The Day Peter Tosh challenged me. I was 9.

In 1977, Martha Gordon, my Grade 4 teacher at Mona Primary School arranged for the late, great Winston “Peter Tosh” McIntosh to come sing for her class. I can see it now… Peter Tosh perched on a stool in front of Grade 4G, with this guitar, singing.
At the age of 9 I was hardly aware of his genius, his forceful and intimidating personality and his celebrity. But I remember us being spellbound as he filled the classroom with his undeniable presence and as he easily strummed and communicated with his distinctive voice.
In between selections, Tosh stopped and pointed to a calendar on the wall. It was one of the popular themes back then: a picture of Jesus with the Sacred Heart.
“Dem tell unnu seh dat ah Jesus” he began. “But Jesus was a Jew. Jesus wasn’t no white man. Jesus never have no straight hair, white skin and blue eyes” he insisted.
Mrs. Gordon, a powerfully built black woman with a booming deep voice, forever festooned in gold bangles, chains, rings and earrings, took charge, albeit with a nervous note in her voice: ” Stop it Peter. Just sing for the children.”
At the age of 9 it mattered not, and today at age 46, it hardly matters to me if Jesus was white, half-white, olive-skinned or black. I still view him as God. BUT. But I paused. I was amazed at Tosh’s audacity. Those utterances in 1977 bordered on sacrilege. I was impressed. And I came away from that experience knowing somehow that to question the status quo is absolutely the correct way to go. I went on to marry a cousin of Peter Tosh. My children share the Rebel’s gene pool.
“Bun Babylon and challenge the status quo.” Bust up myths. Ask the hard, uncomfortable questions. Refuse to let anyone or anything set your agenda.
That’s just the way it is…some things will never change.”
“NO! Don’t you believe them!”

Bun Babylon and Challenge the status quo.

It was Christmas Day and I was plating the various offerings when our nephew, visiting from Toronto, arrived. JJ, now 22, had been living in Canada for the past couple of years, going to college, learning to fly planes and working. He had grown into a physically impressive young man and an interesting one to boot. I had planned to do the curried shrimp last. We fixed ourselves drinks and I invited JJ to come and learn from the Master. He obliged. He’s pretty good in the kitchen himself, and IMs from him with requests for instructions as to how to cook oxtail, or what can he use these beans to do were not unusual. So I took him through wok preparation and the range of Indian spices that he must use, the importance of coconut milk in curries, and we chatted. He spoke about the subtle and no so subtle experiences he had had with racism in Canada. He spoke of how he coped, reacted and dealt with them. He used a phrase that immediately got my attention: “…challenge the status quo”.

“Listen Kelly: I take great pride in seeing how people react to me when I’m on my way to my warehouse job, a young, black man with a hoodie on, and then seeing their faces transform when I challenge the status quo by engaging them on something like navigating the 737 into specific airports. I break stereotypes one by one.

I deliberately spent my own money to upgrade my seat on the flight home. I wore my black blazer, stretched my legs and sipped red wine. I love saying: How’re your doing! and seeing them look around uncertainly. Yup… I’m breaking stereotypes one by one”

I challenged him: “Aren’t you merely trying to fit in, JJ… behaving “white” so as to ingratiate yourself?”

“No, no, no! Not at all! I want to challenge the status quo, I want to break stereotypes one by one so that the next time they have to interact with a young black man they won’t be so quick to stereotype, categorise and dismiss” he countered with certainty.

Long after we packed away the Christmas Day leftovers JJ’s statement about challenging the status quo and breaking sterotypes remained with me. There was something about challenging the status quo that resonated deep inside me.

“Keep Calm and Bun Babylon”… I love this message.  It speaks to determination, resolve, and intentional acts aimed at challenging the status quo.

That’s how I want to live my life.

Challenging the status quo is not about the foolish, purposeless acts of youth aimed at nothing more than simply defying for defying sake. To bun Babylon, to challenge the status quo is to refuse to accept that “that’s just the way it is”. It is to refuse to allow anyone or anything to define you. It is to refuse to live selfishly and safely. To bun Babylon, to challenge the status quo is to live intentionally… to live out loud… to be authentic and productive. It is about taking the time and making the effort to know You and your mission. It is to influence your Community for the better. It is to refuse to wallow, to refuse to exist in a mediocre context, it is about identifying your gifts and using them to leave your space better than you found it.

Not all of us will be obvious trail blazing revolutionaries like Mandela, Malcolm and and Martin. But all of us can impact at least one person. If the almost 7 billion of us on the planet positively impact one life…well… do the math.

I think of the persons who have impacted me: Raymond who took me to task in no uncertain manner after one disheartening performance review by our then manager. “Are you really waiting for him to validate you, Kelly? KMT.”  Peter who continues to give unselfishly of his fine mind to help me solve work related problems and who challenges and inspires me with his brilliant approach to problem definition and solving. My mother said something to me when I was 13 that I have never forgotten: “You have reserves of strength that I have never seen in anyone else, Kelly.” I don’t believe her, but I have drawn on her confidence in me on many, many occasions.

And I try to pay it forward. I hope that I will have raised productive, confident, happy citizens of the planet. I hope that will have inspired at least one dream in one person. I resolve to bun Babylon and Challenge the status quo.

Happy New Year!

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