Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coming together to run far

When you run alone, you run fast. When you run together, you run far.

Jamaicans have run fast when they seem to run alone. Usain Bolt, fastest man in the world, proves how fast we can be. True enough, Tyson Gay ran faster than Bolt yesterday, but I have no doubt that Bolt will be back charging into the tape faster than any other in his race.

We Jamaicans run well in almost every race we enter. In athletics, we have won more medals than countries much bigger than we are. In music, we have Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and a long, long list of others who are famous in every corner of the globe. Some have made their mark as doctors, soldiers, and politicians. For example, we have Ben Carson (neurosurgeon), Colin Powell (former American chief of staff and Secretary of State), and Yvette Clarke (American congresswoman), and Diane Abbott (aiming to lead the British Labour Party). So we know we can run faster than anyone else, when we choose.

In our communities, we have seen that we can run far when we run together. For example, when Jamaicans first settled in England, they met racism. Whites didn’t want to rent or sell them places where they could live and raise their families. It was hard for Blacks to find an apartment in a safe area with its own bathroom and kitchen, let alone its own front door and space for children to play.

So here is how many of those Jamaicans decided to run together in order to run far. They piled up in the slum apartments and saved their money together. This is a system in Jamaica known as “pardner”. People form a group in which each person contributes a set amount of money. One person is the banker, and this person makes sure all the money comes in and one person each month gets a “draw” – the total sum handed in by all the others in the “pardner”.

The first person who had enough from the “draw” would buy a house, and the others would move into rooms in that house until they had a “draw” that allowed them to buy their own house. The “pardner” would run until everyone had shelter that gave them a feeling of dignity. Before they had their homes, no banks would lend them money. However, with their own homes, they had a better chance of getting loans from banks.

“Pardner” schemes have worked for years, and many Jamaicans still rely on “pardner” to help them do what they cannot do alone. However, these schemes are really for individual benefit. As a result, individuals have run fast, but Jamaica as a whole seems left behind.

I hope, my grandniece, that together we can find ways of running far as a country, even while helping individuals to continue to run fast. And let us remember that those who run fast, like Usain Bolt, never really run alone. They have a team that helps them to run (and win) race after race.


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at