It all started in church. I gained my confidence in a little church in St. Thomas, Jamaica, called the Hampton Court Seventh Day church. That church was where I learned and recited bible scriptures, sung gospel songs and recited poetry. It is where I made some of my best childhood friends, picked cherries from the best cherry tree in town and listened to the sermons that inspired me to keep God the center of my life.
The book, Growing into Greatness with God, was born from those early bible study groups in church. The stories of young David (the boy who defeated the Giant), Daniel (a man who stood without fear among lions), Solomon (the wise judge) and Ruth (the loyal friend), as well as many others, all resonated with me. We were too poor to afford the latest toys and there was no television in our home so these characters became my heroes. We were poor but it didn't define our lives; we were rich in love, faith and community, and we had big dreams.
In the book, Growing into Greatness with God, the words of wisdom that accompany the stories are inspired by all the advice given to me by my mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the "old souls" that entered my early life. I grew up in a house where family, faith, good food and hard work were celebrated. A two bedroom house housed 3 generations. It wasn't unusual for an 11 year old to walk 1/2 mile to fetch water before school, walk home, get ready for school, walk at least 1/2 mile to school, be respectful and attentive, participate in field day, take the long walk home with friends (not forgetting to stop and say hello to all the neighbors), pick fruit or dig yams for dinner, complete homework assignments, and end the day by having dinner and fellowship with family. That was my daily life growing up in Jamaica. I didn't fully appreciate it back then.
In 1982, I moved to Philadelphia to live with my mother and my brothers. I had to adjust to a new country, a new household and the typical middle school anxieties. I was a shy, introverted child and I struggled to find my voice; it didn't help that my voice had a very strong Jamaican accent. For many years, I didn't speak up as much as I needed to - I feared saying the wrong words and getting into trouble; I feared be teased because of my accent; I wasn't familiar with the sound of my own voice. Fortunately, my upbringing gave me a quiet confidence. I was a good writer, a good student and I had a small group of good friends.
I went to Murrell Dobbins High School, a vocational high school and followed the business track. With my typing and short-hand skills, I was prepared to be the best administrative support staff in Philadelphia. That was my plan B. College was not an option for me; it was a requirement. I always knew that I was going and when my older brother, Mark encouraged me to attend Penn State University, I jumped at the chance to follow in his footsteps. I connected with the Caribbean Student's Association, joined a vibrant church and happily settled into life in Happy Valley. It was there that I discovered that, at heart, I was a peacemaker. I ditched my Business major and chose Labor and Industrial Relations - I wanted to help people solve problems.
Why would an introvert go to law school? Those who knew me well were puzzled because they had visions of the typical loquacious courtroom lawyers from all the popular television shows. That was not my path; I wanted a job were I could be quiet, competent and effective. Boston College Law School, a wonderful Jesuit institution gave me the tools that I needed to find the voice that I didn't really realize that I had lost. I gravitated towards small classes with grades based on writing assignments. In a small-group class, I turned in a paper that I was really proud of; the professor commented that it was excellent but it was not in my voice. I hadn't spoken much in class so my voice was really a mystery. That is when I learned that it wasn't enough to let my writing speak for me, I had to let my voice be heard in all areas of my life.
About 8 years into my legal career, I was blessed to be appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the District of Columbia government. It was the dream job that allowed me to hear cases, issue decisions, and participate in mediating disputes. My voice was heard in the courtroom and in written decisions but in a quiet, substantive manner that would make any introvert happy. When you find that thing that you are passionate about, it frees you up to live a well-rounded life. I now spend my time raising my three boys, writing and reading inspirational books, practicing law, participating in religious and community life and running as often as I can.
Growing into Greatness with God is about finding the unique talent that God has blessed you with, nourishing that skill and using it to be of service. My journey began in a small town in Jamaica and is being realized in the United States. It started with the wonderful bible stories that allowed me to believe that with God everything is possible. It began with the principles of faith, family, hard-work, community and bonding over good, healthy food. I hope that the book, Growing into Greatness with God: 7 Paths for our Sons & Daughter reflects those principles and that everything that I have learned on my journey, thus far, can help a child realize that he or she was born with greatness. Regardless of your circumstances, you can become all that God has ordained for your life. The journey continues.