Jean ‘Binta’ is one cool Breeze

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Devon Dick

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.

BET­TER UN­DER­STAND

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.

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