This article first appeared in the Daily Nation on April 25th, 2016.
When it comes to being a community-focused person, no one can ever question Rodney Grant’s commitment. His more than 40 years of service has proven that he doesn’t just talk about uplifting communities.
It all began when he was nine years old and a pupil of the Pine Primary School. A few years earlier, his family had relocated from The City to No. 16 Birch Path, Regents Hill, The Pine, St Michael.
Grant’s mother Carmen’s meagre wages as a maid meant that she had to work extra long hours to support her family, especially since his father was not in the picture much. Her time away gave the restless boy an opportunity to get into mischief.
Indeed, Grant admitted he was a little troublemaker, in particular throwing stones and getting into fights.
That is, until a known community worker caught him in the act and was instrumental in changing his life forever.
“I would never forget one Sunday morning when Michael Newton caught me. He used to go and fix tyres and he saw me and told me to come with him. He put me on his motorcycle and took me down to Roebuck Street to fix some tyres with him. From then he developed an interest in me and used to let me tag along with him wherever he went.
“By tagging along with Michael, I kind of shifted my focus from doing negative things and tried to focus on community development and planning,” Grant said.
In the early 1970s the Newton family was known in Pinelands for their community-centred events. At that time, Michael ran the Pinelands Social Cultural Youth Group and his family had formed what was then the West Ham football team. Their home became a safe place for a pre-teen Rodney. Many days he could be found at the Newtons assisting as they organised fetes and other community events.
In 1972, another integral figure in his life was unveiled in the form of Hamilton Lashley when he came and started the Regents Football Club.
When the club was launched, the members had no real gear but Grant was so enthused that he and others would play in their school khaki pants which they dyed blue and matched with little blue shirts and pumps. Only one person had football boots, Ivan Forde, and sometimes he would pass them around so that every man would get a chance to play in them.
Grant soon became junior president of the club, which had now been spilt into juniors and seniors.
Three years later in 1975, Dr Bradley Niles, another social activist, returned to Barbados with a focus to refashion the negative image of the Pine community and called a meeting with community heads. The meeting was attended by community development officer Ralph Walker, Lashley, Grant and a few others who sat with Niles and developed what in 1977 became the Pinelands Development Council. Its aim was to form an umbrella body in the community in terms of sports education, agriculture and all the things they felt would help in the development of the Pinelands community.
A year later, this initiative resulted in a little group that focused on development through culture, what would become one of the most vibrant theatre organisations in the region – the Pinelands Creative Workshop (PCW). That same year, PCW put out their first production, the Anthony Hinkson play Nigga Yard, which was also produced for film, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
In 1987 at the age of 23, Grant, now father to a young son, took over the helm of Pinelands.
He recalled that in spite of PCW’s objective, it still proved to be a battle for the group to be accepted by mainstream Barbados.
Grant said he believed they were fighting against the establishment, which had no respect or wasn’t willing to give a “poor-rakey” cultural group a chance.
“When we first started doing theatre in Barbados, at the time they had this thing about what was established theatre, so we were up against the established theatre [groups] which were doing this English form of theatre; so they never accepted us . . . .
“We wanted theatre to be able to reflect the issues of our people. We were using theatre for a purpose – to educate, entertain and inform and this created this tug and pull with us and the established theatre,” he recounted.
In his 38 years with the institution, Grant has developed as a director, playwright, stage designer, lighting designer and sound technician. He is proud of his contribution which helped to cement the PCW as one of the Pine’s greatest products.
Now, the father of two has embarked on another challenge. He wants to bring about a similar change to the entire St. Michael South East constituency.
He said he would like to see the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School hall either turned into a theatre hall, as had been done at older secondary schools, or for PCW to establish its own theatre space.
He explained this would not only benefit other up-and-coming cultural groups, but additional space could mean an expanded music programme, development training and classes for residents, as PCW plans to institutionalise its development programme by offering National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) in areas such as dance, theatre, lighting and stage design.
Grant, who celebrates his 52nd birthday tomorrow, stressed that his commitment wasn’t restricted to Pinelands alone, but to the prosperity of all Barbados.
He said community service was his life and he had no regrets following this path. He told the story of when he was called to serve.
“I was 17 and finished school. One morning I left home to go to [the Barbados] Community College to sign up to continue my education. When I got on the steps I turned around and said, ‘This is not what I want to do’. At the time we [the Pine community] had an agriculture project that was started in the area with a group of Rastafarians and I said to myself the men need help.
“I walked away from the college – obviously my mother wasn’t happy – but I wanted to be able to contribute because that was always in me from an early age. I left and got involved in the farming project managing it and actually worked on it.
“That decision I made back then at 17 years is what brought me to this point now, always wanting to reach out and give back to the community. That’s in me now and it can’t go way. As I get older it becomes even sweeter and cemented in me. I have far more knowledge now, experience, and I am far more capable,” he added. (SDB Media)