Professor Barry Chevannes – Rest In Peace
Times like these I want to kick my 19 year old self.
When I was in college I was president of the West Indian Student Association (WISA) and the first big project I undertook in that capacity was to plan a West Indian Week for the Spring 2002 semester. One of the main features of that program was a talk…at the beginning stages we had no idea what the talk would be about or who would give it. Ideas bounced back and forth and a board officer and I spoke with our mothers and marijuana legalization came up. This was 2001. In that same year Professor Chevannes had chaired the National Commission on Ganja and the Commission had issued a report. It was the first West Indian Week and we decided to aim big – invite Professor Chevannes to speak. We figured that this topic would go over well at my college – a very liberal, slightly hippy and very student-driven campus.
So when next I was home I asked my mother for advice on how to contact Professor Chevannes; she said just call him and ask. I was like yea right. But I followed her advice and it worked. He said come meet with me and I did. In his office, which was filled with books and papers and looked like a very used space, I found a spot on an armchair. Perched on that chair I explained our W.I. Week plans and that we’d like him to come and speak about the Commission’s Report. He said yes. Just like that. All we had to do was nail the dates down and make travel and accommodation arrangements. The Week was a success but boy did we aim big and perhaps too big for the first time – Professor Chevannes, the first West Indian focused show in the school’s biggest concert space, parties, a library display about notable Caribban people, T-shirts for sale and fundraising, and other week-long activities to put the Caribbean on the map. We went all out. The Treasurer for WISA is who fetched Professor Chevannes from the airport and did all the transporting back and forth. Professor Chevannes was always gracious; he did not complain. I suspect that he could have forced us to treat him with more pomp and circumstance but I don’t think that was his nature and maybe he sensed what I know now – we were overwhelmed with executing all our grand plans and anxious about making sure they were successful. Thankfully some of the faculty and staff at school stepped in and helped us out but because I am me I look back and think of how we could have done this or that better.
Looking back and fully understanding the stature of this man and his work I am amazed at how easy it was to host him on campus. I knew we were aiming big but I don’t think I really and truly grasped how BIG. To this day I don’t know where I got the courage from to just call up this man and invite him to the middle of Connecticut. And this is why I’d like to kick my 19 year old self — for not taking better advantage of the opportunity to get to know him. But he has still touched my life with his passion for Jamaica, his calm demeanor, his excellent and thorough work…but most of all his patience and kindness. He was a good man. He didn’t shield himself from an exuberant college kid from farrin trying to get a college program off the ground. Instead he smiled and said “OK” and from that point forward gave his full commitment to giving the talk that we asked him to do.
I am saddened by Professor Chevannes’ passing. I really am. I will remember him for his passion and commitment to good work and his country. Many will remember him for his work with fathers and on the Rastafari religion (or movement if that’s your cup o’) and his commitment to peace. I agree with @marciaforbes @marlonmusique and @bigblackbarry: he was a true patriot. His passing is particularly startling since as @anniepaul tweeted we’ve lost Professor Rex Nettleford in the same year. After Professor Nettleford died I sat at my desk in tears…mommy must have known because she called. She understood the loss I was feeling. Two passionate, thoughtful, dignified, and bright Jamaican intellectuals. Both men have left a stunning legacy for other Jamaican intellectuals and researchers…but also for friends of Jamaica who are interested in and love Jamaican culture like @touchofallright for whom he was the external reader on her PhD thesis. Read her thoughts on Professor Chevannes’ passing here.
I wish I had spent those few short days in March 2002 to get to know him better but I am grateful for the interactions that we did have. And I’m a better person for it.
Rest in Peace Professor Barry Chevannes, 1940 – 2010.
A few articles on Professor Chevannes’ passing
Shock at Professor Barry Chevannes’ sudden passing (The Jamaica Observer, November 6, 2010)
Prof Chevannes Dies (The Jamaica Gleaner, November 5, 2010)