Wed | Aug 23, 2017

For the Reckord | The many hats of Humroy Whyte

Published:Friday | November 18, 2016 | 11:00 AMMichael Reckord
From left: Humroy Whyte, Jamaica’s Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris, and president of the Poetry Society of Jamaica, Tommy Ricketts, at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts during the society’s October 2016 fellowship.
Humroy Whye playing the guitar as he performs at the October 2016 Poetry Society of Jamaica Fellowship at the School of Drama amphitheatre, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Humroy Whyte
Louise Bennett-Coverley
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Years ago, cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley gave Humroy Whyte advice about teaching which he has never forgotten. She said, "Find out what they like, Humroy, and teach them from it."

"And that's what I do," Whyte told me recently on one of his visits back home to Jamaica. We were in a classroom of the School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. As a student, Whyte spent five fulfilling years of his life there.

As Whyte tells it, Miss Lou was one of many people who advised - or requested - he do things he had not planned to. Fortunately, the advice served him well.

When I saw him at last month's Poetry Society of Jamaica fellowship in the School of Drama's amphitheatre, he was introduced by the MC, M'bala, as a poet and a musician. And he performed excellently as such, playing the guitar while he chanted poems and sang songs.

A few days later at the School of Drama, I learnt that Whyte recently finished a musical, Anancy and the Worldwide, which he hopes to stage; that in England (where he now lives) he produced a booklet and a CD of poems; and he is in that country a respected (and awarded) educator, performer and minister of religion.

That's not bad for someone who grew up in a home in Spring Village, St Catherine, with only The Holy Bible and Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit as the books in the house. He attended Calabar High School, from where he got a scholarship to go to the School of Drama part-time. However, Whyte so impressed the school's then head, Dennis Scott, with his audition presentation that Scott insisted he enrol full-time.

A few years later, during his teaching practice, Whyte impressed another head of school - the principal of Jose Marti Technical High School in St Catherine. He was asked to lead the institution's Drama Department. He stayed for three years before moving on to teach at Wolmer's Boys' School.

 

SUMMONED BY 'BINTA'

 

Whyte said he was "summoned" from the school by poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze to replace her at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) as speech and literary arts co-ordinator.

"She was leaving to live in England," Whyte explained.

After some years at the JCDC, he left to work (from 1987-1989) as a television presenter, producer and editor at the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC). While acting in a play, August Strinberg's Miss Julie, he was asked by a visitor from England to go there to direct Hall Anthony Ellis' 1888.

Obtaining a leave of absence from the JBC and a six-month visa from the British High Commission, he went to England and directed the play. And jobs kept dropping into his lap.

"A man from a school came to see the play and asked me if I would take up the post of head of the Drama Department at the school," Whyte said.

He initially refused. "I told him I had to go back to Jamaica, but he pleaded and I went to look at the school," Whyte said. Finding children from several countries there - including Jamaica - Whyte agreed to take the job. He stayed for a while, returned to Jamaica to work at KLAS as an announcer/producer from 1995 to 2000 and then "I got another call to return to England to teach. I'm still there".

To date, he has worked in "at least seven schools" in London, completed a master's degree in drama in education and theatre arts at Canterbury Christ Church University, a certificate programme in Investing in Diversity at London University's Institute of Education, and a ministerial programme at United Pentecostal Academy in the city. (He had begun theological studies in Jamaica.)

Whyte also did a course which qualified him to apply for a head teacher's post and another which qualified him as a health and safety representative in schools.

"I'm now at Platanos College in Stockwell," Whyte said. "I'm an administrative director at the college and a trustee and a governor of the college, as well as arts administrator for the performing arts," he said.

With a laugh, he admitted: "I wear many hats."

His work in education led to his getting an award from the Jamaican High Commission in London in recognition of his contribution to education in the Jamaican community.

Whyte's work in commercial theatre in London includes directing and acting in1888, acting in the roots play Unda Mi Nose and in Louis Marriott's Playboy; but he is primarily a church performer. Though he has no church of his own, he regularly performs in churches around the city.

In the next five years, he told me, he plans to retire from full-time work and set up an arts consultancy in drama in education or theatre. He also intended to publish his music and poetry.

Perhaps remembering how often his life had taken unexpected turns, he said, "I open myself to the will of the Spirit. But I'll always be involved in work in the arts and education."