Daniel Knight lost his father, Stanley, to suicide on November 11, 2014. A day earlier the elder Knight had tried to set alight their house while Daniel and his stepmother were asleep. But the young man has chosen to remember his father for the man he was before that inexplicable attack.
Today marks the eighth anniversary of his father’s death and the 23-year-old will dedicate his diploma from the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) to his father’s memory, a way to say thanks for the crucial role he played in his educational development.
“There was a point in university where I said to myself that, if I get this degree and could work for my entire life at the highest-paying job in the world, and I am able to see my father for one more second so that I could show him my degree and show him that I have finished, I would do it. I would use all of my money to show my father my degree because he is the reason I did all of this,” Knight told the Jamaica Observer.
He still remembers how his father struggled for years to ensure his son had access to an education.
“My father would go to every employer that he had, because the money wasn’t a lot, and beg them to buy the books for me to go to school, and that’s why getting this degree means so much to me. My father was my main supporter. He pushed me so much with school,” he said of the man who was a farmer and a mason.
“When I was in high school and my father would do work on the farm, and I told him that I was coming to help him, he said, ‘No, I am not training you for this. Go inside and take your book’,” Knight said.
Given the economic hardship and psychological pain that he had to endure, the young man from Maryland in east rural St Andrew said he never envisioned himself being successful in life.
“Never in a million years I thought I would have been able to tell my story, because I thought I was doomed,” said Knight.
Knight recalled that his parents struggled financially while he was growing up. They separated when he was in basic school and tried to support him as best they could. But there was never any money for just going out and having fun.
His mother, Pamela Walsh, was a fish vendor downtown Kingston. He has two sisters and is the second of three boys. His eldest brother has epilepsy, so Knight had to assume the role of the eldest child.
He attended Grove Primary School, and after sitting the now-discontinued Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), attended Papine High School. In grade eight, he went to live with his father and stepmother.
Two years later, on November 10, 2014, his father did the unthinkable.
“I was sleeping when I heard him screaming and saying, ‘I’m gonna kill everybody in here’ and I jumped up. I was trying to go through the door and he was trying to come in,” Knight said, adding that his father was holding and shaking a container with gasoline.
“At one point I even swallowed some. That was all over me because he was going to light the house. Because I was asleep my fingers were still numb; they were not able to turn the key at the time, so I was using my two hands to turn the key and it wasn’t opening. My stepmom was also trying to help, so it was 20 fingers trying to turn one key,” he said as he fought back tears.
“Eventually I opened it. I was able to come out but my stepmom wasn’t. When I ran out, I turned back and saw that he came out and looked at me. He didn’t chase me. He looked at me and was crying. I said to him, ‘Daddy, why are you going to do this? You don’t have nothing to live for?’ He shout out, ‘No!’
“I was speechless. I felt my chest open because I was trying to find something to say, but I couldn’t say anything. I just ran up the hill, ran to the main road, then I ran to my mom. I ran for about two miles; I didn’t stop. By the time I got to my mom, I collapsed,” he continued.
The next day his father hanged himself.
After that, Knight went to live with his grandmother. Her couch was his bed for one year, as there was not enough space for all the occupants of the house. The trauma left by his dad’s death took a toll.
“Every night when it came down to news time I would get so depressed because of the ambiance associated with the news. I would leave the house and go up a hill and cry – sort of having a conversation with my father, asking him why he did this. I would return home around 10:00 pm. Nobody knew what was going on,” he told the Observer.
The loss of his dad also worsened his financial woes. Despite being a well-rounded student in high school — singing on the choir, doing track and field, and serving in student governance — Knight was struggling badly.
“I did CXC on an empty stomach because my mother gave my younger siblings the money, which I understand. She was doing all she could. And my stepfather, he was trying to help, but it was not enough to make two ends meet. I went to school without breakfast many days and returned home to no dinner,” said Knight.
“How I would get lunch, I used to have to beg my friends. Or, sometimes I would have to go to the guidance department and explain my situation. It got so bad at school that the principal at one point had to call me and say, ‘We really understand and we see what’s happening, and you are very smart’. They would have me work in the canteen to process lunch tickets and that’s how I was able to get lunch at school,” he said.
There were others, too, whose acts of kindness helped him along the way.
“There was a time I was going to school and I was walking very slowly because the bottom of my shoes was coming off. It so happened that a lady in the community — never spoken to her prior — saw me and said, ‘Don’t go to school today; I am going to buy you a shoes tomorrow.’ That was the shoes I had up to university; so, four years later, I was wearing one shoes and one black pants.”
