GET UP, STAND UP: THE MAKING OF A LEADER
Donisha. Nisha. Nisha Rebel. Gongisha. This is just a very short list of salutations for Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast, a descent of Roberta Nesta Marley, a.k.a Bob Marley.
Donisha Pendergast has become the face of Pinnacle. Her image is now part and parcel of a freedom movement. In her face and likeness is encapsulated a rising woman leader unafraid of the “system” that is fighting against rasta, rasta ownership of property and the desire of rasta to be self-determining within Jamaica’s political culture. In Donisha experience is encapsulated the age old question: are leaders born, or are they made?
Donisha’s workplace is, among others, on the front lines of the everyday struggles to regain control of Pinnacle. Those on the front line take her cue to start cleaning up the land on which Rasta’s ancestors lived and died. Unafraid to “roll up her sleeve” and work, Donisha is now undoubtedly one of Jamaica’s up and coming young female leaders. Donisha’s brand of leadership is encouraging because it is led by a unique mix of culture, politics, vision and purpose and a dedication to action that is rare. Listening to Donisha speak is delightful, as she convey a kind of centred, and oft disarming view of the world that is driven by “rastanomics”, rasta woman’s version of economics and economic policy.
Yet, there remains a dangling set of questions. Who is Donisha Pendergast? What prepared her for the Pinnacle enterprise and leadership more generally? Is she a “hurry come up”, or the real deal?
Who is Donisha Pendergast? Well, let’s start by asking the Mayor of the City of Buffalo when he declared June 10, Donisha Pendergast Day? Every ounce of Donisha Pendergast’s fabric is a mix of the Marley and Pendergast super brands. Many make reference to Donisha, an up and coming film-maker, as “Rasta royalty”. No doubt that she will live in the shadow of her iconic grandfather’s reputation whose poetic, and freedom-fighter lyrics and songs help spread the message of Rastafari throughout the world. Bob Marley, through his songs, not only help put reggae music on the map, but is rightfully referenced as a civil rights leader-one who fought for the dignity of the human race– justice for the poor and downtrodden masses – “Get up Stand Up”, “Dem Belly Full”, “Rat Race”, “War”, etc.. Her grandmother, Mrs. Rita Marley is a formidable artist in her own right. Long before she became a member of the I-Threes, Mrs. Marley was singing melodious songs as a member of the Soulettes and as a solo artist made her mark with such songs as Thank You Jah, I Want to Get High, etc. Despite her grandmother and grandfather’s international reputation, neither one of them, until recently, has a day declared in any US city in their recognition. John Tory, the recently elected Mayor of the City of Toronto did recently declare a Bob Marley Day. Yet, this comes well after Donisha Pendergast accomplished this task in the City of Buffalo. Yep. That’s right. June 10 is Donisha Pendergast Day in the City of Buffalo.
Donisha Pendergast was born on 29 December 1984 to Sharon Marley and Peter Prendergast. Donisha is the first born in her family, big sister to three younger brothers. Her mother, Sharon Marley was a member of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. For those who do not known, her father Peter, aka Prendy, is a well-travelled businessman and soccer/football coach who trains FIFA referees. Oh yes, the Prendergast side of Donisha’s family is a genuine admix celebrity and leadership. Uncle, businessman Lester Prendergast, a powerful influencer of Byron Lee, one of Jamaica’s most iconic musicians, was cast in the role of PussFellow in the James Bond film Dr. No. Donisha’s auntie Tessa Prendergast-Wellbourn is an actor and the fashion designer who created/designed the famous orange bathing suit worn by Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Clearly Donisha hails from a unique and interesting background in which leadership had no bounds and surrounded her on a daily basis.
Donisha is very gifted, but incredibly humble, despite her family background. Though Donisha has unquestionably been shaped by both sides of her family, one gets the distinct impression her three primary influencers are her mother Sharon Marley, her beloved Nana, Mrs. Rita Marley, and her grandfather, Bob Marley whose untimely death robbed him of ever meeting this Rasta royalty. Despite the fact that Bob died before Donisha was born, she has come to know him intimately through family lore and his songs. Donisha is unapologetic when she lauds her grandmother’s influence on her life. “My Nana is fierce not only in her attitude to accomplishing what she set out to do but also in her personal style. She taught me by example that I have to seek Jah’s guidance and then blaze my own trail. I don’t have to follow the crowd in thought or how I dress. So I have this mash up gypsy, bindi-wearing, Rasta style happening”, says Donisha in casual conversation.
