Yuh eva eat food and talk recession? Pick seasonin in yuh front yard and reason about the economy? Then Jean-Claude tell me dis:
“Linked to the idea of youth is that someone is there to look after you. I think the nation is entering a general phase of adulthood where children are asking themselves questions parents were asking years later…”
Ah take out meh notes…the interview start!
Mutual friend Junior Prout first introduced me to Jean Claude in the heyday of U.WE SPEAK at “The Headquarters” also known as the Humanities Undercroft, U.W.I St. Augustine. Today, the once bright-eyed poet/activist in white shirt, blue jeans and leather shoes is now the leader of the youth organization with the largest reach in Trinidad and Tobago. Jean-Claude Luc Cournand, Managing Director of The 2 Cents Movement and Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Bocas Lit Fest is beyond shadow of a doubt one of the leading voices of our generation – in the background, pushing others in front, setting the tone of all his meetings by pushing ego aside and sweeping the stage after the show is over.
But the 2 Cents story is the work that fits only part of his vision. When I asked him about his thoughts on youth and our place in the nation, he shared, “I want to inspire this generation to be socially concerned, socially responsible citizens, to value their intellectual development, solution oriented thinking about Trinidad and Tobago. I want them to be able to imagine a country they want to live in.”
This is the vision of a writer, thinker and to many, good friend who provides an example to his younger sisters and brothers by the work he does. Throughout secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago, youth reach out to Jean-Claude to follow up on his current activities, on the possibilities of internships with the organization and also for employment that his team provides.
The NGO life hard allyuh! If yuh know how it is, yuh does have less money to do more wok. And Jean-Claude never falls short in motivating and inspiring his team members to be efficient. He offers them a fair pay while they know that the value of their work brings greater joy than pay at market rates. Indeed, this is a special kind of organization. And he is a special kind of guy.
Long before you could change your profile picture to a rainbow for a US Supreme Court decision, Jean-Claude was in public and community centres building solidarity with the lesbian and gay community locally. How did he develop an awareness of these issues from so early? “I knew people who did not fit the mould of what was described to me as gay. I knew people who I respected, admired and learned from and what persons said about their sexuality is not what I saw. What was said did not make sense. Gay people impacted my life creatively and intellectually…the assumption that people made about categories of people was something I needed to explore myself and I wanted other people to explore their assumptions.”
He does not excel in the social sphere alone. Many youth business ideas owe part of their start-up plans to JC. And if his peers had to reimburse him the gas money for their travels, he would own two pieces of land!
But there is a Jean-Claude whom I got to know intimately and cherish. A boy in him who shared a love for philosophy and ordinary things and spaces that brings about a sense of completion. He became my rell bredrin – the one who would discuss The Four Noble Truths over doubles over a drain in de heart of Central. I wanted to understand what stimulated his interest in philosophy, he replied, “I believe that for the human being, a big part of our actualization is in exploring our intellectual abilities, being able to ponder, to think, explore our possibilities. It is the special gift of asking a question. Philosophy, [therefore], is important for living people to satisfy their lives.”
I know his pain. I know the pain of a twenty-five year old that has made the hard choice between not advancing his personal spoken word poetry career for the development of young talent around him – many of whom have surpassed him individually in the eyes of the public. I know that every time he submits a proposal or grant that is approved by funders in seconds because of the positive brand recognition for the name “The 2 Cents Movement”, he gets flashbacks to humble beginnings of youth in the USC Debating Society or meetings on lawns with the Association for Young Intellectuals.
The story of a young man, academically inclined student, grounded in boyhood fun, wildness and sport, graduate from St. Mary’s College, then chicken fryer at Kentucky Fried Chicken and neighbourhood wacker man, turned University psychology graduate and youth leader. This too is what Trinidad and Tobago is about.
Take a bow, Jean-Claude.
Photography by Marlon James (2015)