At the age of just 25, Randy McLaren has styled himself as a “Kriativ Aktivis”, a persona meant to encourage social change and empower young people. McLaren has already brought his passionate dub poetry performances all over Jamaica and is branching out internationally, from Zimbabwe to the U.K.
“I view my creative talents as a way of activism, a creative way of empowering, inspiring, educating, motivating,” he says of his rapid, lyrical and dramatic delivery style. “Young people don’t have the greatest attention span.”
So McLaren, who graduated from the University of the West Indies with a degree in sociology, reads all the time, mostly current affairs. He is most passionate about rectifying what he calls “reverse urbanization” or rural neglect, which he explains as the phenomenon of people migrating from the country to Kingston and back to the country again. “A lot of people are going back home and taking their inner city values. It’s almost as if the rural communities are being turned into ghettos,” he says.
McLaren grew up in the tiny rural community of Gardenfield in the parish of St. Thomas, where it took an hour to walk to school every day. He has three brothers and a sister, and as the middle child, assumed a busy life, becoming involved in academics and track and field, cricket and football. The best day, he remembers, was the day he came third in the spelling bee and then scored two goals for his football team to take the win.
However, the family struggled to support McLaren and his brothers and sister. “Things were always rough, challenging financially.”
So the community stepped in, recognizing McLaren’s talents. As a result, the concept of community and family were engrained in McLaren at an early age. “The concept of family was not just biological, and the concept of mentorship started to form.”
McLaren excelled academically and was the only boy in his rural community to qualify to attend a city school, which is a big deal. He was accepted at Excelsior College, where he was exposed to Youth Opportunities Unlimited, which was running peer counselling programs in the school. YOU is the largest mentoring agency in the region, having been founded in 1991.
It has since touched the lives of tens of thousands of youth and by extension, their communities. Thanks to YOU, which provides a range of programming, from parenting courses to employability and social skills training to peer counseling, McLaren was able to develop the ability to listen to his peers.
“The program gave me a strong platform to help people, to help others and share with others,” he says of YOU.
“I learned that we can make suggestions, but to this day, I never tell anyone what to do. It always boils down to the individual.”
McLaren is sensitive to the challenges youth face and has found that his peers look up to him and rely on him. As a result, he is always available to them and his phone is always buzzing with someone seeking advice or help.
McLaren will always remain accessible, but he has his sights set on larger goals. He continues to write new dub poetry pieces and recently completed a heart-wrenchingly beautiful piece for Unicef Jamaica on the victims of a horrific fire at the Armadale Correctional Facility. Seven girls were burned to death there, in state care.
“To me, talent must be used for good. The underlying principle is that you present it in a way that people want to take it to the highest level,” he says of inspiring his peers to be socially aware and active.