Sat | Jun 12, 2021

MenTOUR: Wesley Tate fights to stay out of trouble

Published:Friday | April 30, 2021 | 12:15 AMKareem LaTouche/Gleaner Writer

Blessed with a captivating smile and warm demeanour, Wesley Tate’s* exterior projects a stark contrast to the reality of his life. Born to an unemployed diabetic father and an estranged mother only compounded the hardship he had to endure. “My father has four of us and my mother has six children, so there really wasn’t anything to give us financially from day one. Things got worse when my father had to lose one of his legs. Me being one of the oldest, I had to figure things out the best way I knew how.”

I met Tate on one of the MenTOUR sessions, as he rode in on a bicycle, while some of the administrators and I were talking. Clad in a khaki shirt and black pants, with his hair high and unkempt, the guidance counsellor gestured to him and said, “Wesley, why are you wearing that colour pants? You are supposed to be wearing khaki pants.”

With no brake on the bicycle, he put one foot on the ground to stop it as he approached us and responded calmly, “Miss, I grew several inches over the Christmas, so I had to borrow one of my brothers’ pants to come here today. Plus, I never had any bus fare, so I had to borrow someone’s bicycle.”

The guidance counsellor, who was obviously happy to see him, gave him a pass and began having a small chat with him. Tate has been absent from school since September of last year. However, he started to attend occasionally since January. “Since COVID, none of my parents have been able to support us, so I had to look a job, especially to make sure that my younger siblings have something to eat. I picked up a little thing in January, where I work couple days of week, loading delivery vehicles that are going from town to St Thomas. That’s when I can get money to buy food or put data on the phone to attend classes.” Even with a positive spirit, it was evident that Tate has been suppressing a lot.

When asked about his childhood life, Tate’s countenance immediately changed to a saddened state. “Every day my father would get up and go out to work and I wouldn’t see him again until the night. One day, while I was at primary school, some boys started to tease me, saying my father is a beggar. At first I ignored them, until one day... I saw someone pushing him in a wheelchair while he begged for money.”

This moment was a daunting one for Tate, who initially took it very badly. “My friends started to laugh at me and I just started crying. I went over to my father and asked him why he didn’t tell me. For a little while, I felt a way, but he would always come home and support us with what he has. So I started supporting him in the summer and after school, by pushing him through traffic and helping him to get money. At that point I didn’t care what anybody thought, this was the best way I could help my family to have dinner.”

Tate, now in his final year of high school, has had to find alternative ways to earn a living, as his father’s health has deteriorated and he is now bedridden. This, along with COVID-19, has had an adverse effect on Tate’s economic support system, as he tries to steer away from a life of crime.

“I have family members who are in gangs, but I really don’t want to go that route. So I’m going to keep trying with this loading job and do the online classes on the days I’m not working.”

MenTOUR sessions are aimed at encouraging and motivating at-risk male teens to stay on a constructive path. The Youthlink-endorsed initiative is held at high schools islandwide both virtually and in person and is sponsored by Foska Oats, and Betting, Gaming and Lottery Commission.

*Name changed to protect identity