GANGS AND THE GOLDEN AGE
We need to get this straight—or we perish. The truth about boys and gangs… This country is being held to ransom by about 6000 boys organized into criminal gangs. These boys are led by about 60 very charismatic boys. These gangs are secret societies- with initiation rituals, codes of conduct, and ways of dress. They have heroes they worship and attempt to imitate, and strict systems of reward and punishment. These gangs are modes of achieving wealth, status and women. Most of all, they are ways of achieving ‘belonging’ and ‘meaning’.
The same impulses that form criminal gangs inform the creation of all male-bonding groups. Examples of male organizations formed with these same principles include: football and sporting clubs; music bands; forms of priesthood; religious sects; and military and para-military organizations. ‘Police and tief’ are in fact cut from the same cloth. They are just boys in different types of gangs! The seminal book Iron John by Robert Bly uncovers the real workings of this male impulse to organize this way.
Gangs appear when the male ‘initiation rituals’ of a society fail. The boys that fail to feel included as ‘citizens’ begin to create groups that resemble gangs. Middle-class nerds may create comic book clubs. Lower-income boys with their backs against the wall may form gangs… The reason we are losing the war on crime is because we fail to understand the twin edged sword of this mystery of male behavior and the role of Culture.
Gangs are an international historical phenomena occurring in all ethnicities, in all geographic regions, from rural to urban societies. To hear some commentators one would believe that gangs and criminality are strictly an African male phenomena! Here is an interesting fact: hillside communities breed gang formation. Why? Because of the distance of young males ages 12- 27 from civic services and the cultural civilizing centre. The Yakuza from Japan, the Mafia from Sicily, and the outlaws of the American West, all emerged from mountainous areas. But let’s look at our own country. Where are the communities that have collapsed the most? The hills: Laventille; Bagatelle; Big Yard… We are not the first country dealing with collapsing lower income, hillside communities, and there are international precedents in terms of solutions.
Medilin in Columbia- once the deadliest city on earth- was rehabilitated by the visionary intervention of its former mayor Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo’s philosophy was, “Our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas.” With that he transformed ghettoes into areas of safety, entrepreneurship, and international tourist destinations. Working closely with all stakeholders, including the police, Fajardo rewarded communities who brought down their crime rates with major civic buildings- libraries, museums, community centres… Within 4 short years the community was unrecognizable. He brought centres of citizenship to the hillsides! To dispossessed boys… The East Port of Spain Growth Pole and Heritage City which activists got into last year’s Budget provides these sort of visionary interventions. Hopefully we shall see the implementation of these progressive social policies to accompany police action.
There’s another solution- in our own history. It’s located in the magic of our nation’s Golden Age from 1930- 1950.
In the 20th century the African diaspora produced a succession of Golden Ages of Culture. The Ages of Rock, Jazz, and Hip-Hop in the States. The Age of Samba in Brazil. The Ages of Reggae and Dancehall in Jamaica. And the Age of Pan, Mas and Calypso here. Just to name a few. These Ages fundamentally transformed these nations- empowering thousands in the lower classes and democratising their societies. Ultimately these cultural revolutions humanized the world. These revolutions were- in the words of one of my mentors Tony Hall- not just forms of music but ‘ways of seeing’.
The remarkable thing is: these Golden Ages were created by mostly criminalized underclass boys aged 12 to 27. The greatest human cultural inventions of the 20th century were created by young criminal boys! That’s the magic of Golden Age Culture!!!
The list is endless of lost boys who became global geniuses and Kings: Bob Marley; Peter Tosh; Kitchener; Pele; Jay Z; Russell Simmons; Louis Armstrong; Bono; nearly all the early panmen! What would these ‘charismatic young boys’ have been doing if they were not so transformed? Musical genius Quincy Jones was robbing a church with his gang when he played the piano that changed his life. It is our duty to put the pianos (pans, boxing gyms, football clinics, cricket nets, labs…) in the way of these boys. Use the clues of the Golden Age to create Centres in the heart of collapsing communities.
The collapse of Laventille into a zone of black-on-black killing is a result of our leadership class abandoning the Golden Age Legacy of East Port of Spain. Pan, Mas, and Calypso were forged ‘behind-de-bridge’- and transformed society for the better. There are now 300 Trini-style Carnivals world-over worth $15 Billion! ‘Behind-de-bridge’ receives .0001% of that revenue! During our Golden Age gangs transformed into orchestras, poets, inventors, and managers. But no industry was invested from their gifts. Politicians abandoned communities with the same civic amenities from Emancipation… So they collapsed… Let us now make reparation to our Golden Age communities- and build the Temples for the youths dem to enter!