Timar's road to Rhodes
I am sure both the attendant and the security guard must have thought I was crazy when I screamed loudly on seeing the lead stories in both of our daily newspapers. The announcement of Timar Jackson as the winner of this year's Rhode Scholarship was the cause of my unseemly public outburst.
Everyone has a story, they say, but Timar's story is extra special and, despite his humility and self-effacing nature, I feel compelled to tell this story. I believe it's worth telling.
In 2005, I visited Vauxhall High School, where classes had been repeatedly disrupted due to violence from the adjoining communities. After doing all the expected ministerial rituals, I sat to speak with the fifth formers, who were particularly challenged as they were sitting exams and had missed several critical classes. When I had completed my conversations with them I was about to leave when a young man with a broad smile approached me and assured me that all would be well so I should not worry.
In August 2006, as I entered my office at the Ministry of Education, my secretary asked me whether I would see a young man and his mother who said they had to speak with me. This young man reminded me whom he was and said he was making a special request. He had just received his CSEC results had attained nine ones, but could not gain entry into a sixth form. (Vauxhall did not have a sixth form).
From the level of the ministry we tried several schools; all said they had their full complement of sixth formers and could take no one else. I recall the frustration of my colleague, the late Senator Noel Monteith, who insisted that this young man had done his part and we needed to do our part and not let him down.
Ultimately, Timar got a place in a sixth form at Ardenne. He received several awards from CSEC and CAPE for highest performer in several subjects both in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. He also received a Jamaica Scholarship and entered UWI.
It was a difficult road for him because of his social circumstances. His mother was always at his side at all of these award ceremonies. While she bemoaned the fact that he did not have the computers, etc that other students had, Timar was never daunted. He always found a way.
Some of us assisted in any way we could, but Timar always stayed positive despite any obstacles. He was focussed, determined and persistent.
I kept in touch with him throughout UWI and when I saw him the night before his graduation I was stupid enough to ask him: So what kind of pass did you get for your degree? He smiled and said: A first class.
While I was disappointed that he did not receive the Rhode Scholarship at this first try, he was not. He said to me: Don't worry. I am going to build up my portfolio and apply next year. And he did and he won. That is the essence of Timar.
I spoke with him the day after the announcement and I asked him what accounted for his focus and his discipline. He gave me three factors:
1) His mother: He said "we were very poor, but we had a structured household with meal times, homework times, etc. We could not stay out late at nights or she would come looking for us".
2) His school: "They always told us that, while we may not be a 'traditional' high school, we should aim for nothing but excellence.
3) Having no alternative: He told me of his friend who was killed in grade 10, and he had determined he was not going down that road.
The moral of the story: There are many Timars out there. They need mentoring and opportunities. Let us not always bad talk our young people; let us find even one and encourage, support and build.
Timar is doing his part at Vauxhall. He teaches math as an after school activity, and he told me: "If I can even save one student, I would have done something good."
It is a long story but, I believe one we should celebrate.
Love and blessings to you, Timar.
Former Minister of Education