The world can seem to be an awful place at times. The young die early, the good suffer while the bad, it seems, live happy and contented lives. Those who try to make it from the bottom seem to always end up shafted by the system and the beasts that it creates.
This, however, is not true (though the obstacles are real and plenty) and history – both past and present -is replete with examples of individuals who have risen from nothing to become, maybe not billionaires, but solidly middle class.
Examples of rags to riches stories are plenty in the world generally, and Jamaica specifically. The prime historical example for me as it relates to overcoming life’s obstacles is George Stiebel, the patriarch of Devon House.
Now, it is true that Mr Stiebel was not born into poverty. The fact that he could afford to go to high school in those days speaks to that. However, he was born to a Black mother and a Jewish father which, in those days (and now), invited much of both racial and anti-Semitic harassment. Now here we have a man who was automatically disadvantaged because of his skin colour and his father’s religion, a man who faced social discrimination, a man who dropped out of high school and became a carpenter to make ends meet, and yet, through graft and grit, he became Jamaica’s first black millionaire.
This is a man who, after all the nastiness and hardships that society laid upon him, was a massive philanthropist with a deep understanding of the socio-economic needs of the masses during his time, and while he wasn’t perfect (who among us really is) he showed that in this country, sometimes if you work hard enough your efforts are rewarded.
Another prominent and easy example is that of Michael Lee-Chin and his rise to riches from humble beginnings. Here we have a man who was born in pre-independence Jamaica, of bi-racial origins and again facing the racism and classism that came with that. He also did not come from a wealthy background.
Again, we have a person who did not have much while growing up, made his way through school, took on a lowly landscaping position as his first job and eventually paid his way through school in Canada. After his studies and after much shrewd investing he has become the poster child of Jamaican success, what with hisPortland Holdings, and again even though not perfect, has given much to his nation of birth and is at least trying (in the way he knows best) to improve the country as a whole. Again, here we have a shining example of a person overcoming life’s obstacles to become a success.
An example further afield of a person who rose from nothing to become a success story of the ages is that of Benito Juarez. Now, Juarez was dirt poor at birth and lost both parents as an infant. He was of full Indian (American Indian) descent and, like those mentioned above, faced ridicule and racism on a large scale because he didn’t have the luxury of being a mestizo.
He went through a long period of his life uneducated and working hard, but again, through graft, hard work and his skills, he not only became the president of Mexico, he became what is probably the greatest Mexican, full-stop! This in a land that is home to many legendary figures.
Yes, the world is harsh, and yes there are many obstacles (quite a few deliberately set up too), but people can and do regularly rise to the top. Looking at Jamaica again, the majority of us who are of African, Indian or Chinese descent and are either middle-class or rich, owe our success (and that of our children) to our foreparents who rose above those very same obstacles of blatant racism, classism and, in most cases, abject poverty, to either slog their way up the totem pole, or to ‘ban dem belly’ as we would say, in order to send their children to school and ensure that they rose from the mire into which they were born.
We face many obstacles in our lives. Many are high mountain peaks and seem insurmountable, but (and I’m sorry for sounding corny here) even Everest was conquered. All of us face our Everest. Whether we climb it or not is, in many ways, our choice.