Aug. 2014—Jerome Cowan made a decision to do better for himself—better than what was expected for someone growing up in his neighborhood, Parade Gardens, one of Jamaica’s most violent communities.
Jamaica is currently engaged in a war on drugs and violence that has been gripping the Caribbean as narcotics traffickers seek routes into the United States beyond Mexico and Central America. In Parade Gardens, dealing drugs and trading guns are typical occupations for young men. Growing up, Cowan witnessed the murders of several of his close friends by gang members. This was not the path that he wanted for himself.
When he was 13 years old, Cowan, now 23, and a group of like-minded youth in his neighborhood formed the Leaders Endeavoring for Adolescent Development (LEAD) youth club.
“I served as president of LEAD for the first six years, managing various projects that saw the organization’s growth in numbers, locations, awards and finances,” said Cowan. “It was from those formative years that I realized that my passion was youth development and youth leadership. Coupled with the motivation provided by my father, I continuously devote my time and resources to helping others achieve their goals.”
When he was 19, Cowan discovered the USAID-supported NGO Junior Achievement (JA) Jamaica, which is dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
“I was first introduced to Junior Achievement Jamaica through my local youth club, where I taught fifth graders from my community,” said Cowan. “Reading about the organization and the materials that they offered grabbed me instantly. And after this, my youth club and I entered the program.”
According to JA Jamaica President Alphie Mullings-Aiken, the NGO focuses on empowering young people to own their economic success. This is achieved by working with real-life members of the business community who become mentors, delivering the Junior Achievement experiential programs, and boosting self-confidence to enable youth to prepare for success in the global economy.
“Jerome is a testament to the greatness that can come from any beginnings or surroundings, if nurtured,” said Mullings-Aiken. “He understands that, to have a better tomorrow, you have to work at it today. While his journey is far from over, he encompasses the spirit of volunteering and giving back to those in need. He has continued his transformation from good to great and JA Jamaica is honored to play a part.”
“There were so many opportunities opened to me through my participation and my self-confidence and aspirations increased tremendously,” said Cowan. “The first time I traveled overseas was to a Junior Achievement conference in Canada. From then I got an international view of what leadership is and I’m seeing the results.”
Today, Cowan still lives in Parade Gardens with his father and younger brother. He recently received his Bachelor’s Degree in economics at the University of the West Indies. A positive role model within his community, Cowan is determined to set the right example for his younger peers. However, his positive influence has extended beyond the neighborhood where he grew up. As a Youth A mbassador with the Government of Jamaica, he travels the globe mentoring youth about personal development.
“As I continue to aim for the stars,” says Cowan, “my only wish is that one day I can be seen as an example which proves that, irrespective of where you are from, you can achieve whatever you set out to achieve.”
JA Jamaica is funded by USAID through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative started by President Barack Obama in 2009 to address the drug trafficking, violence and insecurity in the Caribbean. The NGO uses experiential, hands-on programs to prepare young people for the real world by showing them how to generate wealth and effectively manage it; how to create jobs and make their communities more resilient to negative influences; and how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace.
Last updated: March 28, 2017