From 1968 to 1971, I attended Pallotti High School, the alma mater of my two sisters, Dolores and Victoria. An all-girls Catholic school, students soon found out that both the local and “foreign” nuns navigated our learning with tight reins guiding discipline, self-responsibility, and moral precepts. I can recall one nun, in particular, who had a tremendous impact on my education. Sister Leonardis, an American, (known among students secretly—or so we thought—as “Leo the Lion”) had the power to have us cower in our seats as we heard the heavy sounds of her heels on the cement verandah as she neared a classroom about to go into session. This was a time when the nuns wore “blinders” like hoods with flowing veils, long gowns, and black stockings disappearing into ankle high booties.
We knew that if we could not answer a literature question drawn from Shakespeare’s plays, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Steinbeck’s Red Pony, we risked being considered an “ignoramus.” Sister was a tough love instructor. Yet, when Sister Leonardis began to lecture, I, for one, became enthralled by the fine nuances of word meanings and the world dimensions they opened for me, for “Leo the Lion” was a charismatic teacher as well. Reading and, later, writing became a thrill, an adventure, and a favourite pastime. I became conscious of the capacity of the pen, and of the wonderful interconnection of the brain, the hand and soul of a writer in grappling with creative ideas and critical thinking. For me, that was a marvel, and from this was born an immense admiration for writers who do justice to this art.
While reminiscing about these high school days and my early reading and writing experiences, other memories have floated up and reminded me that this month, February, is celebrated as Black History Month. Originally called Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, who started it in 1926, its goal was to educate Americans about African-Americans’ cultural backgrounds and their outstanding achievements. Interestingly enough, arguments have been raised as to what are the advantages and disadvantages of celebrating a Black History Month.
From an educator’s perspective, celebrating a people’s achievements allows for the recording and passing on of accomplishments from one generation to the next. And, right now, more than ever, our nation needs to have role models who have distinguished themselves. Therefore, whatever form it takes, I believe that it is important that we honour our citizens for their distinguished accomplishments other than by way of eulogies.
On my top ten list, that includes, of course, the Right Honourable George Cadle Price, is Evan X Hyde, for he has been a trailblazer in advocating social change for the Southside, the poor and, generally, the marginalized. A controversial figure to many, he has been tenacious in holding on to his beliefs—whether you or I or anyone else disagrees. Moreover, he has been fearless in his advocacy for social and education reform. Like many global revolutionary figures, Evan X has also found it necessary, particularly in his passionate youth, to do so in what has been considered radical ways.
During the latter part of my high school years, 1969 to 197I, I remember a classmate of mine—if I recall rightly, her name was Elma Whittaker—who on casual days would dress in her dashiki and with flashing light brownish eyes, speak of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) and Black Power. For many of us, we were at a loss, as we did not share her political awakening and Black consciousness. Yet, unmistakably, we could feel radiating from her, a strong commitment to UBAD’s philosophy, though, in retrospect, we lacked her understanding of the movement.
In our eyes, the “Dashiki” was more of a fashion trend as was the “Afro” hairstyle. In the same way that the “Guayabera,” which originated as a highly political statement for Cubans, was adopted by many who wore it more as a fashion statement, than because they fully understood and appreciated the roots of the “peones’”(peasants’) message emanating from the garb, the dashiki became all the rage.
Like movies of the mind viewing reruns, my memories of 1972 to ’74, merge with the wearing of bell-bottom trousers and peace sign medals hanging from beaded necklaces. I remember our family getting photographs of my sister who had gone to England to study, dressed in flowing gowns, and with her husband-to-be in sunshades fashioned after the in style shapes worn by the Beatles, and graced by smoothly flowing shoulder length hair. Yes, it was a time reflecting both “resistance” –a political term—using aggression as a tool—and, on other fronts, to counter war, peace and love in anti-establishment movements. In analysis, both strove for the same objective: the right to dignity as a people, and the right to freedom. Although Belize was experiencing a political climate change, during these years at St. John’s College Sixth Form, I have no memories of discussions of UBAD and what it meant to Belize.
Decades later, I came to meet Evan X Hyde, and have seen first-hand his living his philosophy. As an independent consultant and a columnist to the Amandala, I observed that he had set up a library for African and Indian studies. A graduate of the Ivy League, Dartmouth, Evan X had majored in English, that clearly is his forte, and as a revolutionary, he recognized the necessity of educating Belizeans through our histories. I have always wondered why grant money that has flowed so easily to other organizations has never reached the Library of African and Indian Studies—at least that is my impression. Here, I observed, in the heart of the Southside, children benefitting from summer programs, other tutorial services, and more importantly, a sense of cultural identity. Given that research studies continue to show that the high levels of crime and violence come out of concentrated pockets in the Southside, an initiative like this one should be nurtured to reach more at-risk children who have the potential, as every other child, to achieve personal and professional success, if given the opportunities to do so.
Evan X Hyde, I believe, supports this initiative on his own, much as that of providing school children with free lunches on the Amandala compound, and never honking his horns about so doing.
Evan X Hyde is a success story as an entrepreneur, for he has proved that Belizeans can build an industry from scratch to a thriving business enterprise as he has done in the newspaper business that now encompasses other elements of mass media. Certainly, I can point to many more of his accomplishments, not to mention that he is an outstanding researcher, educator, and intellectual on the equal footing of any professor boasting a PhD or EDD. Most significantly, of all of Evan X’s accomplishments, I have found his actually staying in the country, through the good and tough times, one of the outstanding criteria that entitles him to recognition as a distinguished Belizean achiever. He did not appear suddenly out of the woodwork to laud himself with titles and showcase himself. He has paid the price of working in the trenches to achieve not only personal success, but national ones by calling on Belizeans, week after week, to become informed and educated to the issues we face on a daily basis. Admirably, he continues to do so, although he could have probably have retired comfortably, some time ago, to do what he loves best: write creatively.