In this installment of Our Stories, Czedale Smallwood debunks some myths about males’ emotional availability. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise – white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer, and truer image of the Jamaican experience…this is Our Stories!
Czedale fits the image of a traditional masculine male. At 6 feet, 5 inches, hunky, strong facial features, bearded with a baritone voice, there is no doubt that this is a man standing in front of you and he is able to protect and provide. There is no hint of weakness or frailty, and that is why it was fascinating to engage in a conversation with Czedale Smallwood about the issue of men’s emotional availability and expression. We often hear that “big man nuh cry” and as a result, men often suppress their emotions. Men usually avoid being too open emotionally because of fears of being considered feminine or too vulnerable to dismantle the image of a strong one. Well, Czedale Smallwood is here to debunk some of the myths surrounding men’s emotional availability and expression, and with many life experiences, he has many stories of himself embracing his emotions, and positively impacting others.
Czedale Smallwood serves many roles. He is an ordained minister of religion for sixteen years. He studied at the Northern Caribbean University where he obtained a Bachelors in Theology with a minor in Business Administration. He has specialized training in hospital and field chaplaincy. He also volunteers as a chaplain with the police force providing counseling to the victims of crime as well as the perpetrators of crime. He is a motivational speaker and life coach. Currently, he is a radio talk show host on FITFM96.7. On Tuesdays at 6:00 P.M Czedale hosts the program, R.E.B.I.R.T.H, an acronym for Redemption Eventually Brings Into Reality Total Healing. He along with his guests hold a Bible-based discussion on topical and current issues for the feature, “Inside Gospel & Soul.” He is a servant of the people and as such he is a budding orphanage director. Czedale and his team are now in the process of raising funds and have also started to build an orphanage, Father Joseph Trovato Home for Boys (formerly known as Reid’s Home of Hope). This is located in Reid’s Town; Wild Cane, St. Ann. Being quite dynamic and provocative, he is also a budding politician. He is now the councilor caretaker of the Bamboo division, North West Constituency, St. Ann.
Personality-wise, he exudes purpose, compassion, stewardship, leadership, diligence, and a ‘no-nonsense’ persona.
Can you recall a time when you were closed off emotionally?
Yes, as a teen. I began to experience some harsh realities of life and I became withdrawn and depressed. Growing up, I idolized my cousin. He was a positive role model. I saw him as my hero. He usually encouraged me; empowered me. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident and this traumatized me for years and made me even more serious, withdrawn, and pent-up.
My condolences, so looking back at this experience and maybe even others, what have you learned about emotions?
Growing up, I was quiet and reserve. When my parents broke up, I had emotional baggage as a result of them parting ways. I ended up living with relatives where I started to experience some emotional and verbal abuse. As a result, I became rebellious, always angry, and ever ready to fight. On the night when I was about to be baptized, I was planning to commit murder because a young man who was punished by my father violated me. I was about 9 years old at the time and the young man was about 16 or 17 years old. He threatened me with a machete and I cried; I felt vulnerable. Thereafter, I started to learn to fight because in my mind I was saying, ‘how dare you?’ I was mad. No boi nuffi mek me cry! I decided to get a military-grade knife because I was determined to show him who a bad man. Vengeance grew with me until I was about 15 years old. This young man would have now been 21 or 22 years old. Nevertheless, I considered myself physically strong and capable at 6 feet. I was going to ambush him. I was resolute in ending him and go to prison. Lucky for him and also for me, I got saved that night. Growing up, expressing and dealing with my emotions was through violence and being tough, and especially being tough… thanks to harsh circumstances and people who try to bully you or overpower you.
Murder? Wow. That was extreme.
Yes, you could call me a ‘hot head’ back then. I was very sure I was going to kill him. Even now, I can get a little aggressive but my family, my wife, and kids are always there to help me calm down and put things into perspective. Thank God for my family and their love for me. This is something I constantly deal with as well, but again, God is always there for me.
(Smiles) Thank God for baptism, and His saving grace because I probably would not be able to talk to you right now, probably you would not have been here. Mr. Tough guy, are you still a tough guy?
Yes and no. I am more mature now and able to balance my emotions and be emotionally intelligent. I have been learning to channel my anger and deal with emotions calmly and rationally. This is what somehow helped me to become a poet. I have learned to channel my energies into poetry, put pen to paper. I now have many writings in the form of poems, songs, short stories, and inspirational prose writing. Yes, I will publish an anthology someday as the “Poetic Revolution.” The pen is mightier than the sword…and even keeps you out of trouble too.
