When the opportunity came to venture to the Parade Gardens inner city community within Kingston’s downtown, I was both intrigued and anxious. Any mention of this area immediately links it to tension, at least in my mind. But I needed to face my fear and ignorance. And thankfully, I did.
As we drove up Fleet Street under a brilliant blue sky, assumptions did not meet reality. I think I was expecting a colder atmosphere, but what I found as community. People are going about their Saturday morning duties, greeting each other and standing outside. This is a neighborhood, in every sense of the word.
And as we approach the rendezvous point for our experience, the streets were lined with the most vibrant colors painted on homes. Evidently, San Francisco’s Painted Ladies have nothing on these. Further along, I glimpse the murals that are the feature of the community and I’m convinced that this is indeed an oasis within Kingston. If anyone ever needs a selling point on a reason for travelling, this is it.
To give some context, Paint Jamaica is a social enterprise aimed at transforming Jamaica’s inner cities through street art.
It was born in 2014, when Marianna Farag, a native of France, and now resident of Jamaica first visited Fleet Street,she saw an opportunity to remove the stigma surrounding inner cities and enhance community through the application of street art. A collective was born of local and international artists who worked with residents of the community to understand their ideals and desires for their neighborhood. An abandoned space at 41 Fleet Street became ground zero for the murals which appear to express the hopes and dreams of the residents as well as their experiences. Every mural tells a story. As I look around, to take it all in, it’s educational, cathartic and beautiful. But, there’s more.
Shane Morgan has stepped out from behind the dividing gate of two structures to welcome us to the community. His smile is wide and as he speaks about the projects in the community I’m beginning to realize that there’s much more happening here than the murals. He explains the transformation that’s taken place, especially with kids in the community who are now more engaged with arts and crafts.
Shane is part of the Life Yard initiative, which is sort of an eco-village (the first in Kingston) that promotes
sustainable farming and teaches kids in the community the importance of organic farming as well as arts and crafts. The farm supports the vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the community which is also attempting a breakfast program to support kids in the community. My mind is blown. In chatting with Shane, I jokingly ask “what don’t you do?”. His passion makes it seem easy, but he does remind that it’s not simple. Despite support from other initiatives, there are still financial constraints. But the group keeps moving forward. Their next project is to support restoration and painting of homes in the community that are in disrepair.
I’m thankful to Karen Hutchinson for facilitating this opportunity. It’s her passion for showcasing the best of Jamaica that led her to create Jamaica Cultural Tours, giving visitors a more honest experience of the island. Experience is the key word here, as this is not a situation for people to simply view. You don’t roll in on a tour bus. There’s no megaphone herding a pack. No gawking. You visit.
Fleet Street allows you to appreciate art and to see the resilience of people committed to improving their lives through the teaching of life skills, organic farming and school support. Like the One Love Bus Crawl, this shows another side of the island that tourists and locals rarely see. It creates visibility for the community and awareness for visitors while also generating attention and interest for Downtown Kingston where it’s very much needed. It’s art, hope and pride. Community empowerment. Go visit!
For More info:
Jamaica Cultural Enterprises: http://www.visitjamaica.com/jamaica-cultural-enterprises
Paint Jamaica: https://www.facebook.com/paintjamaica/