Jean ‘Binta’ is one cool Breeze
LAST WEEK while travelling on Caribbean Airlines to the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship meeting in Barbados, I read the delightful article ‘Memories from the Verandah’ in the Airline’s magazine Caribbean Beat. This article celebrated Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jamaica’s first major female dub poet.
I first met Jean in Sandy Bay, Hanover, her place of birth and where I was the pastor of the Fletcher’s Grove Baptist Church from 1985 to 1990. In fact, her mother is a deacon of that Baptist church. My most memorable recollection of Jean was when we visited Mt Pelier Baptist Church and she told me that there are lessons to be derived from children doing drama pieces. She told me that whenever children do drama skits in church, it was usually indicative of what is happening in the home and community. Children dramatise what they see and hear, and so often, the skits would be about obeah, teenage pregnancy and poverty.
I did gain that insight from theological college but got it from Jean. Yes, observing and listening to children is a university lesson in life. This helps one in designing and implementing a ministry based on felt needs, the assumptions of the people, and the philosophy of the citizenry.
Since then, Jean has gone on to greater heights. According to David Katz, writer of the article, in March 2016, Jean released The Verandah Poems, her eighth published book to mark her 60th birthday. This publication relates village life where the verandah is a space for conversation and contemplation. Other works include Third World Girl, Ryddim Ravings, Spring Cleaning and Fifth Figure. In 2011, Jean was awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to literature in Britain.
However, for all of Jean’s accomplishments, it is the human interest story, her personal journey, which is fascinating and makes her writings so authentic and inspiring. She discusses her mental illness openly. She is not defined by her illness, but it has inspired some poems, and her story can motivate others struggling with similar conditions. She claims that she has suffered from schizophrenia most of her adult life, dating its onset to her Clarendon sojourn, when she went to live in the hills as a Rastafarian.
Initially, she was helped by Dr Fred Hickling, renowned psychiatrist, and her mother, who mortgaged her house so that she could get treated in a private hospital. The role of a supportive family is crucial in managing mental illness. Jean is on the right medication and has not had a breakdown in 15 years.
Our society needs to better understand mental illness and realise that this condition affects even brilliant people. Some great hymn writers, including William Cowper, anti-slavery advocate, suffered from mental illness and was institutionalised for insanity (1763-65). He wrote at least 15 hymns, and his best known hymns are There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, O For a Closer Walk with God and Hark My Soul, It Is the Lord.
In addition, it is claimed that some well-known politicians have suffered from mental illness, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (bipolar disorder), Russian leader Joseph Stalin (manic depression), German Adolph Hitler, and president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln (depression).
Jean has lived a colourful life. How many persons get married to their former teacher? After graduating from Rusea’s High she got married to one of her former teachers, a Welshman named Brian Breese. After the divorce, she changed her name from ‘Breese’ to ‘Breeze’ and added Binta in 1978 when many persons were selecting African names
Let us celebrate, the work of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze who is one cool person blowing good breeze.