(Laughs) Yes, indeed. It is always worthwhile to write things out, to help you put things into perspective. Now that you are a bit centered, what could get you to the point of tears?
Personally, tears are relief of anger and tension; especially when in an unjust situation that can provoke bitter anger and you have to try to remain civil. Seeing people hurt and abused, and especially if I cannot help. I grew up with harsh things being said to me and being ridiculed, yes, even for my name. Consequently, I am compassionate towards persons who may experience the same, people who are being bullied, publicly embarrassed, or overall violated; I am their defender.
Death as you can understand can evoke strong emotions and can make even the strongest and toughest of all ‘break down,’ cry and become ‘emotional;’ especially when you lose loved ones with who you have a close bond. Earlier on I mentioned my cousin who died in a car crash; he was my mentor; he was like a father-figure to me and even though it was long after, I garnered the strength to tell my story of my memories with him and this gave way to a volcano of emotions.
Also, in November 2020, my grand aunt died. She was one of the persons who helped to raise me. Ironically, I had to conduct the funeral, serve as a pastor. I had to exert immense strength and remain composed and professional – no tears- while I watched my family members and friends cried. I was in denial for some time and found it challenging that she is really gone. However, about four or five months ago, I was able to release through tears my pent-up emotions.
So the statement, “big man nuh cry?” or “boys don’t cry” is a lie?
Definitely, because we are humans with emotions and without expression, we are bound to explode. It is just that there are variations in how people, both male, and female, express themselves. Some cry often, some not so much, but bottom line, there are tears in different contexts.
You are comfortable in expressing your emotions. In comparison to when you were a teen and now, what have you learned about expressing yourself and overall dealing with emotions?
Now, because of my maturity, training, my relationship with the church, God, and overall my spirituality, I am comfortable in expressing my emotions because I use this to further debunk stereotypes about males expressing their emotions. Having gone through some things myself, helps me to be a voice for others or be able to help and be compassionate towards others. Sometimes when you express yourself, surprisingly, people will respond with great understanding, love, compassion, and help. It can also be therapeutic and expresses your humanity. So, expressing one’s emotions can have a positive impact.
It definitely can, but how can we balance our emotions to have a positive impact though?
From my experiences as a pastor, a leader, a father, I have to learn to balance my emotions. As a pastor and a leader, we are often advised not to ‘break down’ in front of people who we serve. We have to possess that emotional strength and not be too reactive. This is where God, our Father comes in. We have to surrender to God’s power and wisdom to help us to deal appropriately and be exemplary to others.
I remember serving as a Chaplain and Dean of Discipline at a school and I experienced a disrespectful student, crass words, slamming doors, etc. I restrained myself from reacting. I instead prayed about it. One day in class, two weeks later, I gave him my shoe, size 14, to put his foot in. He had to keep on his own shoe though. He did so reluctantly and his friends were quick to observe that my actions suggested that ‘he cannot walk in my shoes;’ therefore, he should apologize. He did not do so at that moment, but sometime after he came to me personally and we got a chance to understand each other. The young man was lacking in many areas, guidance from parents, no father figure, etc. and now this provided me an opportunity to be a counselor, mentor, and father-figure to him. If I was reactive such as become angry and aggressive with him and let loose my emotions, then this would not have been a meaningful experience. To this day, we have respect for each other and I still provide the moral support and mentorship that he needs. The beauty of being emotionally aware is also coupled with emotional intelligence and the ability to deal with things rationally instead of explosively.
That was very insightful and supportive of you. It is always hopeful to see people helping others to find their way in the world. Do you think this world would be a better place if men are allowed the luxury as women to be very open with their emotions?
Absolutely. There are many social ills such as domestic violence; especially with military or servicemen killing their spouses etc. if we allow men to express their pain, talk things through; if we encourage men not to suppress, if we affirm them and not ridicule them or call them weak for expressing their emotions, we can help to reduce the combativeness and violence within our country and this will help us to find hope. The church is already offering some support in this regard, providing support groups and fostering expression and hope.
Great insights. I hope one day it will be the norm in society where men are free to express their emotions and talk things through without the fear of being ridiculed or emasculated. Thank you for sharing your story Czedale!