By Tricia Reddock
Leaders march to the beat of their own drums. Sean Drexel Rose is one of those rare transcendental change agents who made his own drum. His drumbeats echo the familiar, resistant rhythm of our ancestors.
The fact that Sean is a deep thinking and reflective communicator revealed itself over the course of our enlightening, hours-long telephone conversation. I found him to be a likeminded, kindred spirit: thoughtful, expressive, creative and intellectual.
Fiercely independent, Sean has exhibited leadership qualities since his early childhood spent at Mt. Grennan, South Central Windward in the parish of Charlotte.
“I was always questioning and challenging everything and everyone, so I was often engaged in controversial conversations. I also had to contend with bullying because I was very vocal about my beliefs and my positions on various topics.”
Sean is the eldest of five children for parents Bertram Rose, a retired Licensing Officer, and Ishbelle Matthias Rose, a Seamstress. On his paternal side, he is a descendant of free African lineage with Irish and Garifuna ancestry mixed in.
Sean’s boyhood was spent in his protected, community just off the main road in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of mainland St. Vincent. He describes it as a haven surrounded by a circle of hills that shelters the village from the harsh elements of nature.
“I grew up in the 80s in Mt. Grennan. We were a very close knit and sharing community, where residents frequented each other’s home and it was normal to see groups of people gathered at the neighborhood standpipes daily to collect water and socialize. “
Mt. Grennan was fertile ground for this Native Sun to spend time plotting activities and co-opting his childhood friends to embark on any number of adventurous exploits he dreamed up on a whim.
“I was a leader who managed to convince the others to join me to play games. We engaged in activities like pitching marbles, converting used tires, empty plastic bottles and sardine pans to make toys in addition to kite making and flying, and, of course, playing cricket in the road or in nearby the Aagard groundnut fields after the peanuts were harvested.
No wonder I would later play for cricket for Bishop’s College Kingstown and North Union Secondary. I also captain my Village Cricket Team to compete in the national 3rd Division Cricket Tournament.”
We were just minutes from the ocean, bay side, so sometimes we would go sea bathing, sometimes swimming out to Black Rock. It was a fun filled time as we were all very adventurous, brave daredevils. Most times unknown to our parents.
These childhood adventures opened his eyes to the unlimited possibilities of a life beyond the traditional expectations of focusing solely on the straight path: from school to career, then onto the expected successful retirement.
“I am passionate about finding solutions to improve our everyday existence. I constantly engage myself in activities to achieve that goal. I am always strategizing and conceptualizing to bring to reality a cleaner physical environment.
This is a struggle for us in SVG. We need to develop and appreciate our flora and fauna, and collectively respond to ensure our environment is aesthetically pleasing. Also, cut down on dumping garbage in our rivers and streams. These practices lead to toxins polluting our ocean which will affect our children, and also tourist access to the beaches. Whether we go to swim, build sand castles or simply to play.”
Sean’s independent spirit developed as a result of his responsibilities at home. As the eldest, he had a participatory role in his sibling’s caretaking.
“I had parental duties; I had to help my parents take care of my younger siblings – one brother and three sisters.
I think this helped me to develop my independence as I was very involved in the decision making process in our home.”
After attending Colonarie Roman Catholic Primary School, later renamed the Colonarie Government Primary, Sean went on to the Bishop’s College Kingstown. After graduating, he decided to continue studies at North Union Secondary where he added two certificates. Even with six certificates in hand, Sean still found himself at a crossroad.
“My parents were very supportive, however at that time, the secondary school system lacked adequate career guidance. The expectation was that we should achieve at least five GCE or CXC certificates, and then look for a government job.
I was wearing an afro at the time. I was supposed to be a nice boy, shave my head, and beg for a civil service job. Anyone looking to deviate from that norm risked being stigmatized by the society.”
In 1992 he considered applying to Grammar School’s A-levels program to further his studies. However his independent and rebellious spirit kicked in, so he decided to look for work instead.
“As the eldest, I felt compelled to strike out on my own and do things for myself.”
In 1993, Sean secured his first position as Checker with Dip-Con, an engineering construction company. His responsibilities included monitoring workers to track and record their hours for payroll.
After Dip-Con’s contract expired, he started temping for Vinlec as an Office Attendant, functioning as liaison between the Cane Hall and Kingstown offices for over a year. The job search continued. This led to a period of frustration.
