The night started out somber at first; the scattered ensemble of black, green and gold…
They say that a true legend is someone whose acts of kindness, generosity towards others and sainthood, became the catalyst of mental independence for man. They leave an almost unforgettable legacy and certainly, a grand change into the hearts of all who they encounter.
As we drove through the unpaved and dusty roads of Trench Town, the many street signs and graffiti of famous: musicians, singers and even community leaders that came out of this very tough and poverty-stricken town were everywhere on the walls, the corner bars and grocery shops.
Today, our team was all too anxious to meet a living legend and a woman with pride in her country. She says that she was called from a higher power and a woman who stood up to pointing guns and the occasional “garrison dual” with the most feared area dons and gang leaders. She is the renowned and respected lady who boldly walked these very streets both day and night and was even willing to risk her very own life to save another; Miss Lorna Stanley.
By the time we had arrived just a few hours before noon, the day was a bit cloudy and an intense feeling of nervousness overwhelmed my mind as I remembered that this was one of Jamaica’s most volatile garrison communities. From the overcrowded lanes, the zinc fences, the ominous community names like: Rema, Havana, Jungle, Buckers, the random cluster of men gathered to one corner of the street dressed in full white, did not make me feel any more relieved.
I glanced over at our group who was here visiting one of the local churches and to meet with the legendary woman-or as I have now dubbed her, the Saint of Trench Town. Everyone was excited and anxious to join in the service and I wondered at that moment, nobody else seem to be fearful so what I was even worried about.
Still, after a few minutes the feeling of fear and uncertainty were still evident. Yet, the group of children at the end of the street playing football, and the few people who were seemingly heading towards our destination-The Joy Community Church of Trench Town, made our visit a little less frightening. As we pulled into the church’s parking lot, we were greeted by the small framed yet vibrant Miss Lorna Stanley. Miss Lorna was a petite and beautiful woman, with a short hair-cut styled in grey and black. Her vibrant and animated energy was contagious which left us even more surprised when we learnt that she was 79 years old. We then made our way inside for what was sure to be an inspiring message.
Lincoln Lewis(Media & Communications Director)
After a spirited and reverenced hour of praise and worship led by the celebrated singer, song writer and musician Ziggy Soul, we were all blessed with an unforgettable message by our very own Media and Communication’s director and pastor at the Upper Room Tabernacle Church in West Palm Beach Florida, Lincoln Lewis. And what a perfect and suitable message for such an occasion; the hope, strength and resilience in being unstoppable even in the face of adversities. The roar of his thunderous voice echoed throughout the scant congregation. Yet, as I glanced around the room, the empty chairs and few devoted worshipers were very much defying the Marxist quote the “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Members of Free Spirit Outreach at the church service in Trench Town.
Still, a rainbow of hope surfaced when the Strong Women of St. Mary were introduced to the congregation. These were once abused, impoverished and dejected women who were trained and mentored by Miss Stanley herself and who were now no longer victims of their reality but strong “unstoppable” women of Jamaica.
Nearing the end of the message, more people began to arrive. And just when my hope that this community had more devoted people of faith after seeing more people arriving, from the black clothing I could tell that they were just folks who had arrived early for a funeral that would be following the church service.
The Big Hall
Empowered by the wonderful message, we made our way over to The Big Hall that was prepared for our arrival. While there, our group of eight were welcomed and seated around a big table and wonderful spread of tasty Jamaican dinner which included: ackee and saltfish, roast bread fruit, fried fish and callaloo and a cool drink of fruit punch. The Big Hall which usually functioned as a primary school was transformed into a quaint bistro, a place to laugh, eat, drink and to share stories about the many lives that have been transformed by Miss Stanley.
The Patron Saint of Trench Town
Answering to a Higher Calling
Norma Archer Stanley
“No one wanted to help or helped in any way from a distance. Things got so bad that I contemplated to lock the school and go away to work…
I used to live in the hills but eventually I sold it and decided that I was going to live in The Big Hall. I learnt to bathe out of a container of water. I was threatened several times and went to the Elder in a Tribunal…I went, even though my life was threatened…
I had to learn how to love down here and to forgive and the same man that wanted to kill me became my best friend in Trench Town…” Norma Stanley June 2018
After a belly full of laughter and delicious Jamaican cuisine it was time for our generous host to share her history with Trench Town. What Miss Stanley never made up for in size she certainly did in accomplishment. She worked as a researcher with NBC News, News Week Magazine and was a cultured and educated woman who excelled in her field of journalism for several years. Earning a fellowship to the University of California, Berkley in Journalism, she became a reporter at the Palm Beach Post. She was the special assistant for one congressman and was an entrepreneur with her own public relations firm.