Donisha spent her formative years in Jamaica. Sharon Marley recognized and nurtured Donisha’s “performing” talents from her early years. A proud Sharon Marley, speaks proubly about her daughter Donisha Pendergast., openly says: Sharon Marley and Rita Marley raised Donisha after Sharon’s marriage to Peter concluded in divorced.
Donisha’s high-school classmates recalls that she was always a “dreamer”, with big time dreams. Fondly some now say that Donisha was “something of butterfly who would flit and float about”. Her spirit was ruled by “the vibes”, giving in freely to whichever “vibe” that took hold of her. To many the vibes, is a kind of emotional intelligence the so many scholars now crave to understand not only its purity, but effectiveness as part of decision-making model. Her actions were and continue to be driven by what can be described as “vibe activation” theory. It is right when it feels right. It is right when all of the universe’s energy and intelligence converge and says it is right. So, on any given day, if it was a vibe to walk barefooted, then so be it. If the “vibe” directs her to “Get Up Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Right” then that’s what happens; that is what she will do. You will find her skanking easy if when the “vibe” sings out “Easy Skanking”.
Donish’s popularity grew as a teenage student at Immaculate High School. Her love of the arts led her, over time, to develop experiential, absorbing creative approaches that fashion her brand of leadership obtained through a medium other than formal scholarship, even though today she boasts being a student of film at Ryerson University. Her first major decision was to immerse herself and mind into artistic enterprises. It is here that here leadership qualities and efforts started to flourish. Donisha opted to develop her skills through practical learning, though she is a former student of both Howard University’s Theatre Program, and Miami International’s TV Production Program.
Donisha’s charismatic, servant leadership framework and style started early into her childhood. By age 12 she had already discovered a romantic affinity for acting. So formidable was this acumen that she was cast into her first stage production. Donisha would later team up with her cousins and provide background vocals for the theme song for the popular Canadian children’s animation series, Arthur. Arthur’s theme song was written and performed by her uncle Ziggy Marley. Donisha, as a Rasta woman, trail-blazed and in some ways re-defined notions of a Rasta-woman’s beauty.. There are some absolutely stunning, captivating photographic images of Donisha out there, even if not totally in the public domain. In so doing, Donish opened up frontiers when she hosted engagements including beauty pageants and other special events. She travelled with Reggae artist Shaggy showing off not only her Rasta woman’s beauty, but her bodily elasticity as one of his background dancers.
While attending the second year of her film studies, she received a phone call from Canadian Executive Producer/Producer, Patricia Scarlett, to ask her if she would be interested in being a part of her feature-length documentary, RasTa: A Soul’s Journey. For Donisha, the decision to become apart of Rasta:A Soul’s Journey was an easy one. Why? The vibes were right. Without much hesitation Donisha put her studies on hold to pursue this opportunity. The rest is history as the film Rasta: A Soul’s journey was not only completed, but was nominated a best documentary by the Pan American ?????
By 2008, Donisha had found her groove as a Rasta woman intent on proving that rasta women can lead. She travelled to Washington, DC to shoot the first leg of the film at the Smithsonian. The filming centered around the “Discovering Rastafari” exhibit that was curated by Dr. Jake Homiak.???? The film tells the story of the roots and the evolution of the Rastafarian movement as seen through Donisha’s journey to eight (8) countries – USA, UK, Ethiopia, South Africa, Israel, India, and Jamaica. Through this film, Donisha experienced how Rasta’s belief system has shaped world culture, and politics, becoming a unifying force in the process. What began as an opportunity to participate in a documentary film that was of personal interest, evolved into a journey of self-discovery and defining her own leadership purpose–Rasta Woman Leadership!
