“Welcome to Jamaica….in the morning I will be speaking at a church service. Last week, one of the members was shot on the church grounds on his way to service. Several of the other members saw and have been intimidated into silence. The entire community is unnerved.”
This isn’t your typical Jamaican welcoming, but it was mine. Not that I should have been surprised - I was staying with Faith and Donovan Thomas, founders of Choose Life International, a Jamaican organization working to prevent suicide and help people choose happiness. It was late February 2020 and in the (almost) month that I was there, the number of murders that were taking place was unprecedented. Having worked 15 years in inner-city Chicago in communities such as Cabrini Green, Englewood, and Humboldt Park, I was no stranger to violence induced as a result of poverty created through systemic racism and colonization, but what I saw in Kingston gripped my heart.
And yet, there is hope.
Even in the face of the pain and violence, I met many Jamaicans who were choosing happiness AND working to shift the paradigm of violence in their communities. They were not turning a blind eye to the problem, but rather confronting it head-on - standing up and finding ways to bring light into the darkness; hope in the midst of despair.
For Faith and Donovan, happiness is a deliberate, moment by moment choice, especially when on a daily basis they are receiving calls from individuals, parents, business executives, community leaders, pastors, and others for support due to a tragic loss, or a loved one that is contemplating suicide. They have faced struggles and traumas in their personal journeys and yet, through it all, they choose happiness.
During my time with Faith and Donovan, I helped to organize a series of events and programming for International Day of Happiness, a day recognized by the United Nations since 2013! We had been communicating with several schools and community organizations to provide programming leading up to International Day of Happiness, with a special event planned for the actual day. We got halfway through the program when everything came to a halt due to COVID.
Days before the International Day of Happiness, I left Jamaica to return to the United States. On 20 March 2020, while on a flight from Chicago to Denver, it was announced that Chicago was placed under stay-at-home orders. Jamaica was bracing itself for what was to come since the virus was already spreading on the island. For many, last year’s International Day of Happiness was a day marked with fear and uncertainty.
This year, while we are still wrestling with COVID and its impacts, I challenge you to remember to “Choose Happiness”. While COVID has changed the world, not all of the impacts felt are negative. Yes, many of us have suffered great losses which are not to be glossed over quickly. If we look hard enough, we can see that COVID has created opportunities to bring us together and create changes that likely would not have happened (or happened as quickly) had we not been faced with a pandemic. For Choose Life International, COVID has actually enabled them to broaden the reach of their work. This weekend, in honor of International Day of Happiness, they are offering an online, 12-hour Happiness Seminar at a discounted rate. I invite you to check it out!
Whatever you do today, take a moment to cultivate happiness. Watch a funny movie, do something for another person that you know would bring a smile to their face, walk around with a smile on your face (even if you don't feel like smiling), tell a funny joke - just do something to bring a little happiness to the world around you. As they say in Patois (or Jamaican), Tek kin teet kibba heart bun (Laughter is the best medicine.'). Don’t wait for things to get better to be happy, CHOOSE happiness.
In health and love,
*Please note, I do not get paid or benefit in any way as a result of this post. I am highlighting their work because they are doing incredibly important work. They continue to go above and beyond, ensuring those who need help are supported, irrespective of whether they can pay for their services. They are an amazing couple doing amazing work and deserved to be honored for all they do.