By Michael Lashley
I rejoice every time I see “young people” who give off the shiny halo of feeling happy and successful. Let us look at children, teenagers and others in their twenties and thirties who are enjoying life. What makes them tick?
What makes Quincy Bullen such a joy of a jazz musician? Is it that we can feel how much he enjoys his music? Is it that we are overwhelmed by the fact that such a young pianist can be so brilliantly versatile in his composition, arrangement and execution of music?
Is it that we feel that his father’s musical talents are enough for one family and therefore that having two virtuosos of that calibre in the field of jazz music in the same family is nothing short of a miracle?
How do we explain the sheer excellence of Sejourner San Vicente as a well-balanced, multi-talented young person? Does she find her inner strength from her years of hard work and successes as a steelpan musician?
When she had to struggle with one part of her secondary school curriculum, was she emboldened and comforted by the caring and high standards of performance that characterize the extended family that is Pan Fantasy Steelband? Is this demanding and yet inspiring musical environment what prepared her for the rigours of the university studies in which she is now engaged?
Are Tatum Prince and Nayo Sasaki-Picou similarly blessed by that same musical village that it takes to raise a child?
Is it not true that the earlier successes of Salah’s Musical Academy in the Pan Alive steelpan competition were attributed to the fact that, unlike their counterparts in the GTA, these Montreal-based young musicians have the benefit of year-round musical discipline and training?
How does a small, part-time school called The Saaz-O-Awaaz Academy of Indian Music produce top quality young singers and exponents of instrumental music? Is it by providing an ideal environment of disciplined learning, love of music and commitment to culture?
I have had numerous opportunities to observe the powerful role of culture and the arts in nurturing and cementing youth development and indeed community development in general.
Young people tend to define happiness and success from their own perspective. They frequently see culture and the arts as being more meaningful to them than their formal academic curriculum.
Their happiness seems to come from a sense of fulfillment, rather than from their material standard of living. I get the impression that that they are getting satisfaction from some thing or things that they are doing.
And, more often than not, they feel that what they are doing is being appreciated. They sense that someone is pleased with them, and that someone is helping and inspiring them to go forward with their desires, dreams and their favourite activities.
Subconsciously or not, they know that they have a purpose in their lives.
They draw a significant amount of self-confidence from all of that. They know deep down in their hearts that they are loved and that someone does care about them.
As I sat down to pen this commentary, I realized that most of the happy and successful young people that I put at the top of my list are from middle income families. Then I started to remember that most of the assertive and talented drummers, singers, actors and dancers whom I saw perform at a recent Tropicana/ Pan Am youth event and at the Afri-centric school were likely to have much humbler social and socio-economic circumstances.
In that context, one of my colleagues has quite correctly pointed out that one of the important factors in youth success and fulfillment is their parents’ ability to navigate the paths to academic, sports and artistic opportunities.
But I remain firm in my belief that the two top determinants in youth happiness and success are the caring and stimulation that they find all around them in their living and learning environments.