A sign saying ‘Welcome to Trench Town, Home of Reggae Music’ greets persons driving into the community that is credited as the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae. However, if you happen to visit with Ian ‘Ity’ Ellis, the welcome will probably sound like, “Welcome to where I grew up”, which is exactly what he said as The Gleaner met up with the comedian and motivational speaker at the Boys’ Town Community Centre earlier this week. The mission for the day – to meet Natesha Fearon – a mother of three who is being assisted by The Dream Team, a charity that has been helping to rebuild the community by improving the housing conditions for several residents.
A quick stroll across the gully, an overwhelmed Ity immediately begins to give a tour and it’s not surprising to see new faces walking with him through the streets. The residents are used to their home being a place of interest as locals and visitors from overseas come in search of the yard where Bob Marley spent much of his youth, and many of Jamaica’s cultural ambassadors, from musicians to producers, and entertainers like Ellis were born and raised.
It may be Ellis’ contagious smile or the fact that he never forgets his sense of humour that lights up the faces of his sister, Lovencia Powell, and his niece, Laphane Bent. The two women were seated outside the home where Ellis spent most of his childhood years.
“See that little window there, that’s where I would look out especially when my mother would lock up the house and leave me [to] run her errands,” he shared, pointing to the board house structure at 20 Second Street. While the comedian describes his beginning as happy and humble, he recalls the conditions of growing up in Trench Town.
“Persons living in tenement yards had to utilise poorly constructed bathroom facilities, many without windows and no electricity, which supplied many in one space,” Ellis explained. “For a long time in my heart I have been aching to see how can I impact the community in a way that was real and meaningful, as well as tangible.”
His wife Karen Ellis had informed him of Akino Page, known for his YouTube channel Kino Life in Jamaica and who is one of the founding members of The Dream Team charity. After watching a few videos on the channel, Ellis made a visit to Trench Town to see the work they had been doing.
“I saw the energy of the team, the camaraderie and support of each other, which is not necessarily a common thing in Trench Town (so) it was heart-warming for me. We want to see more of that type of solidarity, people helping each other,” the comedian said.
He added that his home was just a stone’s throw away from Page’s, and though of a different age group, he was actually raised on the same street [Second Street] at number 19.
“Already he is helping the community in a tangible way and it inspires a positive energy that I want to see and be part of. I also wanted to minister to persons but part of talking about God is to support them and this year the Christmas Comedy Cook-Up: The Virtual Edition will be contributing proceeds to the project,” Ellis declared. “The show plays an important role as comedy is the platform that I became known to people for; there is something about laughter that if you can get a person to laugh or smile, it is disarming. One thing is sure, when you see a comedian and because what you associate with them is laughter, you will smile and I embrace that, and it is a very important part of what I do.”
The Clifton Boys’ Home in Darliston, Westmoreland, were the beneficiaries in December 2019. Earlier last year, through his company Ellis International, he began the promotion of Ghetto Misfits, a foundation which the comedian had hoped to launch officially in 2020.
“It is to remind persons who are born in the ghetto, like myself, not to attach ourselves to the characterisation given to persons who come from these backgrounds. I am from here, but I don’t have to fit into what you think I should be. It is to impact those who have been disenfranchised in similar communities, to encourage them to say I was born here, but don’t focus on the negatives. Though it is in its embryonic stages, I want it to be a foundation that encourages young men and women to look beyond their past. [The] past is [the] past; it doesn’t define who you are in the future, which is what we see happening here with The Dream Team. And I am proud to say I am a ghetto misfit.”
Natesha Fearon and her children, Jameila and Rayon Smith, and Omari Fearon were overjoyed to have the comedian visit, though work was still being done on what would become their new home.
“I feel great as I have wanted the help for a long time but never knew where to [get it]. I try and sell little foodstuff, living hand-to-mouth and throw partner too. Sometimes it may not be enough, but it is sufficient for me to supply the children,” Fearon told The Gleaner. “There’s been ups and downs, having lived here in the abandoned toilet and bathroom facility for almost 10 years, but I never let my children miss school. There are other needs, such as a phone so I can communicate with their schools, a tablet for Rayon, who is in tenth grade, but no matter what I make sure they get their work so they can better themselves,” she continued.
The Dream Team’s Page explained that Fearon and her children are not the first, and certainly would not be the last that the organisation assists.
“Most of us on the team are from here, born and grow between Third and Fourth streets. We’ve only been doing it for about seven months, at the first instance of the pandemic outbreak, and when Ity saw the project before this one, he decided to give a different strength. Anyone who can help will be part of an authentic outreach with the transparency that is expected,” Page said.
To donate or learn more about Ghetto Misfits Foundation contact Ellis International Limited, by following @ellisintltd on Instagram or call (876) 754-6262. To contact The Dream Team, call Akino Page at 876-793-3921 or follow @kinolifeinjamaica on Instagram.
Have a good story you’d like to share? Email us at [email protected]