Merry Go Round - Reducing Crime, Building Community and Our Common Wealth

Remembering the Merry Go Round - Reducing Crime, Building Community and Our Common Wealth

By Gabriel Christian

July 14, 2022 6:35 A.M

A horse simililar to this one was a major feature of the Merry Go Round in the 1960s and 70s

On or about June 17, 2022 images flooded social media of a young man on a motorcycle  in the center of Roseau discharging his pistol in the air. Others in the motorcycle gang around the gunman aggressively revved the engines of their motorcycles, amidst the din and clutter on a major thoroughfare in the capital city. The quiet night was punctuated by gunfire as youngsters walked about nonchalantly as if this was acceptable behavior.  

 Those grim images on Dominica were associated with a memorial for a young man who had been gunned down on the Roseau Bayfront less than a week earlier. His death was one more of grim statistic on our beloved island of seven murders in less than seven months. Not one policeman could be seen in videos of that rowdy gathering and gunplay in a public space.  Not one press conference by the government of Dominica,   or private sector organization, was held to address what was a blatant example of the breakdown of law and order in Dominica. Is that how we intend to attract tourism or investment to Dominica? 

Indeed, the images reminded me of the cowboy pistoleros portrayed on screen in some dusty US town during our viewing of western movies at the Carib or Arawak cinemas on Dominica back in the day. It is my observation that the lack of playgrounds,  youth leadership in organization and a creeping acceptance of lawlessness in high places have fostered crime and  destroyed the once peaceful Dominica we knew.

 The Disappearance of the Creative Public Space

In Dominica, we once had creative public spaces within which a mostly peaceful and courteous community thrived. What were examples of such creative public spaces? There  were our churches and church organizations. The churches organized the parish fairs which were held with regularity around our island. 

We had playwrights such as Alwin Bully and Daniel Cauderion with the People's Action Theater putting on plays such as "Speak Brother Speak" or "Jesus Christ Superstar." The creativity of our local actors and actresses birthed mutual respect as such reflected the value we saw in each other.

The well appointed Dominica Botanic Gardens was a place for fantastic games of cricket, or Sunday strolls in one's Sunday best. One of the most delightful memories of my Dominica childhood was the Expo 1969 fair at the Botanic Gardens at which different islands exhibited their agricultural and industrial bounty.  Grenada, the Spice Isle, built a two-storey nutmeg wreathed in the aroma of spices, while Dominica featured its produce and craftwork produced by the Government Social Welfare Division's   Workshop for the Blind under the management of Alberta Christian. 

Amidst the creative bustle of that time was our modest, yet majestic, Roseau Public LIbrary, where knowledge could be gathered within the quiet cocoon of that temple of knowledge. On the weekend the little children would lose themselves amidst the stacks of the Children's Section of the Roseau Public LIbrary and travel the world in their minds. Where is that culture of learning which builds creativity, and community now? Fixated on foreign fly by night schemes, our policy planners are blind to the jewels which reside within our people where they can be burnished by a commitment to the creative commons.


So gathered around knowledge, meaningful things and cooperation within a public space, we had a thriving and mostly peaceful country. 


The disappearance of the creative public space has left a gaping hole in our social architecture. That void has now been filled by gangs, gangsters, overall lawlessness in high and low places, and the violence inherent to the same. 


Cinema and Theater


What of Cinema and Theater? Dominica of the 1960s and 1970s saw a flourishing cinema and theater culture. I have referenced the work of the People's Action Theater above. Coupled with that was a vibrant cinema culture where the best movies from Hollywood or the English speaking world could be seen.


Not only was the Carib Cinema (now Prevost Cinemall) a favorite movie hangout,  but the site was used for Spelling Bee contests. In 1966 our brother Lawson won such a contest and still has the gift of a book on literature that he won as a prize. Such use of the public space for education and collective effort in that vein, outside the classroom, allowed our young to forge durable beneficial relations around the acquisition of knowledge. One learnt the art of study, proper speech and overall civility was fostered. Where are the current social instrumentalities by which we can cohere if all we do is shout at each other?   Engulfed in the discordant clamor of unlearnt voices, we now witness  the triumph of violence of thought that is now often made manifest by violence in deed. 


Debates, Panel Discussions and Youth Leadership 


 At our schools we had strong leadership.  We saw such leadership among youth and student organizations such as debating clubs, literary societies,Brownies, the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, student councils and the Dominica Cadet Corps. These organizations dwelled with the public space and provided yeast to leaven the bread of a great unity of purpose in the Dominican family.  

In so doing we fashioned civic responsibility and a strong sense of community, and patriotic duty. Such leadership focused on meaningful enterprise is a barrier against lawlessness.  Rascality thrives amidst disorder, selfishness and a departure from a culture of community given to productive endeavor. 


