By FELICITY DARVILLE
The values we impart to our children are often reflected in the way they live their lives as adults. That is why, when I write Face to Face and tell the stories of people who are walking in their purpose, they often refer to their parents and credit them for their part in making them who they are.
This week as I write about my aunt, Gena A Brown, I am delighted to share the story of a woman who has always exhibited grace and kindness in my life. But I also realise just how good of a mother she is when I think about her two sons – twins Kurt and Kent. These two young men are just phenomenal. They are smart, witty, handsome, debonair and most of all, they are perfect gentlemen.
Gena has released her first book, I Need My Blankie. It is designed for “Preserving God’s Purpose and Potential in Children”. As we spoke about her passion for children and why she wrote the book, I began to see that this is more than a book release. This is a testament of her life. After successfully raising twin boys into responsible citizens and great role models while also pouring into the lives of her nieces and nephews, her extended biological and church family, as well as other children, she found a calling – sharing her tips for good child rearing with the world.
For the past 15 years, Gena has been teaching at various Boys and Girls Clubs in the country.
“There was no guide, no manual, nothing given to me by those asking me to teach,” said Gena. “There was a hodgepodge of subjects being taught with no clear or defined goal or objective at the endAs well intended as persons may have been and still are, they didn’t have a definitive plan - a focused objective. I realised that we needed to have a training tool or document strategically and intentionally designed to train children in the ways of the Lord. They wanted to teach the children the right way to go. They are faith-based organisations. They are well intended community and church programmes, but there was a need to fill that void.”
While mentoring children in New Providence, especially in the inner city over the years, Gena would have heart-to-heart talks with the children. In this way, she learned to understand and relate to them. It tore at her heart anytime she learned of children who were being abused, mistreated or neglected. By writing a book for those entrusted with caring for these young children, she hopes to begin changing their lives by connecting the children with their care-givers in a way that results in better lives for the children.
Gena was determined to be a good example and raising energetic twin boys was in no way an easy feat. They were miracles in her life from the start. She was living in Abaco when she was pregnant. Back then, there were what was known as “fly-in” doctors. They were not stationed on the island. They would fly in on special days to attend to patients. Pregnant women would have to keep their files on them and drive to the settlement when the doctors were visiting.
Gena – and everyone around her – kept wondering why she was putting on an exorbitant amount of weight during her pregnancy. She went from being a 115 pound first runner-up in the Miss Bahamas beauty pageant to “someone unrecognisable” weighing 175 pounds. When the doctor would use his stethoscope to check her tummy, he would joke and tell her the baby was an acrobat, because the heartbeat could be heard on both sides.
But Gena had a dream and in that dream, she saw herself deliver three babies. She told her grandmother Blanche, who advised her to let the doctor know of her dream. The doctor was tickled by the news of the dream, but laughed and dismissed it. Back then, there were no ultrasound facilities on the island, so there was no way for her to confirm the dream.
When it was time to come to Nassau to deliver, it was not until the first baby came out and the nurse said, “There’s another!” that Gena’s dream was given some credit. After the second boy came out, the after birth followed. The hospital staff were enthralled by the two mirror-image twins. They were taken to neonatal intensive care at the time. They were just over four pounds each, and could fit in the palm of a hand.
Gena was sent home to recover; but two days later, she was back at the hospital because she was haemorrhaging. She had lost so much blood she was going in and out of consciousness. While at the hospital, a nurse told her that she had infact delivered a third baby – a little girl who came out still born. This news was devastating to Gena, especially considering her dream. It is a loss she still feels to this day. It is also a part of the reason why she feels so deeply for children and desires to see them raised in environments that will make them thrive.
“I want to see children who are socially well-adjusted and who have manners and respect for elders,” she said.
“I want to see children who have high self-esteem, who are community-minded and oriented, disciplined and with inherent values - moral values and character that would help them to become good community builders.”
Gena’s husband, Malford “Mario” Brown became a pillar in Kurt and Kent’s lives. When she wanted to further her education and achieve more in her life, Mario supported her and took care of the boys while she studied and took night classes. Even when the twins were bigger and Gena wanted to travel to America to become a certified John C Maxwell team member, her husband travelled with her and encouraged her every step of the way. Today, she is a certified teacher, trainer, coach and public speaker. She adds these qualities to her professional certifications. She is an accomplished business professional who has occupied leadership positions in the financial services and tourism industries over the years. She currently serves in the capacity of Senior Director of Human Resources, Professional Development & Training in a quasi-government ministry. She is a management studies graduate of the University of the West Indies, and she holds specialised certifications in a wide array of disciplines including banking and finance, human resources and talent management, adult education, curriculum design and development and youth development.
Gena’s book, the first in her “Sprout Series: Training and Mentorship Books for Children Ages 5-8” includes stories and an instructional guide. “Bible Story Time” provides instructions on how to deliver the stories in an exciting way, while providing guidance on how to discuss moral issues with young children. It also provides activities to engage in with children, with a specific goal in mind. She also guides the adult in learning how to use key phrases that would encourage a child to find his or her voice and be able to speak to their parent or a responsible adult about anything. Other objectives of the book include fostering a safe, secure and supportive home environment and teaching childen how to love, honour and respect elders.
Gena grew up in an environment like this. She was raised in a home on Nassau Street by her mother, Sylvia Eloise Ingraham (nee Thurston). There, her grandmother Blanche Thurston (nee Hanna) always had a full house. Family was always around. Because of the loving environment, many children were raised there. It was not uncommon to have to move the living room furniture at night and put blankets and pillows on the floor so that the children could all lay down in a row. It was always a good night’s sleep on mama’s wooden floor because the children’s bellies were always full, they were always clean, and they were always made to know just how much they were loved.
She dedicated her book about children and family to my grandmother Sylvia. My father Allan writes the book’s tribute to their mother, calling her “the very epitome of unconditional love and unwavering support” for her children. Gena also dedicates the book to her father Prince Edward Hepburn; grandmother Mildred Clarke-Hepburn; grandfathers Henry Thurston Sr and Carrington Hepburn; and her aunt, Mary Thurston-Outten. She also learned valuable lessons in caring for children from her eldest cousin, Sandra North, founder of of the Aztec Juvenile Junkanoo Group and Youth Organisation.
I Need My Blankie was officially launched in December 2019 with a special leadership training seminar, conference and panel discussion. There, she issued a clarion call for parents to “take full responsibility for their children and to bring them up in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord”. The scripture reference for the conference was Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”.
The love of her husband and twins, and the loss of the little girl whom she carried and saw in her dream, are the impetus for Gena to continue to pour out her passion in the Sprouts book series. Find I Need My Blankie (illustrated by Renbert Mortimer) on Amazon.com or contact Gena at email@example.com or call (242) 432-5110.