Asks Michael Benjamin
His face was unshaven, his clothes threadbare and he stood just outside Fogarty’s, tin cup in hand pleading with passersby for a little help. Some people deposited coins while a few dropped twenty dollar notes. Some mischievous lads contributed little pebbles and one even gave him a bone that was sucked to the pulp.
The following day the chap resumed duties only this time he held two cups, one in each hand. Puzzled I walked over to him. “Why the two cups today as against the one yesterday,” I wanted to know. “You see,” he explained, “Business was so bright yesterday that today I decided to open another branch.
Soliciting charity, or more appropriately, begging for money is big business these days. The beggars are cropping up at almost every joint and each has a woeful tale to tell. They bear the brunt of insults and badmouth yet they persevere as though they must meet a specified target before the day is through.
It is one thing to support aged beggars but a totally different matter when children are brought into the equation as evident by an experience I had a few nights ago. I had scarcely parked my car at the Mandela Avenue Texaco Gas Station on my way to the supermarket when three little urchins sidled up, hands outstretched begging for charity.
I ignored them and entered the building where I made some purchases. When I exited the supermarket I noticed that the group had engaged the driver of another vehicle who happened to be a little more kindhearted than me; handing over a few twenty dollar notes.
I shook my head resignedly and reentered my car.
I felt a shadow over me and looked out to see an aged woman, hand outstretched, requesting some charity. I pointedly ignored her, quickly reversed and headed for Mandela Avenue on my way home. Behind me I heard a string of course epithets as she made her feelings known.
These are everyday scenes that occur in every nook and cranny of this country, which to my mind underlines the deep social ills that remain endemic in our society and beg for attention.
Almost everyone is crying out about the stringent economic challenges. Some bemoan the absence of jobs. A closer examination, however, would reveal that the issue is not really about the absence of jobs but the absence of what some people categorise as high profile jobs.
Some people, it seems, want to be doctors without the bother of passing through the internship stage. Some want to be lawyers but can hardly be concerned about the rigors or the sacrifices such vocations entail. Most people will tell you that they are ambitious but only as far as their pride would allow them to be.
Some have no qualifications yet they eye up high profile jobs and would settle for nothing less, preferring to do like what the Tradewinds say ‘cock up they foot and stay home.’
One wonders whether the problem is the lack of jobs or the lack of a willingness to do the jobs for which one is qualified.
The North Ruimveldt Multilateral School, familiarly called ‘Multi’ will always remain the cream of all institutions to me. It was within those sacred corridors that I attained a formal secondary education and it was there that I had cemented a foundation that serves me even to this day.
I loved English Language but in the same vein I detested Mathematics. I simply could not fathom the importance of those complex mathematical concepts especially since I was unable to juxtapose them to my advancement in life.
To me, English as a communicational tool was a necessary subject. I was the consummate joker with the right retorts to every statement and situation. One day, Ms Branch my Mathematics teacher stared at the results of a test and asked me, “Mr. Benjamin with grades like this what do you suppose you’ll turn out to be?”
“I would like to be a joker,” I responded without missing a beat.
She stood in front of me, a deadpan expression on her face, while my classmates roared with laughter. When the mirth had subsided she had her say, “That’s not a bad choice, just aspire to be the best joker the world has ever known.”
They were light words with heavy meaning. They set me into a whirlpool of introspection that really started my growth.
It was at ‘Multi’ that I started my boxing career. The late Cliff Anderson was my first tutor. I can almost see him now, a dumpy fellow trudging along Kitty Avenue (now Mandela Avenue) with a rucksack slung over his back. He taught me to throw my first punch; ‘Multi’ presented the opportunity.
Cliff Anderson was a practical and consummate teacher. He was patient and never used indecent language to get over his points. When Cliff, as he preferred to be addressed, was on his dying bed I felt an important part of me disappearing with his last breath. He always implored on his charges, “Your boxing skills would soon fade away but a solid education lasts a lifetime.”
Cliff was a household name all over the world but more particularly in England. One day while in Cardiff, Wales I met the legendary promoter/manager Mickey Duff. During our conversation Cliff’s name cropped up. His eyes lit up as he relived the nostalgia of seeing Cliff battle against ‘The Algate Tiger’, an Englishman that was gifted with the British Empire title by cockeyed judges after Cliff had dished out a first class licking on him.
So, where is the connection?
What has boxing to do with a discussion of academic overtones? It’s simple; boxing is a microcosm of life and can provide a foundation for one’s future. My future was built on the foundation of boxing. Every cent that I spent on my education was derived from boxing, whether directly or indirectly.
My connections and contacts were derived from my involvement in boxing and today, more than a decade after saying goodbye to the sport I continue to benefit from it.
I could have been a beggar; I could have chosen a whole lot of unpalatable vices simply because many people have profiled boxers in the most derogatory ways.
As my mother loves to say, “No knowledge is wasted!” In fact her favourite phrase was, “Son, education is the answer.” I would then jocularly ask, “But Mom what’s the question?” I guess I just had to mature to understand the situation. I just know that irrespective of the situation and circumstances, I simply refuse to stand at the street corner, cup in hand, soliciting my daily bread.
Education is the answer? I can only now say that I could at least fathom the question.
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