Some 70 persons, including former students, teachers, community members and supporters showed up at a town hall meeting outside Somerset Cricket Club, organized by the Committee to Save West End Primary School to express virulent disdain toward the Government’s decision to close the historically Black institution, one which has fueled the success and prominence of many negroes emanating from the Sandys area.
Tension was clearly palpable and unveiled threats were made toward the sitting Progressive Labour Party (PLP) government of the potential for supporters in the PLP stronghold to consider political alternatives at the next election if the closure is carried out as recently revealed by Education Minister Diallo Rabain.
Attorney General Kathy-Lynn Simmons, the elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Constituency 36 sat in rapt attention among the attendees, but did not speak to the gathering, which was facilitated by former Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education Ellen-Kate Horton.
Among those who did speak and did not mince words was revered community stalwart and veteran educator Diane Hunt, who taught at West End, and announced how the legacy of the school could not and would not be buried in favour of an institution laced with an overtly racist past without a tremendous fight.
“it is important that the legacy, the history of this school is not only celebrated but commemorated,” began Ms. Hunt. “Black people could not go to Sandys Grammar and I wonder why they changed it to Somerset Primary, nobody seems to know.
“My Portuguese ancestors could not go to Sandys Grammar. The Portuguese in the west end, including Zacky Marshall (former Warwick Academy Principal Dr. Joseph Marshall) and family could not go to Sandys Grammar. They also could not go to Port Royal, they had to go to West End or to go to Southampton Glebe, all of Bermuda needs to know that because some forget from whence they came.
Ms. Hunt went on to lambaste the Government for its apparent disregard for the historical significance of the school in the hearts and minds of the community, combined with the institutions tangible and immeasurable intangible contributions to the district.
“There is a lot of history here and they want us to put it under ground? They must be out of their minds,” continued Ms. Hunt. “West End has a history very few other school can match and our curre3nt Government needs to know that.
“It’s too bad we can’t just stamp it on their foreheads, so that every time they look at each other they can see the legacy and history of a school that welcomed Blacks and Portuguese in Sandys Parish and I’m sure there were problem areas in other parishes that went through similar things.
Phil Perinchief, a lawyer, socio-political activist, former political advisor and Government consultant with roots in Somerset, told of his dismay that a Black Government would give so much as a moment’s consideration toward closing a 152-year-old institution and unadulterated pillar of the community that afforded Blacks and other persons of colour admission in favour of another that previous refused their very presence on the property.
“Let me be crystal clear that, for me, unfortunately the West End School experience, which is immensely huge to everyone here seems nevertheless to exemplify to me a worrying trend, a summary expression in fact, of relentless determination by this current administration to eras and otherwise consign Black people’s hard fought for legacies, history and achievements to the dust bin of nostalgic memorabilia,” said Mr. Perinchief. “It’s my view and didn’t just begin yesterday.
“The West End School you have come to know and love for more than a century and half, the Minister is saying to you should take such memories to the grave and your children and great grandchildren should not have any living proof of such memories.
“If these are the true sentiments then I find such a trend offensive in the extreme, for me even criminal (and) injurious to my sense of who we are in fact.
“Insult is added to injury for me when one intends to replace, in the case of West End School, those hard fought for achievements and the West End’s physical location with an edifice that routinely, up until as late as the 20th century _ 1920 or thereabouts _ I’m told uncompromisingly rejected, on the sole basis of a racist philosophy, Blacks and Portuguese from even setting foot on what these racists considered was sacred and hallowed grounds not to be trod by the children that we are now attempting to ensconce there.
“Foreign consultants nor uninformed locals, it appears, will not, cannot and have not appreciated the enormous and binding cultural and community values of such historical and intellectual property assets I mentioned earlier.
“As a result it falls to this gathering to do so. It falls to this gathering to put it right. You have a duty to put it right.”
Further, he intimated how a four-man delegation representing West End School and containing the likes of Larry Hunt, Eugene Maybur1y, Norbert Simons travelled, with a 300-plus signed petition and questionnaire regarding the proposal to close the school, to meet with the Premier and his Cabinet, and request the allowance of active involvement the forward movement of the reconstruction of the primary school., However, such was said to have been met with an non-committal attitude from the Premier, while the Education Minister chose to politicise the matter via the media, when the stated ambition of the representatives was to not manufacture the matter as a political football but to arbitrate matters in a more personal, candid fashion, absent any media meanderings.
West End Alumnus and parent of current school attendees Yolanda Bashir-Paige, who is employed in Government’s Planning Department in the area of Planning and Control was critical of quantitative evidence, scoring and reasoning presented by Government which, although gave Somerset Primary slightly higher enumerative marks, seemingly failed to adequately consider intangibles that, while less measurable and qualitative, bore great relevance.
“Why isn’t West End a more equitable choice?” asked Ms. Bashir-Paige. “Why does West End’s history of 15 decades as a community hub school not outweigh Somerset Primary’s less than five decades as a desegregated school?
“Does the ministry have evidence that a sense of legacy and pride, sense of place and belonging, all of which have been offered by West End for generations are irrelevant to the student confidence and success and 21st education?
“Did the minster consider that it would be an appropriate form of reparations to uplift and redesign the West End site to continue its 150 years’ vision and service as the community hub school for the parish?”
The meeting closed with the west enders clearly determined to avert any and all attempts at the school’s erasure from the local educational map.
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