Putting Up A Resistance!

The Status Quo Challenging Legacy of Howard Academy
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Legacy. Perhaps an oft-overused word, but this is the most accurate word to use in this case.

For the twenty years it was open, starting in 1945, Howard Academy fashioned a legacy of being one of Bermuda’s most dynamic educational institutions. Producing citizens like Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego (formerly Roosevelt Brown), Sir John Swan, Walter Robinson, Larry Burchall, Kenny Richardson, Jo Stevens, Henry L. Conyers, and many others – too numerous to mention – the school continues to have a lasting impact on Bermuda.

Ms Carrolldon Benjamin summarizes, “They equipped us to advance ourselves.” We spoke with Ms Benjamin, and a few other Howard Academy alums about what the school has meant to their lives, and the historical narrative of education in Bermuda.

The principle focus of the administration and staff of Howard Academy was to provide the best possible curriculum despite modest means. There were no distinctions between those who were academically minded, and those who were classified as destined to be tradespersons or athletes. Everyone had the opportunity to become an educated and cultured person, and was taught to develop their own value system.

This is the opinion of Mrs Betty-Anne DeJean-Saunders, the daughter of school Principal Mr Edward DeJean. Described as a very progressive school in the midst of a racist educational system, the best resources were the people – administration, staff, and students alike. Everyone came “Prepared to do the job and challenge the status quo.”

At Howard Academy the students were exposed to math, literature, science, and physical activities on a level that was previously inaccessible to them.

Common names that everyone remembered fondly included Ms Eva Robinson, Mr Edward DeJean, Mr Donald (Dick) Dane, Mr and Mrs. Hill, Mr Lyburd, Ms Johnson, and Mr Burgess. There was high praise all around from all the former students.

Of particular note were the fond memories, appreciation, and respect shown for Ms Eva Lilian Robinson, who was not only a teacher, but an administrator as well. One of her students has been quoted as saying they, “Highly respected her as a person who has made a tremendous, unselfish sacrifice to education in Bermuda.”

Ms Robinson spoke French fluently and encouraged her students to expose themselves to other cultures. One of her students, C. Lynne Cann (Hollis), shared that the students once performed a play entirely in French. Now, Lynne doesn’t want to brag – “But I had the leading part.” Thanks to Ms Robinson’s tutelage, Lynne was once chosen to accompany the Bermuda Girl Guides to Martinique, mainly because she could speak French!

Anthony W.E. Albuoy shared that if the school was open today, he’d recommend it highly. “It was a good school and taught good values,” he shares. “In terms of being dedicated to a task, the teachers were second to none.”

All the students echoed a similar sentiment: Howard Academy was a place where you felt welcomed, challenged, and supported. “We always felt it was a place for us as individuals. You could find your place in the sun,” Mr Albuoy remembers.

By all accounts, this seems true. We have Howard Academy to thank for producing students who went into politics, business on all levels, sports, and more.

Passing the Torch: What the Alumni of Howard Academy would like this generation to know

  • A lot of the positive experiences in my life wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my school. Take advantage of what you can, and work hard to reach your dreams!
  • Everyone has a gift. You CAN do! Use what you have to progress yourself – to benefit yourself and others.
  • You have to want to achieve in order to be successful.
  • In life, there’s negative and positive things – you choose what to focus on. Even a negative experience can turn into a positive step in your life’s journey. It’s up to you to make these choices.

According to many of the students who we spoke with, Howard Academy positively impacted a number of black men. For that reason, there was resentment when the school was forced to close because the closure exposed and reimposed the inequality directed at all the successful black institutions of the time. “There was no good reason why,” laments one former pupil. “It was sad. We never got the chance to be as good as we could have been. Who knows how different Bermuda would be now if it had stayed open?”

As they were taught, each alum has chosen to focus on the positive things, and what they can do in all circumstances.

Ms Hollis-Cann shares that she knows many people, including herself, who became who they were as a direct result of attending Howard Academy. She emphasises that persons like Mr DeJean, “Used language that really connected to the individual student.” While Ms Benjamin recalls that Mr DeJean even used to challenge the boys with boxing gloves!

None of them can recall any real challenges with attending Howard Academy. They all wanted to go! If it wasn’t their family members sharing stories that inspired them to attend, it was the reputation that the school had that instilled the desire to be a part of the school. Everyone pulled together to make the structure, the curriculum, and the atmosphere as positive as they could, and the school became a community hub.

A perfect example of the spirit of the school might be summed up in the following anecdote, told by Mr Albuoy: “After school at Howard Academy they used to play table tennis,” he confesses. “I wanted to play, but I was a bit shy. Another student there, Myron Binns, really inspired me. He told me he’d teach me to play. That guy had had polio! I was like ‘What you gonna teach me?’ But he did. That guy did any, and everything, he put his mind to!”

“We used to set up books across the desk and use books for paddles,” laughs Myron Binns in response. “Of course I could teach him. I don’t want to brag, but I was one of the best. See, life is not about how fast you can move, it’s about strategy.”

At the end of the day – that kinda says it all.

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