarry in Laventille.

MIC Matura ReUtd forward Tyeisha Griffith (foreground) signals for the ball during the RBNYFL Trinidad Girls U-20 final against Pro Series at the Republic Bank Sports Ground in Barataria on 8 June 2024.
Photo: RBNYFL/ 12 Media Productions

Eastern Quarry is now best known for the panside, Courts Sound Specialists. She is a gem under the radar because she comes from a single-parent home.

She had no funds to go to Couva to train with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) High Performance teams. However, with her standout RBNYFL performances, Tyeisha caused a buzz among the national coaches.

The Akeal story speaks to the need for supportive networks. Tyeisha’s story underscores this requirement.

West Indies spinner Akeal Hosein.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

In the former case, the Fatima Principal spotted Hosein’s talent and offered him a transfer from Success Laventille Secondary School (SLSS).

An older SLSS graduate is Khary Pierre, a West Indies cricketer, who described his days there:

“The coach here, Aslim Mandol, was like a father to me when I was here. He had me under his wings—he always told me I would reach far. I was very dedicated, I worked hard, and I always had the dream of playing at the highest level, which is West Indies cricket.”

Trinbago Knight Riders spinner Khary Pierre bowls during CPL action against SKNP at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain on 4 September 2019.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

At Fatima, a teacher, Allison Poon, of the outstanding Poon family from Morvant, stepped in as a mother and mentor to Akeal. She is aunt to Michel Poon-Angeron, one of our young promising Trinidad and Tobago national footballers.

Tyeisha was spotted in her first year at the Lady of Laventille Roman Catholic Primary School by Mrs Rosemarie Johnson-Gay. Mrs Gay transferred as a teacher from Newtown RC School to this school in what is commonly called a hotspot.

Mrs Gay continues to act as her ‘parent’ and mentor.

Lady of Laventille Roman Catholic Primary School teacher Mrs Rosemarie Johnson-Gay.

Mrs Gay’s assessment of the school children was: “The children of Laventille are very talented and creative and have produced many success stories. They need to be given a chance.”

The work done by these teachers and mothers who are fathering our children should be acknowledged.

Akeal was fortunate to be ‘adopted’ by senior players Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine. Narine rented him an apartment at a peppercorn rate. Pollard set him up with a job. This good fortune has yet to come to Tyeisha.

Then West Indies captain Kieron Pollard (centre) celebrates with his teammates after the dismissal of India’s Rishabh Pant during the third T20I in Mumbai on 11 December 2019.
Photo: AP Photo/ Rafiq Maqbool

This difference between Akeal and Tyiesha comes from the nature of the networks involved. Research from LinkedIn found that a member from an affluent zip code is three times as likely to have many connections from a wide range of places (Wall Street Journal, 17 March 2022).

Raj Chetty et al showed that this type of widely connected network is linked to the possible upward mobility for youths in poverty.

Akeal had a sense of agency. He entered Fatima at 13 and left at 16. Having tasted earning money playing cricket, he wanted to contribute financially to his home. His parents accepted his decision. Ms Poon did not stand in his way.

West Indies spinner Akeal Hosein (centre) celebrates a wicket during T20 World Cup action against Uganda in Guyana on 8 June 2024.
Photo: ICC

He learnt from Pollard’s experiences. When Pollard turned down a West Indies A team selection to play for the Somerset T20 team, a cricket official asked: “Do you want to be remembered as a legend, or do you want to be remembered as a mercenary?”

But Pollard was motivated to ensure his family “won’t have to go through what I went through when I was growing up”. This factor also drives Tyeisha, who dotes on her younger sister. Hosein moved his mother and siblings out of Laventille.

Stigma borne by these areas is an enormous barrier to success. Understandably, the residents of other parts of Trinidad may feel negatively about these areas. But these youths have shown that they can overcome.

Arima North Secondary student Garrick Thomas (right) receives his trophies for U-16 MVP and Best Student Athlete from principal Vishnu Debie at the school’s prizegiving ceremony on 13 June 2024.
Photo: Seon Thompson

An example from another area, La Horquetta, is Garrick Thomas. Garrick lost his father in complicated circumstances—he was shot on a football field; on Christmas Day!

But Lasana Liburd and his football coaching team were there for him through the trauma. This year, Garrick is the U-16 MVP and best student-athlete at Arima North Secondary School. Remember that Arima North is outperforming at several levels.

Pollard became the ‘most expensive T20 player’. Is believing in yourself to maximise your earnings a bad thing? Coming from crime-ridden neighbourhoods and wanting to help their families, what else should they do?

Then West Indies captain Kieron Pollard gestures during their first ODI match against Sri Lanka in Colombo on 22 February 2020.
Photo: AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena

Who helps youths to rise out of their difficult circumstances? Why should these youths remain as cannon fodder?

Mrs Johnson-Gay does not support hand-outs but believes that children should be given the best opportunities to learn so they can better help themselves in the future.

Last Saturday, a volunteer group ran a thought experiment with thirty youths aged 6 to 17, sorted by age. The question: is the Laventille Gen Z cohort selfish?

Then Education Minister Anthony Garcia (left) talks to students from Morvant Laventille Secondary.

The youths were shown pictures of two government buildings in their community that had been left to ruin for decades. Their task was: “What to do with these buildings?”

After discussion, all five groups delivered ideas to improve their community. Not one group sought selfish gain. They saw the buildings as valuable for the aged and needy families.

They imagined a pharmacy and other retail shops. They envisioned sporting facilities. They had an eye on sustainable development. The restored buildings had to pay their way.

A young man takes a walk in Laventille.
Photo: Johanne Rahaman via phmuseum.com

What prompted their responses? Is it that the length of the relationship between these boys and the facilitators made them feel ‘safe’? Did the unconditional love that their facilitators had demonstrated, over time, free them to imagine big ideas?

Can sustained, supportive relationships help disadvantaged children to thrive? How do we sustainably support all our children and not only the high performers?

As we think about cracking the problem of the gangs’ attraction to young men, let us remember that for many of these youths, distrust is their default mode.

A young man glorifies the gangster lifestyle.

Volunteers have to keep showing up. Several experts indicate that 10 years are needed before you can see change—most programmes rarely last more than two years.

“Unconditional love is so rare in life that it is identity-changing when someone keeps showing up even when you reject them.”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela, 8 May 1995.

Happy Father’s Day!

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