Those bpTT ads about finding things to be proud about were truly special and inspirational: Hasely, Penny, Daren… but the one that got me most featured Maria Dimsoy Whiteman's pride in her son, Njisane Phillip.
"Njisane never had a lot of toys," she said, but he had his bike and he rode that bike and rode that bike and rode that bike...
At the Olympics, Njisane's presence was electrifying— a swooping hawk then a humming bird aflutter—it was so predatory and confident that one could see that this was just a beginning.
It got me thinking about self-confidence and the factors that create and nurture it. Njisane's father was a cyclist, Cleopatra Borel's dad was an athlete, Jehue Gordon's father was a cricket fan and enrolled him in Harvard Sports Club when he was six.
The Bravo brothers: Dwayne and Darren, Sunil Narine, Brian Lara; all had that kind of abiding support. The list of those brimming with what Viv Richards calls self-belief is long, and it appears to me that this trait is home-schooled.
Significantly, many of our young people who are making us proud have been surrounded by nurturing environments that have fed them not so much with material things, but with care and support for their dreams. I do not know if the athletes who all represented us so magnificently at the London Olympics come from affluent backgrounds, but they went out there brimming with a faith that very likely billowed from a lifetime of enough positive reinforcement to lift them above a sense that they come from too small a space to make a difference.
They were there because they invested their lives in the discipline and training it takes to reach the highest levels in their fields. The Olympics, so fresh in our minds, emphasised this, but it is true of any form of excellence.
We have grown accustomed to bewailing the behaviour of our youth (especially our males), to casting them in the roles of villains terrorising 'decent' citizens, but do we really give any thought to the environments that have been conditioning them?
The parents who neglect their children, wallop them physically and mentally from day one, constantly tell them how inadequate and good-for-nothing they are, really set them up to limit their goals and extinguish their dreams from early o'clock.
Then at schools they encounter so much of the same. Njisane's mother said he had trouble in schools and was kicked out often. Why? He had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder. What would have happened to him had this not been caught? What is happening to all those with no such luck?
In one of his excellent articles, columnist Dr David Bratt wrote about the pervasive impact of extreme psychological abuse on children in their adulthood: social difficulties, aggression, mental health difficulties and attempted suicide.
"The diagnosis is difficult, and relies on a cautious, sensitive and sensible approach by paediatricians and related healthcare, social care and teaching professionals," he said, but knowing our state of affairs, he was not hopeful, "we might just as well forget about it in T&T."
Yet the optimist in him prevailed and he advocated community involvement: every man jack having a vested interest in seeking the welfare of every child. He is right, we cannot make Olympians of them all, cannot create hordes of homogenous superachievers, but we can try to see each one as a bud that will blossom with care.
Out of a muddy pond, David Rudder had seen ten thousand flowers bloom.
Just as gardeners need to tend their plants if they are to reap succulent fruit, we have to provide the right nutrients or they will wilt. We have only to glance behind our shoulders to see our bitter and force-ripe crop.
So the concept of community, as Dr Bratt defines it, must be wide and inclusive.
Among the bpTT campaigns was one where they featured six potential Olympians, calling them Ambassadors for Courage and Respect and so on. They have had them visit schools and the young students were elated and motivated by their words and presence. (Another goal of their Independence oriented campaign was to get 100,000 tweets by September in return for which bpTT will give $200,000 to the Olympians and Paralympians, like Shanntol Ince and Carlos Greene.)
Now this is not an unpaid homage to bpTT, but simply an example of the way corporate citizens can do meaningful things to support our youth. Petrotrin has offered $2 million over four years to 20 athletes. The Tobago House of Assembly has announced a Lalonde Gordon Sporting Development Fund and started it with a million dollars and offered to match dollar for dollar any corporate donations.
The London Olympics managed to energise interest in athletes, enough to garner some tokens of investment in development and training. What it should also have accomplished is to embarrass us into recognising just how little has actually been done by way of enabling athletes to properly prepare (two javelins and a hip hip hooray!). Check the backgrounds and see how many of them actually do their work overseas.
Yet, like freeloaders, we jump on their bandwagons, mandating parades and pappyshows that are absurd caricatures of the solitary pursuit of excellence which above all requires commitment, discipline, sacrifice and hard work.