To promote that culture of learning and positive national identity were the high school student newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s. I remember student newspapers such as the Dominica Grammar School Clarion, St. Mary's Academy Marian Messenger and the Sixth Form College Sifocol Courier. Within the bosom of such creativity of publishing arose a cadre of world class leadership in the arts and sciences which we sought to return to our home base via the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences.

 Sadly, national leadership saw our effort to replenish the pool of our human resources as some vile scheme. In the words of a misguided minister, "they want to rule us by remote control." Despite such rejection of our efforts,  it is my view that we must make every effort to unite our human resource competence now scattered across the globe and make an effort to focus its bounty on Dominica. 


In that ferment of community development we had panel discussions, debates and innovative shows. One such innovative rendering was the Sunday afternoon  "Kiddies Show" at the Goodwill Parish Hall organized by the St. Alphonsus Youth Group. The Kiddies Show featured young musicians and singers competing for various prizes. 


Such panel discussions, debates, plays, lectures and social gatherings  at the Goodwill Parish Hall, St. Gerard's Hall or the Carib, Arawak and Arbedee Cinemas in Roseau and Portsmouth were creative social spaces. The same could be said of the many village feasts such as Fete Isidore and others.  In those creative social spaces  our people gathered around to experience the creativity in the performing arts of their fellow citizens, or soaked up the wisdom of various  ideas within the relaxed atmosphere of civil discussion. Inspired by such creative,   calming and inspiring experiences our young and old were able to build a sense of community.


The Merry Go Round


In the 1960s and early 1970s on Dominica there existed a well appointed playground popularly called the "Merry Go Round." It was located next to the southern edge of the Dominica Grammar School and the Coca Cola Bottling plant and east of the Windsor Park on Valley Road.


The Merry Go Round was adorned with a sturdy seesaw, slides, swing sets, a mechanical horse, and a commodious Merry Go Round that one spun around on its axis. After a spin session, young and old would stumble around the playground,  giddy and giggling after enjoying that ride. The playground was open during the week, all year round. However, it was on the weekend that hundreds of mostly youngsters would inundate the site. 

Adults and vendors would congregate there too. There was Frenchy the snowcone maker, Taste Me the ice cream vendor, and Charlie Mo selling roasted peanuts and Max chewing gum. They would all  briskly ply their trade amidst a hubbub of excitement and clean fun. Within that playground  arose a rich sense of community and kindness that made for crimes of violence to be rare on our island. Now and again, a little quarrel or fist fight would erupt, but those were never deadly and did not douse the spirit of gaiety which characterized those gatherings. 


The Civil Service Association now occupies that spot where that legendary Merry Go Round once stood. It is my contention that the closure of that playground and the failure of the government/private sector to work together to recreate such a facility is one factor fostering the rise of crime on the island. We cannot be serious about nation building where we do not focus on playgrounds, parks and other public spaces which nourish a sense of community. 


A Return to the Common Wealth


A national library, a village fair, a playground,  a well kept Dominica Botanic Gardens, are all part of the common wealth of our nation. That social democratic ethic of those who founded an independent Dominica in 1978 inspired them to name our new nation 'the Commonwealth of Dominica." It was not the purpose of our founders to have the wealth on island be the possession of one family, party, oligarchy or elite. It was the desire of our founders that the wealth of our nation would be held for the benefit of the many, not a few. 

We are now adrift because we have departed from the founding principles of our nation which were inspired by the social justice philosophy and Christian virtue of those whose ideas animated our independence movement. They believed in the principle of the common good. And there is no better a manifestation of the common good in planning than public spaces where we can come together to learn, enjoy ourselves in decent sporting activity, or savor the agricultural and industrial bounty of our island home.


Studies show that playgrounds and parks create safe spaces where people can gather and enjoy time within the bosom of a peaceful community. We need more social gatherings that are not focused on party rallies or bacchanalia. In so doing we allow our people to enjoy nature, play, converse, share common interests and discuss the affairs of daily living. 

We have to seriously consider what commitment we have to nation building where we lack a sustained focus on green spaces, playgrounds and other spaces such as youth leadership organizations and clubs that allow our people- young ones in particular - to develop a culture of social responsibility, cooperation and cohesion. 


Where we cannot cooperate then the glue of social cohesion necessary to the building of a durable nation state is lacking. We cannot build a nation state where our primary gatherings are given to low brow dancing in the streets which debase our people with salacious antics better left for the privacy of one's bedroom.


We must return to the core values of our common wealth, lest we perish as fools. It is my hope that we can soon convene to discuss the creation and development of playgrounds for our young,  community fairs, libraries, theaters and other worthy public spaces. In so doing, we shall render meritorious service to our nation and craft that sense of friendship,  caring, compassion and industrious teamwork so necessary to rebuilding the social peace we once knew on our island. In such a fashion we can craft the better Dominica, and livable communities, that will be worthy examples for generations yet unborn.


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