Take a stroll down Ackee Walk, where children have fun while learning about their rights and responsibilities. Need directions? Well, it’s actually an imaginary community somewhere in rural Jamaica, created by the energetic youth advocate and media entrepreneur Emprezz Golding and her husband Steven.
Ackee Walk is a weekly children’s television puppet show for three to nine-year-olds, which has been running now for eleven weekly episodes, each with a theme related to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The series airs on Television Jamaica every Saturday morning and can also be viewed on the program's website and on YouTube.
Let Emprezz and the star of the show — communications student Makeda Bawn, aka “Lucea” — tell you more about it.
Global Voices (GV): What was the genesis of Ackee Walk? What inspired you to create this show?
Emprezz Golding (EG): Having a son and working with children in my advocacy guides me in my creative and business endeavors. I searched and searched for readily accessible modern day children's programs that promoted good values in a Jamaican way. I did not find much, so I decided it was time to create what I wanted. Most importantly, I wanted to educate, entertain and empower our children while providing job opportunities for youth and others in the creative industries. During a trip to Brazil for Talk Up Yout [a youth empowerment program founded by Emprezz] I found some hand puppets that looked like most Jamaican children. I bought them for my son. He made up stories and songs and after some sessions, with my husband involved, Ackee Walk was a no-brainer – a must — an exciting new product. We put it down on paper.
Makeda Bawn (MB): Emprezz Golding is a phenomenal woman! I am thankful to be working with her. I first met Emprezz in person during one of her school tours at my alma mater, Glenmuir High School. I remember showing her some of my poetry pieces. However, it was always hard to get through to her because of her busy schedule. Little did I know that she would change my life with just a phone call. My good friend Dominique Davis re-introduced me to Emprezz. Dominique and I were one of the lucky few who had the opportunity to participate in Phase Three Production’s two-week workshop in the summer of 2014. We worked together on a short film, ‘Broken House with Forgotten Voices’. Emprezz saw the film and got in touch. She liked my creativity and writing skills. She began to mentor me and I started writing short online articles that were occasionally posted on the Talk Up Yout Facebook page.
GV: This is a children's show with an underlying purpose. How do you see yourself reaching the children?
EG: Ackee Walk is a cultural product that we would love to see exported globally. We want to teach the world's children — and parents — about the rights and responsibilities of the Child. We teach good manners, respect, caring, love for Self, community and the environment.
MB: I was a sickly child growing up, and I still have health issues; I wanted to be a pediatrician to care for and help children. Ackee Walk enables me to do so, in a different way. I help them by molding their minds. I teach them through puppeteering, playing the part of the little girl Lucea, a pre-schooler in rural Jamaica. Ackee Walk is more than a puppet show. It is a cultural retention program. It is a program designed to empower the young ones at an early stage. Children must know their rights; it is our responsibility as a nation to ensure that they do.
GV: Makeda, do you identify with your character, Lucea? How do you bring her to life?
MB: I can relate to her. She brings out the child inside me. We have similar stories. I was also raised in a rural area of Jamaica; I too lived with my grandmother for some time, before starting primary school. We both understand the emotions of the ‘barrel child’ and having to adjust to a change in environment. We are both smart, funny at times. Lucea always brings something special on set.
Puppeteering is an art that requires a lot of focus. There are special techniques in entrance and exits, lip synchronization and mouth action, with the downward movement of the thumb and fingers up. It is also important to maintain eye contact, to connect with the audience. Another critical technique is posture. As a puppeteer you also have to create the illusion that the puppet has legs.
GV: How has the feedback been so far?
EG: Overwhelming. I am guided by the responses of the children we meet along the roadside. When I ask, ‘Do you watch Ackee Walk?’ they respond, ‘Yes, Miss, mi love it. It nah miss me on a Saturday'…and that’s all we need to keep going.
I have taken the show (in a movie marathon format) into children's homes and schools, and tested the response from the children. They GET it, they know it, they love it and they are learning from it. That is what is most important.
This is mainly for them. However, I am developing resources for parents and caregivers so they can be involved in discussions with the children. I have a team of special advisors in early childhood education and media, helping to create the activity book to support the episodes. This is the next big project, alongside Season 2 and Season 3. (Deep breath) Aww boy…Breathe! We can do this! Investment will come!
GV: Emprezz, you are a highly motivated woman with strong beliefs. How does Ackee Walk reflect your own personal philosophy?
EG: I believe that media shapes our values, ideas and attitudes. Let's create GOOD media. I believe there must be a balance, so why not create our own BIG animation series, reflecting Jamaican culture. Let us see black children in a positive light, as characters in children's programming. Let us inspire with media. Where the parents are failing to teach, educate and instill positive values, then it is my responsibility to do so, the best way I can.
GV: Why do you consider Jamaican youth such an important constituency? Do you feel that they have a clear enough voice in the society?
EG: If we don't invest in the youth, we will never grow. They need our hands, our wisdom, our support, our investment. I don't believe we are here to make ourselves rich and comfortable, ignoring the plight of others. That is selfish! WE are all ONE, each one of us affected by the decisions and actions of the other. Let's have a collective vision. This means it is going to take teamwork. I am a team player and the youth are the strongest part of my team. They must be involved, inspired. Young people are crying, calling, asking for us. Why don't we listen? The youth will tell you they feel that no one listens to them. Well, I heard, and am creating as many avenues as possible, so their voices can be heard.
GV: What is the one youth-related issue that concerns you the most?
EG: Mmm, now that is a hard question. I think…lack of self esteem, motivation and inspiration…all three in one.
GV: Do you see this show developing, changing or evolving into something else, perhaps for a different age group?
EG: Ackee Walk is for the pre-schoolers. I am staying right there. But oh, yes — I have such a big plan that my brain cannot contain it all. And I NEED all the support I can get. I need you all.
Ackee Walk is educational. It provides jobs and helps to develop our creative and animation industries. It is a resource for educators. It is line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It promotes respect for family, people with disabilities and the environment. It uses multiple intelligences and learning styles to reach every child.
GV: Makeda, where do you see your interest in television performance leading? What would you like to be doing in five years’ time?
MB: I cannot see myself walking away from television performance. I have always wanted to be a part of the television industry. In five years (I am being optimistic!) I will be an actress in a Jamaican movie in a minor or lead role. My inspiration stems from Jamaican actors and directors, like Madge Sinclair, Carl Bradshaw and Esther Anderson. I would also like to direct, write and co-produce a short film and publish my first volume of poems. And of course, tour schools across Jamaica with Ackee Walk!
Emprezz adds, with her characteristic energy:
EG: It means a lot to us all, writers, actors…my purpose in life is to do what I am doing. I have found my purpose, and I want others to find theirs. I want the world to see Jamaican skills and talents. I want to inspire the youth constituency to go for their dreams. It’s a mixture of purpose, profit and VISION.
Here's a sneak peek — an episode of Ackee Walk which deals with religious freedom: