Around April 23rd, I embarked on my first visit to the Penn Relays. A mini version of the Olympics that focuses mainly on high school and college athletes, these games can change the trajectory of young people’s lives. This is the place where folks like Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and Kirani James were “discovered” by the international sporting world. It was dreadfully cold, but the energy was amazing.
Even more impressive than the energy on the field was the energy of the group of folks who offer tactical support for our visiting Caribbean athletes. For the past 21 years, Irwine Clare, Vincent Hosang and a number of other activists and philanthropists have banded together for an initiative they call Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB). What started as one truck and some patties provided by Hosang’s food company, has now grown into a fairly massive operation. Each year TJB collects the athletes when they arrive in the US, greets them with great fanfare, provides them with food, lodging and transportation for the duration of the games, and even finds agents to offer massages and acupuncture for their cold and aching bodies.
The event was visited by dignitaries and even Jamaica’s newest starlet Kaci Fennell. But at this occasion the real stars were the athletes. In the TJB tent, it was everyone else who got up so that the athletes could be seated. It was these future Olympians and dominators of world sports who were put on a pedestal for three days.
I was invited to the Relays as a media mentor for an organization called Kidz Hub, which teaches children from seven to eighteen years old about journalism and work ethics. By the time the weekend was over, I felt like I was the one who had been schooled about what it really means to have a community rally for a common cause.
I saw the fullness of our unique sense of pride in track and field that weekend. I will never forget the lesson: that a champion should be made to feel like a champion even before he or she runs the race.
Calibe Thompson is the Executive Producer of the “Taste the Islands” cooking series, now airing weekly on South Florida’s WPBT2 (Ch 2). For Caribbean-American heritage month, her next television project explores the concept of the American Dream from the Caribbean perspective.