COVID won't stop annual celebration in memory of Nettleford

COVID won't stop annual celebration in memory of Nettleford

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

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THE annual celebration of the life and legacy of former Vice Chancellor Emeritus Professor Rex Nettleford of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) might this year be shadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but it will have no impact on the work of the foundation established in his honour, which has been seeing to it that academics challenged by poverty but who “exhibit the promise of Professor Nettleford” reach the heights of which they dream.

Nettleford, dance choreographer, academic, historian and “all things Caribbean” to some, died on February 2, 2010, one day shy of his 77th birthday.

The Rex Nettleford Foundation for Caribbean Cultural and Social Studies, established by The UWI as a lasting tribute to his life and work, has since seen to it that 33 students, and counting, who might otherwise have had their futures blighted, secure tertiary level education.

“When Professor Nettleford died it was an immense loss, not only to Jamaica but also across the region and globally because he belonged to everyone and his expertise in culture and academia was sought after everywhere by organisations like UNESCO and institutions of higher education through the world of the performing arts. His passing left a huge vacuum, so the Rex Nettleford Foundation was established to ensure that his life work and legacy lived on,” executive director of The UWI's Institutional Advancement Division, Elizabeth Buchanan-Hind told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

She said since 2010, three students have been selected annually, one from Cornwall College (Nettleford's alma mater), one from Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and the other from Rex Nettleford Hall at The UWI.

“They are provided financial support by the university to attend whatever institution they choose to enrol in. It can vary anywhere from $150,000 to $350,000 per student, per year. So it's really students who are academically outstanding and who have service to community and extra-curricular activities. The student has to have a strong academic record and has to be involved in community service,” she explained.

“Professor Nettleford was from rural Jamaica, from a very, very humble background and he said had it not been for mentors along the way he would not have reached the levels of success he attained, so we want to ensure that we assist young people like him who have the promise and the potential but they don't have the financial wherewithal,” Buchanan-Hind said.

“We have had exceptional dancers, some of whom have been on the verge of being deregistered because of lack of payment of tuition, and the foundation has literally rescued these students,” she revealed.

In the meantime she said the annual event hosted by the foundation, at which the scholarships are presented to the students, will be held despite the pandemic.

The event, dubbed Remembering Rex, features performances by the National Dance Theatre Company, which he found in 1962, The University Singers and others.

“It will be more difficult this year because we are not allowed to gather, but Professor Nettleford was always a positive person who saw the benefits...he was never one to succumb to challenges. He always felt there was some way to surmount and so, the foundation has great plans to do something in his honour [this year],” Buchanan-Hind said, adding that she was unable, at that moment, to unveil the details.

“The foundation intends to continue with what was his journey, which is imbuing his people with cultural certitude, and we have to do it through assisting the young – especially males who are challenged, not only in Jamaica but in the region – to ensure that they don't fall through the cracks,” she said.

“The foundation is going to work towards identifying and assisting more young students across Jamaica to ensure that they have the opportunity that we did. And in a virtual space that can be done, and somewhat far easier because you can mentor students who normally you would not be able to reach,” she stated.

Meanwhile, she said fund-raising has been made especially difficult because of the current climate but noted that the foundation has no intention of retreating.

“It is challenging because resources are limited and the demand on the resources continues to grow. We have people who have supported us since the establishment of the foundation and who continue to, and there are persons on the corporate side who understand the value of the mission and who have stayed the course. COVID is unprecedented, and we can only hope that we will be able to continue our programmes and [keep assisting] the students who benefit,” Buchanan-Hind said.

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