“I often felt stigmatized and overlooked at that time. I recall becoming frustrated waiting at home after receiving a verbal promise of a job opportunity by the parliamentary representative.
As I waited for this to become a reality, I dedicated a lot of my time to reading. Much of that reading material included books on pan-Africanism. I began to develop a resistance to Eurocentric views. This drove a wedge between me and some members of my family as they feared I was becoming too radicalized.”
It was for him a period of painful uncertainty and resistance.
So in 1996, he joined up with a friend, Glenroy Barnum, to conceptualize a vegetarian restaurant they named Ital. Ranch. Without the benefit of investors or capital, the two scouted for materials and built a structure on government property at North Union.
Within a year, the venture was running smoothly and proved successful. It was also one of the first businesses of this kind to prohibit smoking on the compound. “I was adamant that smoking of any form was not acceptable in such close proximity to a school. I had to contend with threats at times from persons who sought to defy that request.”
The Ital. Ranch quickly became popular with the students and staff at N. Union Secondary, as well as with van drivers and locals.
For the next three years, they operated – providing hot, nutritious and affordable vegetarian meals. Eventually, two other unemployed youth joined the team to assist with food preparation and help serve their growing clientele.
While operating the Ital. Ranch, Sean also started travelling to New York annually for about six months at a time, to work as a Carpenter’s Assistant to help supplement his income. He used the money he earned to buy products that he would return to SVG to sell, creating a profitable, cyclical source of income.
At this time, he simultaneously conceived a plan to establish a youth farm bank. This idea indirectly led him closer to politics, and ultimately, the field of communication.
“Communication chose me. I accidentally stumbled into it through politics. There was a farmer’s forum taking place in Kingstown. By chance, I found out about it and decided to attend because I wanted to discuss access to lands for us to establish this agricultural program.
When I spoke up at that forum, my interest peaked even further. I subsequently attended a national Young Democrats Convention and was invited to speak from the floor on behalf of the South Central Windward Young Democrats delegation at that convention.
I spoke about the need for cohesion among the organizations within the party, as well as a need for increased employment opportunities for the youth.
Of course, some felt I should have said more positive things and that I spoke out of turn.”
Fortunately, Sean attracted mostly positive reviews, and was encouraged by many who attended to explore communications as a career, a suggestion he resisted at first.
He became more politically active, eventually chairing the NDP Youth Convention in 1999. Sean’s natural talent for communication emerged through these experiences.
Eventually, the Ital. Ranch was rented to another entrepreneur. When the government reclaimed the land. In 2002, the structure was demolished to make room for the current North Union Resource Center.
Sean was once again at a crossroads. “Through my work with the Young Democrats, I realized that communications was my natural talent and the right career choice for me. So I decided to cut my locks, bite the bullet and strike out. I applied for a position at the Government Information Service (GIS), which is now called Agency for Public Information (API).”
Sean was eventually hired as an Information Cadet through the Public Service Commission (PSC). His training involved drafting news releases, conducting interviews, preparing and editing video documentaries, among other duties. In this position, he was introduced to the basics of media communications through the lens of Public Affairs.
As his love for communication flourished, he decided to further his education in the field.
During his six years at GIS, Sean achieved a diploma in mass communications, and a certificate in digital video production at The University of West Indies Mona campus in Jamaica.
At the end of his probationary period Sean was promoted to Information Officer at GIS and his responsibilities increased. He joined the ranks of senior officers who were responsible for presenting and producing the API program as news broadcaster. In addition, he worked with other team members to improve the quality and diversity of the television programming through special projects and special presentations focusing on local culture.
“Presenting the API program gave me the opportunity to not only become more familiar with how government works, but to also develop a greater appreciation for our collective Vincentian culture.”
Shortly after the December 2005 elections, Sean travelled to Tortola, British Virgin Islands for vacation.
He felt that the political climate was fast becoming unpredictable and this prompted him to apply for a position at Z-King, a Christian broadcasting radio station based on Tortola.
By March of the following year, Z-King offered him the position of News Producer. He accepted the offer and resigned from the Civil Service in May 2006. In doing so, he left SVG to live and work in Tortola, and officially became a member of the Vincentian diaspora.
….. To be continued