OSWALD BROWN WRITES
It is widely known in this country that I introduced the National Spelling Bee to the school system of The Bahamas to select a student to participate in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee held annually at the end of May in Washington D.C.
The Washington Informer, the paper that I worked with in Washington, D.C., as news editor for twelve years, is the sponsor of the District of Columbia Spelling Bee. After attending my first Scripps Bee in 1982, I promised myself that whenever I returned to The Bahamas I would do whatever I could to get The Bahamas involved in this competition. I returned to The Bahamas permanently in 1996, and when I became editor of The Nassau Guardian in 1997, I discussed my plans with the then Minister of State for Education Dion Foulkes, who wholeheartedly embraced the idea and an application was sent to Scripps National Spelling Bee for The Bahamas to be accepted as a participant, with The Guardian as the principal sponsor, given the fact that Scripps’ policy at the time was that contestants had to be sponsored by a newspaper.
The winner of the first Bahamas National Spelling Bee held in 1998 was Dominique Higgins of Jordan Prince William High School, and he performed very well competing against more than 250 spelling champions from across the United States, Europe, Canada and as far away as American Samoa. Young Higgins made it to the fourth round before being eliminated. Undoubtedly, the study habits he developed while preparing for the Bee in some respect accounted for the fact that he graduated from Jordan Prince William with an “A” in ten BGCSEs, and went on to graduate from Stanford University in California with a degree in neurobiology and is currently studying to become a neurosurgeon.
There is no question that the National Spelling Bee has had a tremendous positive impact on the educational system of The Bahamas. Like Higgins, all of the winners over the years have excelled in their educational pursuits as a result of the study habits they developed while preparing for the Bee. Indeed, Minister Foulkes once described it as the most important educational initiative to be introduced in the school system in many years. It is one of the accomplishments in my life that I am extremely proud of.
I have provided this background information to underscore my disappointment over the fact that the organizers of the Grand Bahama District Spelling Bee, which was held last week, for whatever reason decided not to invite me to participate in the opening ceremony, considering the fact that every year since I moved to Grand Bahama in 2002, I have participated in this ceremony, bringing brief remarks or presenting some of the trophies. The only reason for this disgraceful decision that that I can think of is that some educational official in Grand Bahama, quite possibly out of fear, decided that I should not be invited because of my open criticism of the direction in which Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham is taking this country. If this is the case, this is the kind of “fear” that Hitler used as a potent weapon to become a tyrant in Germany and, closer to home, Papa Doc Duvalier used to establish himself as a dictator in Haiti.
I know Hilliard Clarke’s grandson, Desmond Bannister, the Minister of Education, very well. We both come from Stanyard Creek, Andros, and his parents, Horatio and Joyce Bannister, both at some point in time taught me as monitors at Stanyard Creek All-Age School. Therefore, I am certain that he would not have sanctioned such political mischief, if this is indeed the reason why I was not invited to participate in the Grand Bahama District Spelling Bee opening ceremonies. But time will tell. The National Spelling Bee is due to be held in March, and with the exception of two years after I left The Guardian in 2001 when the then management of the paper chose not to invite me to the nationals, I have brought remarks and served as commentator for the live national broadcast. I would expect an invitation to continue in this capacity to be forthcoming from the Ministry of Education; otherwise, my suspicion that the Bee has been politicized would have been confirmed.
Oswald T. Brown
Freeport, Grand Bahama
February 8, 2010