Who Was Keino Quallo? By Aria Lightfoot
Who was Keino Quallo? Many people see a black unshaven face and a headline. “Four Gangbangers brutally murdered”. He matches what people think a “gang” banger looks like. They have no idea of who he is or where he came from, what led him down his path. All people know and feel is that they are stricken by fear because of violence. Any solution, even state-sanctioned murder, is an acceptable solution. The thinking is, he was a menace to society – so who cares, he probably have killed many more people and getting his just desserts.
Not so fast…
I met Keino in High School. I must have been about 14 years old, my second year in High School and he was one year ahead. Keino arrived in Belmopan with such notoriety. He was arrested in the U.S. for drug trafficking at the age of 15 years old. His father was a well-known attorney, Glenford Quallo, was recently murdered.
Keino popularity grew fast at Belmopan Comprehensive School. He was charming, articulate, athletic, tall, and very intelligent. He was a snappy dresser and carried himself with a lot of confidence, therefore the women flocked him. We became friends because my best friend was dating his friend at the time.
I found him very interesting. His experiences and world -view and his perspective on different issues. He was, if I recall, a die-hard PUP supporter and in my mix of friends we had both die- hard PUP and UDP supporters. Our discussions would range from politics to law to life. My God we were only 15 at the time! We also shared sports in common. We both played basketball and played on the school teams so we travelled all over Belize playing sports.
About a year into our friendship, we started dating. He was a generous and extremely loving boyfriend and my parents would have none of it. He gave me gifts that I had to return a day after it was given. My mom was concerned about his reputation and well my dad probably would not have approved even if Jesus were the suitor. In Belize, there really are no rooms for mistakes or second chances. I would fiercely defend him to my mom because I knew him far more than the reputation that followed him.
We became very close when my mother got sick. He was truly my rock during that very difficult time in my life. We would study together, have future plans and we trusted each other.
Maybe my mother’s death signaled a change in our relationship. Maybe death had him reflecting on the death of his father and changed him. He reflected often in his life. If wishes could come true, his father would still have been around.
At this time we were both a SJC 6th form. I remember passing all my CXCs and he thought that I always seem to have successes and he seems to be marred with failure. I was too young to understand how much of a deep thinker he was. His observation not a jealous thought, but he felt that society would not think he was somewhat good enough…eventually; I began to see changes in him. He drew back. He did not want to ruin my future he claimed. He began showing signs of depression and he decided he would push me away, flaunted other girls until we eventually broke up. Depression is quite common in young men at this age I have learned.
We kept our distance from each other. We both moved on with life, and then one day I heard he was shot based on an argument he had with someone. I called his mom and Keino and I reconnected as friends only. Did he go back and shoot that person. NO HE DID NOT. Isn’t that what a gang banger would do?
Keino grew up on George Street. He made friends with many of the young men of that area. He became a youth officer because he recognized the neglect in opportunities afforded to them. He reached out to many people who today are probably calling for the death of these young men because they thought they thought he was wasting his time. He was empathetic; he was a loving person and may have been the least materialistic person I know.
In 2001, I moved from Belize to pursue my studies in the U.S. I would call him on his birthday each year or call him when I visited Belize just to see what he was up to. I didn’t call him for the past two years and thought about it. I thought, I should never ignore a birthday because what if it was his last, an unfortunate prediction on my part.
I began hearing disturbing reports from friends and family members that he was having mental issues. I recall he had a confrontation with his stepfather, however when I called him and asked him about it, he seemed quite lucid to me and his perspective made sense. He said, people have determined he has a mental problem so whatever he says or does, he is not taken seriously and they have already determined he is mental. . He spent the time during our conversation reflecting quite a bit. I tried to tell him, he has to look forward and stop focusing so much on a past he cannot change. I felt like the past was in his head stuck on replay.
The last time I spoke to him, it was a very good conversation and it was mostly him reminiscing about high school.
About two years ago, I heard he got arrested for weed and I tried to reach out to him but could not find him. I think he knew I would be giving one of my famous lecture speeches and probably was not up to hearing it. He did tell my family and friends to tell me hello each and every time he saw them, except on Saturday before he died. My brother and another friend both described him as walking around totally out of it and walking around barefooted. Not the image of the gang-banger I imagine.
Keino was not an angel, he paid the price and was repeatedly judged from one big mistake he made as a youth. He experienced a tragic event that unraveled his life. He lost the male figure to direct his path. He got lost.
Belize is a country of no second chances. It almost seems that your fate is sealed if you make a mistake to be forever identified by such a mistake until you become the exact person everyone says you are.
So here I am standing up once again for my friend. I know he would never take another life just knowing the pain he went through when his father’s life was taken. I know he would defend me if the tables were turned. He was a kind, empathetic soul who got lost in mental illness and poor choices of friends.
Unfortunately, to many he is merely a black face who looks like a gangbanger, so who cares he has a teenage daughter reading their hurtful comments. Who cares he has family and friends that love him; who cares that no one has presented any proof he was involved in gang activities, who cares that many of our lost young men work for the same people you would deem respectable?
We in Belize have become a society so gripped in fear of the monsters we help create that we are willing to sign away our liberties, we celebrate rumors of police involvement to eradicate these monsters, gang-bangers, in our short sighted approach to a solution, failing to realize we are creating bigger, more dangerous and more power monsters.
