Back to school

The Daily Gleaner
Published: Monday | November 29, 2010

The smell of sawdust and wood shavings may not be the odours you are looking for while making a living, but for Carlton Copeland, it is everyday life.

His furniture shop is located on the well-travelled main road that is North Street. Copeland started hanging around a carpenter when he was about 14 and learned the trade. Things are slow as new orders don't come in as rapidly, but his biggest problem is securing loans to improve his business.

"Recession a gi wi hell," he lamented. "What I want to appeal is how does man like we get assistance from Government?" He bemoaned that, because of his shop's location, they are steroetyped. "Some people is like dem condemn if you from below Cross Roads. Others is like below Torrington Bridge." Still, he remains true to his roots. Born not too far from the shop (Salt Lane), Copeland now resides on Wildman Street.

"Dem (the community) support wi. No one neva really bruk di shop. Dem have dem ways but dem no disrespect wi." He recalls days gone by when flare-ups of violence would cramp business but "wi still haffi hold out".

Despite the challenges of the job, it is his latest 'project' that piqued our interest even more. Copeland, at the age of 53, is going to school for the first time.

"Di times I went to school, you can say it neva add up to three day," he laughed in a 'I know it's not a comedy' matter. "I was one of dem unfortunate youth who have a madda whe jus' have pickney," he said. There were nine of them in total (he is the third of the group), and he explained that by age seven, he was entrusted with taking care of a younger sibling. Others followed and he was expected to do the same. So school was not first priority. He didn't learn the basics of reading and writing until he was about 20 years old. He readily admits that he never even got his birth certificate until he was in his mid-30s as he wasn't born in a hospital.


He goes to the Jamaican Foundation For Lifelong Learning (formerly JAMAL) where he's doing mathematics and English at Level Three. He points to the knapsack hanging behind his work area, above the unfinished chairs and freshly sanded pieces of wood.

"The centre is on East Street. Class starts at 4 p.m. so by twenty to four, I just start walking. In no time mi reach," he smiled. In fact, he smiled much when asked about the experience of learning.

"Is about 30 of us in the class, most of them in them 20s but about five of them are my age. Mi enjoy it." He had always been encouraged to get some level of formal education and he made one attempt some years ago.

"When I was about 21 or 22, I went to a centre that was across from Bellevue, but because of 'family situations', I had to stop it," he remembered. It wasn't until he attended a seminar at his youngest child's school that teachers and his own children finally convinced him. So he started classes in September this year, and every week, Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., he's beating the books.

"It's a great sacrifice but it can help mi wid mi business. It will enable me to market myself betta," he said. "Right now I can read any plan, but if I'm filling out a form, like certain spelling and so on, that's my greatest difficulty."

He's hoping that his new-found knowledge will take his business to a higher level. And speaking of his business, while furniture-making may not be a dying art, Copeland would love to see more young people taking up the skill.

"Nowadays, any work dem doing whe afta a week dem can't buy a Clarks, dem nuh waan do it," he said, shaking his head slowly. But he remains perky as he has a few proteges and, more important, hope, stemming from his studies.

"At 53 mi jus' a experience dis, but I don't consider myself late (in starting). I don't have any major illness. And as I say, you are never too old to learn."

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