Nevertheless, he was determined to fight the odds. He graduated high school with 10 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, three Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) units, as well as passes in City and Guilds. While pursuing CAPE, he also enrolled at HEART/NSTA Boys’ Town campus to complete a level one course in food preparation.
The numerous subjects did not change much for Knight, as he could not secure any employment to start his adult life.
“After high school, I thought that it would have been better. I was seeking employment but I never got a call. I applied everywhere with the 13 subjects to do every little work — gas station, supermarket, summer jobs — but I was never contacted,” he said.
In an effort to survive, he ended up at Papine market.
“I was really depressed… I felt like I was really doomed. I had to go to the Papine market for one year to help my aunt at her stall. That was how I would get money, but it was still never enough to have a comfortable life. It was just like bus fare and maybe a juice, but I was certain of lunch in the day and that was something that kept me there because I was like, ‘If I am at home, I can’t help myself, but here I am at least certain of one meal’,” he explained.
Starting university came with a new wave of challenges, but Knight was in pursuit of success, even if he had doubts along the journey. It was a rocky start. His family could not afford the enrolment fee of $27,000, but he went to the Poor Relief Department which covered the cost.
Unsure of how the remainder of his tuition fees were going to be paid, Knight began university life.
“The first day of… orientation, my clothes were washed out. The first year in university I wore one shoes, one pants, and four polo shirts,” he said.
“When I sat in my college math class, I said to myself, ‘Weh mi a do here? You don’t belong here. You can’t even find food.’ I felt like I needed to stop,” he added.
But after assessing his high school grades a Good Samaritan, his mother’s friend, came to his rescue and gave him a full scholarship — more than $300,000 — to cover his entire first year.
He managed to maintain a good grade point average (GPA), though he was still broken inside. That helped him get a full scholarship from the Monica Buchanan Foundation, based in Canada, to cover his fees for his remaining years in university.
However, tragedy struck once more as during his third year he lost his step-grandfather.
“He was visually impaired so I had to do all his business for him. I loved doing it because he would tell me all the stories about my father. I used him as the replacement for my father,” said Knight.
“This affected me academically, mentally, and spiritually. I felt like all my male role models were dropping out, one by one. I started to fail my courses, and my teachers would even stay online after class to enquire about what was going one. One even recommended going to the guidance counsellor,” he said.
The day of his grandfather’s funeral was the same day that he had his most difficult final exam of that semester. A tough decision to make, he chose to fail the course in order to pay his final respects to his grandfather. As a result, his GPA went further south, which left him depressed.
“I bought bottles of pills that I wanted to take. I felt so suicidal because I was like, ‘I started this thing and I really wanted my father to see it, and he’s not going to see it; and my grandfather who would encourage me is not going to see it.’ I felt like life had no meaning,” he confessed.
“I saw a truck coming once and I was on the verge of stepping out into it. I thought this life had no meaning,” he added.
But in the midst of this gloomy phase, he said Jesus became his source of strength, and he could count on the support of his friends.
“There are many times that I thought I was going to turn to drugs, weed, alcohol, and cigarette to cope, but I never did that. Along the way I found Jesus and He has been my stabiliser. I also had friends that never left my side; friends who would come to my house at 3 o’clock in the morning to pray with me and to cry with me,” he said.
His younger sister also served as motivation for him, as she considers him her role model.
Knight is now a junior accountant at a law firm and, not having his father alive to celebrate his many milestones has inspired him to be there for others. He is a volunteer and mentor. He offers his time with iBloom Foundation and sees himself venturing into teaching, at some point, as a way to help mould young minds.
“I’ll be able to be that role model by sharing my experience and helping them understand that you can do… you must do it… even if it means to do it broken,” he said.
His educational journey is not over. He hopes he will get a scholarship to pursue graduate studies in education in the near future. He plans to focus on accounting.
He is grateful to God and all who have helped him along the way: Sean Ennis, Twain Wallace, Denzel Harris, Shanakay Dyer, Lauren Ricketts-Knight and the Vassells from Maryland, Dr Monica Buchanan, his stepfather Wayne Davis, and other relatives.
Referring to the eight-year anniversary of his father’s death, Knight draws for the biblical symbolism of the number eight, which speaks to hope, new beginnings, and a bright future.
“This November 11 is my new horizon. This is the beginning for me to move forward, to replace my sorrow with joy, to tap into new levels of myself, to really be that person that I want to be, to be that light to somebody else. Today, I can say that I am a success story, and if I can do it, anyone can do it,” he said.