Mon | Feb 26, 2024

Basil Jarrett | Celebrating Kingston College

Published:Thursday | November 30, 2023 | 12:07 AM
Akeem Weir of Kingston College celebrates towards the KC supporters after winning the Class Three boys’ 400m final at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium in March 2019.
Akeem Weir of Kingston College celebrates towards the KC supporters after winning the Class Three boys’ 400m final at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium in March 2019.

Yes. You read that headline right. I, Basil Jarrett, being of sound mind and body, just wrote a flattering headline to my alma mater’s greatest rival. It is no secret that since September 1, 1986, I have proudly worn my love for Jamaica College, quite literally on my arm. JC was where I grew up, got an education, made lifelong friends, and learnt to value a life dedicated to the service of others.

But if I’m to be brutally honest today, I will admit that I have occasionally cast a jealous eye towards North Street, for the one thing that I believe that they have done better than anybody else – demonstrate real unity and brotherhood in pursuit of a common cause.

A WARNING FROM ABOVE?

I swear that as I wrote that last sentence on this festive Tuesday afternoon, the earth shook once again as a magnitude 4.2 earthquake seemed to deliver a stern warning to me: “Choose your next words carefully, young man. They could be your last in a blue shirt.”

What I have just written, and am about to write, may be considered so blasphemous, so unforgivable, so heretic that I may end up being chased out of 189 Old Hope Road. But wait. Hang on a second. I just remembered. I have already been chased out of JC. I, along with 200 other old boys that is, who dared to oppose the current masters of Charles Drax’s – cane planter and slave owner – legacy.

But this isn’t about JC. Nor is it about those shameful series of events that occurred, and are still occurring, at my alma mater. Rather, this is about acknowledging what I believe is the greatest hallmark of that North Street institution’s legacy. No, it’s not the Fortis motto, nor is it the absurd combination of purple and white for a boys’ school. After all, have you ever seen what happens to purple when it fades? Blue fades to blue. Even green fades to green. But purple? On second thought, perhaps you’re right. One must be truly ‘brave’ to wear purple until it fades into, well…. light purple.

REAL UNITY

But I digress. For as long as I can remember, Kingston College’s Old Boys have always demonstrated what I consider to be the strongest, most enduring examples of what brotherhood truly means. Now, don’t get me wrong. You will find camaraderie in every boys school. But I speak of brotherhood that goes beyond fair-weather friendships and loyalties when times are good. Anyone can go to the stadium and proclaim their fraternal bonds when their side is winning or when they are in the mood for some good, lively, old-fashioned walks down that high school memory lane.

But real, genuine brotherhood is more, much more than that.

Real brotherhood is uniting in defence of a common principle and of doing what is right. It means ignoring one’s own narrow self-interest and self-aggrandizement, in pursuit of the greater collective good. Most importantly, it means standing up to defend those core values that are near and dear, and those that define what the group believes in. And that’s where I tip my hat to my Fortis brothers. When TVJ banned the school from its popular Schools’ Challenge Quiz competition years ago, the entire school community and fraternity spoke in one clear voice. “No,” they told TVJ, “It is us who are banning you.” Such defiance. Such bravado. Such chutzpah. Such unity.

THE ORIGINS OF PURPLE POWER

Indeed, on one occasion as I recounted my travails at my own alma mater to an old KC friend, his haunting words have stayed with me since. “Major,” he said, “if this was Kingston College, you would have an entire purple army standing behind you in that battle.” And as much as it troubles me to say this, I believe him.

To be honest, this should not surprise anyone. A simple comparison of the origins of both schools explains why. JC was founded by an English cane planter’s bequest to create a school for poor white children. Over the years, the school evolved, producing several illustrious scholars and leaders. JC remained accessible only to Jamaica’s elite and a few academically gifted boys on government scholarships, but all this changed in 1957 when the education system was liberalised by the Common Entrance Exam. After some stout resistance by the JC school board of the day, JC was eventually opened to the masses. “JC hadn’t gone to the dogs”, one educator famously quipped, “The dogs had gone to JC.”

Contrast this to Kingston College’s origin, which is rooted in the need for poor, black Jamaican boys to have a place of learning of their own. Slavery may have ended in the 1830s, but don’t mistakenly think that we immediately marched off the plantation to set up a society that was free, fair and forgiving for black people. Indeed, we were still viewed as being more valued for our brawn and less for our brains, as up to the 1920s, the prevailing colonial view was that secondary education was the purview of white and light-skinned elites only, and primary school was quite sufficient for these sons and daughters of former slaves.

KC’s founder, Bishop Percival Gibson, thought otherwise and, in 1925, created a school where “the sons of slaves could become leaders in this country”. He believed that there was vast, untapped, intellectual talent lying dormant among the black population, and only through education and intellect could the emancipated slave truly be free. The rest is purple and white history.

FORTIS AT 100

When you compare the history of both schools, it is easy to see why Jamaica is Fortis country and why JC, regardless of how many Manning Cups and Champs trophies we win, will never get those levels of love and support. And that’s fine. Through my navy and royal blue glasses, there is no greater place of learning than Jamaica College. But when it comes to a real demonstration of black self-actualisation, black unity and black pride, those North Street boys stand alone.

Today marks the start of Kingston College’s 100th anniversary celebrations. And yes, I know. If the school was founded in 1925, that makes them 98 this year – not 100. But note, not once did I ever say that math was their strong point. Nonetheless, today I am sending heartfelt congratulations and well wishes to my Fortis friends. Thank you for telling Jamaica, in 1925, that the young black sons of former slaves can make just as good a living with their minds, as their bodies.

At a time when our boys are struggling to keep pace academically, intellectually and financially with our girls, perhaps what Jamaica needs now is another Kingston College.

Major Basil Jarrett is a Communications Strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, Instagram, Threads @IamBasilJarrett and linkedin.com/in/basiljarrett. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.