To feel the dynamic of a community, one has to be in it. Get close enough and you will hear the sounds, inhale the smells, feel the pulsating beat of the music and observe the pace of the folks moving about and those who visit. A jaunt through the Low Street/Charlestown, Hamilton, Pump Road, and Craddock Road residential communities in a graffiti clean-up campaign this week provided such an opportunity. One of the most misunderstood communities, the Low Street area, perched serendipitously on the water’s edge of Charlestown, enjoys one of the most coveted spots in Charlestown, looking across at the South-East Peninsula of St. Kitts. Walls and buildings, (one dilapidated) speaking with a brashness and austerity, spoke through colorful graffiti of someone in the community being flat on their face. There were symbols displayed, proudly announcing among other things where you are when you walk or drive through. LST is the one symbol that attracted the most attention. Some believe this represents “Low Street Thugs”, while the residents will insist that it means just “Low Street”. Whatever the author meant when he or she autographed it all over the street and walls might explain in part some of the public’s negative perception of the Low Street area. Indeed, the fact that the area has had more than their fair share of scrapes with the Police has only helped to reinforce the idea that Low Street is an area to be shunned. But not so fast! Miriam Knorr (as well as her husband Greg), former owners of the Old Manor Hotel, long time Nevisian residents, indeed citizens, as well as chief steward of the beach clean-up initiative in the Federation, initiated and organized the largest graffiti clean-up effort ever. Joined by members of the Nevis Community Anti-Crime Initiative (NCAI – pronounced “N-ky”) and supported from paint by great corporate citizens, Horsfords and TDC, they beautifully decorated walls and dams in several areas with paint, covering over stains of delinquency, indiscipline, thuggery and youth vice. The Charlestown Police joined the band in two of their officers who stayed and supported the entire effort. Residents of the Low Street area, in particular “Crucial”(nickname) and Marcella joined in and grabbed brushes and rollers to assist in the improvement of their community. Kudos to them! People in Nevis often speak romantically of the good ole days and many of us long to see elements from those days returned. No one who is reasonable expects the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to return to Nevis of course. Frankly, the harsh economic climate and the relative isolation from the rest of the world in several respects make the idea of going back, unappealing. But what was characteristic about the good ole days that many of us long to see again is the spirit of community. The sharing of fruits, vegetables and domestically butchered meat kept families within various communities close and able to survive the difficult times of those earlier days. The fact that the supervision and discipline of children were shared community functions sets a remarkable contrast to the very selfish and private exclusive focus within families that now obtains. Community life of yesteryear had one other crucial feature to a healthy community spirit – initiative in the face of crisis or a challenge faced by that community. That initiative was displayed by NCAI and the Knorrs on Tuesday, June 9, this week. Graffiti should not ever appear on a single surface in Nevis or St. Kitts. It defaces the veneer beauty of our island paradise home but also represents a passive and complacent society, absent of good community leadership. Historically, we are a proud people. The growing presence of graffiti on our streets and in our villages challenges that assertion. It is even worse when the graffiti is displayed on the water dams. Those dams that were once so vital to community life, are reminders of the good ole days in Nevis, relics of a hard working people who despite rough times came together and forged a strong sense of community. The irony of allowing such important symbols to be stained with a growing threat of negative youth culture dominance really should not escape anyone who lives in and cares about Nevis or the Federation on a whole. There is a growing and menacing threat of selfishness, greed, envy and a competition for who will be the most materially substantial person at the end of a year, that appear to have replaced real “community”. Cynicism, hostility and political dynamics make efforts to build community look almost ludicrous and foolish. The spirit of community and real nation building, a term thrown around with little meaning frankly, must return to our Federation. If we are to seriously confront the ills that face us as a people, much more focus on the greater good of all and community mindedness must prevail soon instead of the naked selfish-preoccupation that will destroy us if left unchecked. At the risk of self-indulgency, those who are engaged in building community should be encouraged and supported, in fact joined….not ridiculed and harshly criticized. Erasing graffiti and improving the appearance of any community in our Federation is only one of myriads of projects that need to be undertaken. The most important work of changing our mindset and the habilitation of our young people however we can all have a hand in.
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