Brother Jack passes on


O, the woman of Samaria, the woman, O, the woman of Samaria gone.

O, the woman of Samaria, the woman, she tek her waterpot an’ gone.

Jesus ask her for her husband, she say she had none,

She tek her waterpot an’ gone.

Jesus ask her for her husband, she say she had none,

She tek her waterpot an’ gone!

This wake song is as uniquely Jamaican as was Brother Jack, who first taught it to me. His official name, Glandville Johnson, Brother Jack, like the woman of Samaria, last week also took his waterpot an’ gone.

My family and many others from the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) knew over a year ago that he was passing when he had been placed in Palliative Care. He had rallied. However, last month, he was again placed there, where on my seeing him last Saturday, it was clear that the end was imminent.

Humanity, recognizing those among us who pass has been tagged by anthropologists as the first act of homo sapiens attaining civilization; that this act of recognizing our dead is the origin of every legal system, an act ensuring the passing of possessions to those left as relatives.

This piece, however, is about Brother Jack’s life and passing, and on the impact he’s had on my family. First meeting him during an unsuccessful municipal campaign in 1985 to elect Owen Leach city councillor for Parkdale. Brother Jack was immediately memorable, especially with an authoritative stentorian voice, able to outflank any megaphone. From then, he became an indelible part of my family; the venerable grandfather our children didn’t otherwise have.

Thus, even knowing that his passing was imminent, its arrival was still a profound shock: that Brother Jack is dead!

Everyone involved since the 80s in the anti-Apartheid and the anti-imperialism struggles in Toronto, and about South Africa, knew Brother Jack. He was first a Jamaican nationalist, seeing Jamaica as being the very best of God’s creation. For example, on one occasion, downtown Toronto, looking at the sun one lovely summer’s day, he complemented it saying, “that is one Jamaica sun!”

In a sense, Brother Jack, in his views on Jamaica, represented the opposite, in my opinion, of how Trinidadians consider Trinidad, for while we love Trinidad, to us, especially given her unique multi-cultural characteristics, the world is Trinidad. To Brother Jack, Jamaica is the world.

A Pan-African, Brother Jack was there when Bishop Tutu, and later Nelson Mandela, first visited Canada. He was also at the University of Toronto when Gerry Adams, Catholic leader of Ireland’s Sein Fein, visited.

Brother Jack was not only African, a Caribbean patriot and a Jamaican nationalist, he was, notably, also from the “best parish in Jamaica: St. Elizabeth!”

This, briefly, was Brother Jack, politically and socially vast.

Spiritually, he as I, was a believer in the Creator and a man of prayer. On this note, generally speaking, to those who know not the Creator, death when it comes, is a full stop! To those who know the Creator, death is only a comma.

In this vein, Brother Jack’s passing is for me not goodbye, but “meet me by the river some day, meet me by the river not far away, when my Lord calls me home, happy, happy home on the other side, meet me by the river, someday!”

A wake will be held to honour Brother Jack’s memory this Friday, November 13, at the Jamaican Canadian Association centre, 995 Arrow Road at 7 p.m.

For more information, call Dudley Laws at 416-656-2232.

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