My transition from Jamaica to America wasn’t the smoothest, but I believe it was meant to be that way.
I was born and raised in “Southside”, a small community in Kingston, Jamaica. While it wasn’t the greatest area to grow up in, the experience is one of the best teachers I’ve had to date.
I would describe Southside as a very fruitful community, filled with potential, creativity, joy and happiness. Nevertheless, it can be unwelcoming at times, due to significant crime and violence. Growing up there taught me that you’re responsible for the decisions you make and the circumstances to follow.
The road leading to crime and violence was an easily accessible thing.
However, if you wanted a different outcome for your life, you had to climb a couple of walls and jump over numerous obstacles. The decision is up to you. You need to choose if you wanted to take the easy road and become another statistic of the ‘ghetto,’ or make sacrifices to overcome and achieve success.
I was blessed with a level enough head from an early age to choose right instead of left. To this day, I try to pay close attention to the decisions I make as a soccer player and most importantly, a man.
I lost both parents at a young age and had to become a man before I actually was one. My father was killed when I was 12 years old and my mom died from cancer when I was 15. That type of loss is not something anyone should ever experience, not to mention a kid.
I then had to live with my grandaunt, whom I absolutely cherish. The role she stepped up and played was nothing short of angelic. That’s the only way I can describe it - she was definitely a godsend.
I probably should mention that she was both deaf and mute.
I didn’t know much sign language but I was still able to communicate using hand gestures and mouthing the words.
This experience certainly gave me a different outlook on life. It opened my eyes to the fact that life is unpredictable and we just have to adjust as we go along. Focusing on things we can control. Things like living and making memories, building lasting relationships and putting smiles on faces.
I now approach situations with a positive and open mind, knowing that if it’s not life or death, everything will eventually be all right.
About three years after I went to live with my grandaunt, the opportunity to attend university in America arose, and I grabbed it with both hands.
I was introduced to coach Bill Denniston of Robert Morris University. He took the trip to Jamaica to watch me play in an exhibition game. Myself along with another close friend of mine was offered a full scholarship.
Now, if you don’t know, Robert Morris University is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. If you are familiar with Pittsburgh, you know it isn’t the first place you want to land coming straight from Jamaica.
It was cold in August. That’s right, August.
There were times during the season where I couldn’t feel my finger or toes while playing. I was almost brought to tears a couple of times after games, waiting for my fingers and toes to thaw out.
The transition from sunny Jamaica to the ‘Burgh’ wasn’t the easiest. The cultural differences between Pittsburgh and Kingston are like night and day. In general, the Pittsburgh culture was more on the reserved side. As for Jamaica, also known as Jamrock, the people, the food, the music and the culture are vibrant, exciting and welcoming. It’s difficult for me to explain the Jamaican culture; it’s just something you’ll have to experience.
The weather along with the difference in food and culture was another aspect of my transition I had to endure and overcome. The food was nothing close to the flavor of a well-seasoned oxtail with rice and peas and fried plantains on the side (a popular Jamaican dish).
It’s as if I can taste it as I’m writing. Oh my! Oh my!
Being away from family and friends for that length of time was also challenging. You start to feel the absence of that unexplainable connection and unconditional love. The sense of loneliness may begin to creep its way into your mind. I consider myself to be somewhat of an introvert, so making friends besides my teammates didn’t come naturally. Thankfully, I had three other Jamaicans with me at the time; we helped each other throughout our college experience.
Having them allowed me to bridge that gap of feeling at home and being abroad. We would collectively cook Jamaican dishes while blasting some dancehall (a genre of Jamaican music) in the background.
In my senior year I had the opportunity to join the New York Red Bulls II in their inaugural USL season. I was on trial for approximately six months in New York while trying to complete school in Pittsburgh.
I would take a 20-hour bus ride every week. 10 hours from Pittsburgh to New York then another 10 hours from New York back to Pittsburgh. This lasted for two and a half months. I kept telling myself that I had to sacrifice who I am today for who I wanted to be tomorrow.
And, who I wanted to be was a professional soccer player.
The dream became a reality when I finally put pen to paper midway through the 2015 season. All the sacrifices I had made paid off in the end because I received what I wanted - a professional contract. My option was picked up for the following year and we went on to win the USL Cup.
I made the move to Louisville City FC in 2017 and was again a part of that championship team. Winning back-to-back USL Cups, with two different teams, is one of the biggest accomplishments in my career thus far.
I pray my life and career continue on the right path. Understanding that obstacles will arise along the journey and being mentally strong is essential to removing them. It’s all about seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty - and that's something I remind myself of every day.