In making the film it became evident that Donisha’s disposition to life- the butterfly- helped her float through as many doors as were opened on occasion of the film. The film premiered at the Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montréal on a bitterly cold day Canadian day. On her way to the screening, Donisha noticed a panhandler whose begging efforts needed much improvement. Donisha stopped. Donisha assessed his efforts. Donisha instantly conjured up a strategy. Donisha executed the instantly made up strategy. She helped him beg. When the beggar collected what Donisha felt was enough to get him a meal, she proferred a blessing and moved on without him being any wiser about her identity.
Donisha’s leadership next touch down? Try the streets of Japan where she visited Fukushima and saw up close the devastation left in the wake of the Tsunami. As if sent by Jah, Rastafari, while in Japan she met the Japanese photographer who had exclusive rights to photographs her grandfather when he toured Japan. In an selfless act of gratuity, the photographer gave her a collection of photographs of her grandfather beautifully packaged in a dye-cut box with a heart-shaped closure. One Love was written in the center of the heart. For Donisha this was a lesson in how cultural leadership transcends language. Here was Donisha in Japan suddenly being a benefactor of her grandfather’s legacy–the iconinc cultural symbolism he had shared and left the world, even the very closed Japanese society. A total stranger had gotten close to her just because of cultural leadership. And as a result, he had absolutely no reservation in granting to her gifts that from an intellectual property perspective were valuable. This lesson had Donisha reflecting on the flippant way Jamaicans deal with and handle their intellectual property rights. As a Rasta woman occupying a space in the cultural landscape her lessons in Japan were pointed.
Donisha’s visit to Japan was important for another reason. It is on this trip that Donisha became involved in several voyages on the “Peace Boat”. The Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote world peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. Peace Boat seeks to create awareness and action based on effecting positive social and political change in the world.
While aboard the Peace Boat Donisha, engulfed with passion, delivered several captivating speeches that pierced into the heart of Bob Marley’s ONE LOVE, ONE HEART” message.. On her first voyage she brought back a Peace Pole to Jamaica. The 7feet pole was transported by truck from Montego Bay to Kingston where it has yet to find a home. (As an aside, perhaps its final resting place is befittingly Pinnacle). Peace Poles are four-sided pillars with the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” inscribed on each side in a different language. There are more than 200,000 Peace Poles in 180 countries, serving as constant reminders to visualize and to pray for world peace. Despite Jamaica’s presence on the world stage, and despite the country colonial history, no Jamaican political or cultural leader has ever returned to the island with a peace pole. Donisha’s Peace Pole will be Jamaica’s first one. Donisha, on her second Peace Boat voyage, collected instruments and sports equipment for distribution to disadvantaged youths in Jamaica.
Hillary Clinton boldly help start an organization called Vital Voices which operates out of Washington D.C. Vital Voices Democracy Initiative raison d’etre is the worldwide creation and recognition of women as leaders. Yep. You guessed it. Absolutely, Donisha is on Vital Voices’ radar, through the efforts of Patricia Scarlett, CEO of Media Business Institute.
Donisha, now an emerging and different kind of filmmaker and director partnered up with Mikal Cushnie shot 50 Days in Africa (50DNA) for their first feature length documentary titled 50 Days In Africa. Shot in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopa, the film tells the story of two filmmakers and a musician’s journey, on the occasion of Jamaica’s 50th anniversay, from Jamaica to 6 African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania) to explore the African Film and Art Industries, to network and strengthen the ties between Africa and the Diaspora. How was 50 Days in Africa financed? The simple truth is that Donisha and her production partners worked their magic and made something out of nothing with Donisha helping to negotiate their way into and through the enterprise. Yes, she is the producer with an eye for making sure the deliverables are delivered. It is this creative streak in Donisha that enables her to lead through obstacles, even if it means leading from behind.
By now, you should have gotten the impression that Donhisha Is not one of those people whose heights of pontification incapacitates action. In no way can she be described as indecisive. For example, while driving back from a screening at the University of Ottawa, she read about the Nishiyuu Walkers in the Toronto Star and asked her manager to find out some more information about the Walkers. More information resulted in Donisha joining the walkers for the last leg of their journey from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill. She was warmly embraced by many of the Walkers and members of various First Nation groups who told her that her grandfather’s music was a source of inspiration to them. One of the organizers invited her to address the walkers and other invited guests at the closing reception at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.