Miss Stanley’s accomplishments and career were unquestionable. Still, returning home to West Palm having visited Trench Town would trigger an innate desire to help others. She started having nightmares about the children that she encountered. Strongly convinced that her calling was to return to Trench Town and do something about the grim living conditions of the children, she returned with one aim, to follow the voice of God wherever it was leading her. She gave up all of her personal wealth, belongings, her successful career and returned to Trench Town with the goal of lessening poverty and promoting education. She then opened the Joy Town Learning Center but realized that there were many more young people who were supposed to be in high school and who were illiterate. Fueled by her passion and empathy, she invited to them to join her program. With her help and the help of Ziggy Soul, the group eventually expanded and grew up to over 100 students. Then came the birthing of the Operation Restoration Christian School (ORCS) and eventually the Strong Women of St. Mary and Trench Town.
Students from the Operation Restoration Christian School
If anyone is interested in learning about Miss Norma Stanley, there are tons of information about her on the internet, on her ORCS website and she was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey Talk Show. And as impressive as her legacy and accomplishments have been throughout the years, it was her passion and “calling”, her innate ability to inspire and to trigger the desire in an individual to want better and to persistently work towards achieving their accomplishments that interests me the most.
What is it that is so unique about this woman that is not even a Jamaican and was born in Panama, to have put her life many times at risk for so many? To have eaten at their tables and perhaps sometimes eating nothing at all with them? To live in the volatile and dangerous garrison when she could have been living in the hills instead?
After meeting her and hearing the firsthand accounts of all of the lives that she has touched and others that she has saved, there was not a dry eye in The Big Hall that evening and my team and I mission was clearer. We had a shared vision and common desire to promote education, wellness, to give to the needy and so we must now work together to once again make a change and to restore the children and people of Jamaica.
Sometimes all it takes is for one person to listen to the encouragements of their inner wisdom. For all it took was for one woman, one Legend-a champion among so many, one Saint, to brazenly walk out into the fringes of suffering and danger and to selflessly transform the lives of so many children; so many people.
A Saint is a human being that is willing to walk the narrow path, unafraid of the journey and determined to achieve the goal, to give nobly and selflessly without expecting anything in return. With their eyes focused on the outcome, the confidence in the power of their creative guidance, confidence and strength of a legend of warriors, the seed will be sewn and the potential for many legends to rise up will be born. Miss Lorna Stanley is a Legend, a Saint, her name has gone down into the pages of history, which makes us wonder, what do we want our own legacy to be?
My team and I left Trench Town that evening, with big plans in mind but an even bigger heart. And as for my initial anxiety, at the end of the day I realized that no matter where you go in this world or where your journey may take you, people are just people and one must not judge a book by the cover or by hearsay. We all essentially are searching for love, kindness and sometimes for a genuine hand to stretch forward towards ours and so are the people of Trench Town. Suffice it to say, Trench Town is the mecca of reggae music and the home of the incomparable Bob Marley, the Wailing Souls, Dean Fraser, Alton Ellis and countless others, too much to mention.
Still, we must remember that it also a home to many, the place where sons and daughters lay their head at nights to meet the sunshine and hope for the following day. We are a nation of champions and innovators, a people although neither homogeneous nor yet completely unified, are a people filled with courage and potential. We hope the way forward will see our team being inspired by The Saint of Trench Town Miss Norma Stanley.
And in the words of just a few of the lives that she has touched:
“Miss Lorna has been such an inspiration to us all. I have gotten help from Miss Lorna in a big way…I passed my exams for St. Andrew.” Debbie
“She has helped and inspired me more than she could ever imagine, to dream big and have confidence!” Melvin Willcott
“Miss Lorna made me live with her for six years. She raised us like her own children…” Kenya Garrick
By: Tai Barnett
July 27, 2018