UK based Vincentian committed to giving back to SVG
by Natricia Duncan Tue Jul 16, 2013
More than 30 years ago, Vincentian Othniel Wendell Jack set out on a journey to explore opportunities in the world beyond. A lot has changed since then. He is now a father of nine and head of an award-winning community organization, whose impact spans four continents. He is also now known as Bilal O W Jack-Ameen, but his passion and vision, he says, has remained the same.
“First and foremost I am a Vincy – a Mespo man – and my dream is always to see Saint Vincent and the Grenadines making its mark on the world.”
Last year, Jack-Ameen’s organization, Africa Caribbean Development Foundation (ACDF), received an award from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund to embark on a project that will celebrate and document the achievements of his 25-year youth exchange programme, that introduced young people in Europe to life in the Caribbean and Africa, and vice versa.
He said: “This is a great opportunity for me to promote St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Jack-Ameen claims his aspirations were inspired by his father, the late William Charles Jack, who was a farmer, politician and speech writer.
“One of my father’s legacies was fearless ambition. He nurtured in us not just a healthy self-esteem, but strong cultural esteem – which is to be proud of our heritage.”
Jack-Ameen, his brother Leo and friend Boston Duncan started the LOB corporation group when they were just teenagers. Leo penned the words for timeless folk music such as “Me come from Petani Valley” and “Missah Nancy oh, wey yo money?” The band quickly rose to fame in the Caribbean and then travelled further afield to Holland.
“I have always had a passion for music – something my children have inherited. Even when I turn my attention to other things, music is always somehow incorporated in what I do.”
Jack-Ameen arrived in the UK in 1979 when the country was still trying to come to grips with its newfound multiculturalism, and was forced to manoeuvre through the race relations crisis that was gripping the nation.
But like many of the early migrants, he tapped into his talents and resources, and in 1982 he founded the Caribbean Development Foundation – which was later renamed ACDF, and went on to create a range of youth-targeted initiatives, including the international youth exchange programme.
“I saw serious gaps in services to young people, especially those of African and Caribbean backgrounds, and I decided to do something about it.”
The exchanges, which took young Britons, some of whom were classed “hard to engage”, to countries inside and outside of Europe – including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – and brought people from those regions to the UK, have had a powerful impact on the communities in those countries. Many of the young people who participated in the exchanges went on to key positions.
Prominent London Councillor Claudia Webbe went to St Vincent and the Grenadines as a youth worker, when she herself was quite young. She lavished praises on the culture and people she encountered and said the benefits of the exchange were clear in the transformation she witnessed.
Some of the young people in her group were facing serious personal challenges, because of the stark racial discrimination that existed at the time. She talked about youths who had attempted suicide and mixed-race teenagers who were confused about their identity.
She claimed that giving young, black people the opportunity to see others like themselves doing positive things such as performing well in school and demonstrating a high level of discipline had a positive impact.
“They went to a country that without question welcomed them, did not judge them, did not police the boundaries of blackness…. They felt a sense of belonging; they felt at home in a way that they hadn’t experienced in the UK.
“They came back more confident, more engaged and inspired by what they saw and what they did for themselves.”
The project, which is supported by the Museum of London, the Black Cultural Archives and libraries across the capital, is due for completion in July 2014.
It includes the making of a TV documentary, directed by Bilal’s son, Hollywood actor Aml Ameen, the publishing of a book, the building of a website and a photographic exhibition – all of which will be unveiled at a grand Museum of London event.
Bilal hopes that showcasing Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the project will play a part in boosting tourism.
“It has been a while since I left home, but I am still committed to giving back to my country. We have so much to offer and this project reminds us of the wealth of talent and resources we have on the island,” he added.
Bilal, who has organised major events in the past, bringing prominent artistes such as Morgan Heritage, The Mighty Sparrow, Beanie Man and Eric Donaldson to St Vincent, is planning a big homecoming next year. His aim is to introduce the country to overseas-based Vincentians who are at the top of their game and those who are on the rise in music and the performing arts.
“What I hope to do is to showcase some of the amazing talent that was cultivated in S Vincent, in one explosive event.”
He added that he hopes this will be an eye-opening for the Vincentian public and a chance for the government and people to reconnect with their diaspora.