So, what do you ask has prepared Donisha for leadership? Try being a community organizer from which vantage point she has seen the world from the ground up. In her last three (3) years of worldwide travel she has been an organizing force, meeting with countless community leaders on at least four continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America).
Press the pause buttin for a moment and just reflect upon her story to date. Everything that Donisha has learned along the way culminate in her leadership of Occupy Pinnacle. Through Donisha’s efforts fund raising events are now happening around the world to sustain the movement. Structure is being added to the movement, through the efforts of Donisha and her collaborators. The Lenoard Howell Foundation has been formed. SHAR, Donisha’s Foundation, a not for profit organization is now well under way. Her disposition to Peace and Love is cemented not only through the lyrics of her grandfather’s songs, but through her own Japanese experience. Her travels and international connection confirms to the world that Jamaica’s role in international peace is through the creation of cultural products that broadcast the many dimension of this subject. Jamaica is one of the few places on earth where people who kill each other elsewhere in the world over historical disputes over land and religion live together in harmony. ????
Believe or not, Donisha’s platform to develop and demonstrate her leadership capabilities has been her artist activities. In this creative space she connects with and connect people from all walks of life with a motivating force and unifying sense of purpose. Like Mohammed Ali, Donisha has not learnt that she can “floating like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee” and that her butterfly energy is organizing.
Watch Donisha as she manages and displays her leadership in the Occupy Pinnacle Movement. For her, the movement is spiritual. It is personal. It is historical. It is economic. It is cultural. It is oppositional to and against the remnants of colonial rule, pillage, oppression, and near genocide about which the world must be constantly reminded. Yet, at the same time the movement is evidence of hope, determination, transformation, and strength of a people who refuses to go away.. Pinnacle is Rasta’s sacred ground. It is Rasta’s land. It is Rasta’s birthplace. Pinnacle is evidence of the workings of Rastanomics—the economic tentacles of Rasta’s way of life and principles of self-sufficiency. Donisha knows and more importantly is committed to getting Rasta’s foundation returned to Rasta is part of her Rasta Woman Leadership quest. She knows that for Rastafari, and Rasta women around the world in particular, Pinnacle is sacred ground that needs to be returned to its rightful owners – the descendants of Leonard P. Howell and Rastafari. Donisha Prendergast spearheads the movement and a group of activists occupying a Rastafari tabernacle at Pinnacle because she knows that without ownership of Rasta’s birthplace the risk of eradicating colonial atrocities upon Rasta largely increases. She knows that those with the power to define also have the power to obliterate. Defining Pinnacle as luxury estate home development obliterates within two generations the truth that colonial governments carried out intermittent raids when it perceived the emergence and proliferation of Rasta as a threat to the then existing social order. Each colonial raid resulted in cash and cured marijuana being seized by law enforcement of the day, and in this sense helped to finance the monarch.
Marijuana, ganja was a cash crop that was central to the economic and spiritual life of Pinnacle. Finally, in 1954, Pinnacle was burned to the ground by the British colonial authorities, and Howell was pushed off the land. He died 28 years later, in a cave close to the ruins of the home he had built. None of the inhabitants of Pinnacle, nor the children of Leonard Howell, have ever received compensation for the loss of their homes, personal effects, or their suffering and humiliation.
In the words of the brilliant Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxyen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubborness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.”
People often ask Donisha if she sings and will want to infused themselves in her voice. Her voice is her gift but not as a singer, a speaker, but of reason. Words. Sound. Power. Her words often echo the rebel spirit of her grandfather, Bob Marley, but they are her own words inspired by him and her Nana, but not of them. Wherever he is, Bob can rest, and skank easy that the mission is being fulfilled brilliantly by his fearless granddaughter. Though not of the rat race, Donisha has entered the race, not as a rat, but as the cat that strategizes to catch the rat. Gonisha leadership is massive. It is brilliant. It is international. It is recognized. It is celebrated. It is declared. It is celebrated by her own day June 10. Dare we say Donisha as “Prime Minister of Jamaica?” What a day that would be, no?..