Young nation builder Chris Harper: it is my duty to be there for young people

I saw a sign recently that read: “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

2018 has definitely been my year of getting things done. I launched U-Report in Jamaica, was awarded a Chevening scholarship to pursue my Masters of Law in Human Rights Law, and am now the proud recipient of a Prime Minister’s Youth Award in the Category of Nation Builder. All this has been the result of every action and every decision I have ever taken or made, however small.

Studying in a foreign country has given me a lot of time to reflect, and I recently wondered whether the high school me would be able to recognise who he has become. Back then, I was this awkwardly reserved, behind-the-scenes boy from the rural community of Lawrence Tavern, St Andrew, who was always plagued by thoughts that I would never be good enough.

From rural Jamaica to the world

Yet, last Saturday, something amazing happened. Watching the Prime Minister’s Youth Award award ceremony from London, and being able to witness my father accept the award on my behalf, tops the list as my proudest moment. While the award has my name on it, it was really his – a manifestation of all the sacrifices he has made that have positively shaped the young man that I am today.

My parents have always been there for me and my dad will always be “the World’s Greatest Father.” In his older years, he was very active in my schooling. When I saw the tweet from Minister Floyd Green sharing his interaction with my father I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

In his lifetime, he fathered two children. However, the life of one, Matthew, was cut short by a drive-by shooting in 2008, months after he returned from school in England. My brother was just 23 years old when all his potential was stolen. This moment, one of the saddest days of my life and a deeply-rooted memory, is one of the many reasons why I do what I do to this day and why I’ve pushed myself this far.

Motivated by youth, for youth

So many young people across Jamaica, unfortunately, do not have people as supportive as I do. I feel like it is my duty to be there for young people. Whether it has been through U-Report, or my work with the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) or the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), my mission has been to help them tap into their potential and realize that they have the ability to be and do much more than what society expects of them.

I feel that every moment up until now has steered me in one direction – to establish an enabling environment for Jamaican youth.

Over the years, I have had so many clear reminders that in order to achieve what I want for the young people of Jamaica, I need to do things that have never been done. I hope to follow in my parents’ footsteps and support youth in all that they aspire to be.

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