Rest in Peace my friend, God is your only judge and God sees and knows all. Your heart is pure; your spirit left us long before your body did and now sleep with no more pain.
THE LIFE OF KEINO MALCOLM QUALLO
By his stepfather, Michael Rosberg
Keino Malcolm Quallo was the beloved son of Glenford Allen Quallo and his wife, Jewel Pearl Ruth Patten Quallo of Belize City. He was born on 7 October, 1972 and named by his father. Keino is the name of the famous barefoot Kenyan marathon Olympic champion, Kipchoge Keino. Glen represented Belize in the marathon race at the 19__ Commonwealth Games held in Winnipeg, Canada. In his new running shoes, he was soundly beaten by the barefoot Kipchoge Keino and so impressed by this relentless African athlete’s stamina that he publically vowed to him that he would name his firstborn son in his honour. And so he did.
Glen also gave ¬Keino his middle name, Malcolm, in honour of Malcolm X, the defiant, Black Power force who hastened the end of the segregation era in the United States with his incisive brilliance and willingness to tell truth to power—even though it cost him his life.
Thus, Keino Malcolm Quallo was deliberately given the name of Black, relentless and defiant heroes from either side of the Atlantic—one who represented physical prowess, and the other, the moral fibre of his people. So long as his health permitted, he bore his heritage with strength, intelligence, physical grace, empathy, and nobility.
Keino Malcolm was brilliant—perhaps a true genius. As a child of six, he would listen to the soap operas for his mother whenever she had to attend public meetings. She reports her astonishment to hear him recount the tangled soap opera story lines with clarity, and then to do analyses of the principle characters’ motivation. He not only knew what was happening; but also understood human motivation. In manhood, Keino had an astonishing ability to dissect Belizean politics objectively—to look fairly at the strengths and weaknesses of political parties and of politicized individuals. One of his most chilling predictions was that Belize would someday match the violence occurring in Jamaica in the 1970s and 80s until the city of Belize would eventually be drowned in blood. Who would have dreamt that by 2013, that bloody violence would drown him too?
Keino attended Anglican Primary, and Belmopan Comprehensive and a number of other schools. His performance was only outstanding when he had a teacher able to appreciate and provide space for his original turn of mind, his ability to challenge stupidity and illogic, and his need to speak too much truth. And he was a terror in the classroom of any teacher limited to hand-me-down ‘truths’ and narrow opinions. Both the Keino stamina, and the Malcolm defiance became hallmarks of his complex relationship with the world.
Keino’s bravery was evident on the basketball court where his illuminated understanding of the game, his beautiful athletic form, and his team spirit contributed greatly. And that same bravery was put to the service of the Department of Human Development when he served the population of some of Belize City’s most troubled neighbourhoods. He knew the streets, and he also knew the tough youth battling for dignity and respect who inhabited them. When the threat of war swelled up between the gangs of kids in these neighbourhoods, Keino Malcolm was one of those heroic souls who went to them and used his powerful ability, and his gift for tough love, to convince them until the violence was often avoided.
He pushed and cajoled the Department to offer youth the jobs and the skills training programmes he felt they deserved as Belize’s neglected children and as Belize’s future—one he predicted would be bloody without more attention, more love, and more investment by the adult population. He was never satisfied with the tepid responses he received, and frequently stung on behalf of the young people for whom he laboured. He clearly saw that the violence was relentlessly growing, and that the response was so inadequate that his efforts—and those of a few other street heroes like him—were being jeopardized for lack of back-up from the State.
Keino had only one child—Keiana Allana Quallo. Her mother is Verla Henry. Keiana was his dearest possession and he often said she gave him the courage to live. She was everything to him and is a gracious, bright and loving daughter in the last year of high school in Forest Hills, Queens New York.
Keino Malcolm had personal devils with which to contend in the form of a disease that became apparent in his late teens and that gradually worsened, eventually leaving him without the ability to work. In the worst of these recurring episodes, he would gravitate into tough neighbourhoods and keep the company of some of their toughest youth. Eventually, the growing personal trials and the mounting violence of Belize collided. His struggle to live like a dignified man ended suddenly, violently and bloodily.
Keino, as a child, once attended a concert. His mother reports that he gave his seat to another little boy who had none, and then spent the rest of the evening seatless and on the floor. That was typical of Keino Malcolm. He cared for those with less, he gave everything he had. His own world became increasingly tangled and ended prematurely and horribly. But notwithstanding the complexity of his short life—Keino Malcolm still lived up to the glorious name he was given by his father. He was brave and relentless—always meaning to see good come to others and doing everything he could to make it happen.
Keino Malcolm should be an inspiration to those of us from whom he was torn. What he wanted to see improve has not yet been sufficiently improved. We owe it to ourselves to love Belize and Belizean people as profoundly and honestly as he did. And we owe it to him to elevate our lives and efforts to make Belize the Pearl it should be. If we make this effort, we will never lose Keino Malcolm Quallo—because some of the best of his noble, complex self will be borne by each of us. Today, we scatter his beloved ashes on the sea—the open world he so loved. But those are just his physical remains. We who saw the beauty of his soul have the ability to keep his spirit alive and carry it with us.