From ‘bad’ student to a leader and mentor

I was raised in West Kingston. Growing up where I did, I soon realised as a child that you got more support being deviant than being good.

Jerome Palmer
Jerome Palmer a mentor for youth in correctional facilities, photographed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona were he is enrolled as a student.
Mentor for youth in correctional facilities, Jerome Palmer, photographed at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona where he is currently studying for a BSc in international relations.
23 July 2019

I was raised in West Kingston. Growing up where I did, I soon realised as a child that you got more support being deviant than being good. Good people treated you badly, and friends who were doing bad things also treated you badly. For any child who’s trying to be good in the middle of all that, life is going to be lonely.

Most of my life I had to raise myself. I spent a lot of time selling at the market downtown, roaming around with friends and giving a little mischief. The time I spent with family was full of conflict. Eventually, I gave up on school and focused instead on whatever my friends were doing.

My life reached its lowest point at 16 years old, after failing my CXCs at Tivoli High School. I was sitting alone, thinking that life had nothing for me. Who was to blame: my parents, my schooling or my grandmother – the lady who raised me? Whoever it was, was irrelevant. I just needed to move forward. 

Reaching a lifetime low at the age of 16

Realising that I only had myself made me want to commit to repeating at St. Andrew Technical. From there, I became top of the class, President of the Student Council and then a youth mayor. I learned that at the end of the day, the system doesn’t grade you on your circumstances, it grades you on your results.

The transition from Tivoli Gardens High to St. Andrew Technical was not easy, as I had no family support. To get there, I asked strangers in the street for $1,000 each – persons who agreed with what I was trying to do for my life – until I got the $20,000 for my tuition money. 

Even then, I only had one uniform to wash and wear every day for the entire first year. Often I had to beg free rides on the bus from Kitson Town in St. Catherine and back, trying to do my homework on it, getting home at 11 pm and then waking up at 4 am to do it all again.

Mentoring youth in correctional facilities

It has been a long journey from there to becoming a student at the University of the West Indies (UWI)! But now I am here, I view myself as really privileged compared to those in my community, so I wanted to give back. In all that I have done, including hosting a radio show on Roots FM for youth, working with those in correctional facilities is where I feel I can have most impact.

Now, I am part of the Ministry of National Security ‘We Transform’ programme which helps rehabilitate and reintegrate youth offenders in the four juvenile remand centres islandwide.

They are youth – they are not guilty! If we must point fingers we cannot blame a 14-year-old, although we must hold them accountable. A lot more needs to be done to give them a proper perspective on life.

Give youth a chance, before it is too late

But we need so much more violence prevention work earlier on – in our schools at secondary and primary levels. When we see students misbehaving and  that goes unchecked, it grows into something else. 

Many youth are struggling because of a lack of skills.  They also lack the confidence to improve themselves. What I want for all youth is guidance to prevent them taking the wrong road, and even when they do, to guide them back.

Their youth was my past experience. My present and future is to get them to where I am now.

What's UNICEF doing?

Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ‘30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Jerome who are using their voices and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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