Sat | Oct 24, 2020

Old boys join forces for good

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:16 AM
Patrons at last year’s Three the Hard Way and Friends party at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
Patrons at last year’s Three the Hard Way and Friends party at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

It is no secret that our boys today face overwhelming odds as they navigate their way through an increasingly difficult Jamaican society. Threats such as the lure of criminal gangs, substandard academic performance, low employment opportunities, and a general lack of exemplary male role models have truly helped to further marginalise our boys. This is evidenced by the fact that only one of the 10 top academically ranked high schools in Jamaica is an all-boys institution, compared to seven which are all-girls. Additionally, at one point, the number of girls admitted and enrolled at The University of the West Indies outnumbered the number of boys by almost 4 to 1.

One group that is not content to sit back and do nothing as the situation unfolds is the often misunderstood old boys’ associations that are aligned to Jamaica’s boys’ schools. These groups, often perceived as merely cheerleaders and benefactors for the various sporting teams, actually do a lot of work on the ground to support the school on far more meaningful and tangible ways.

Over the years, as these challenges evolve and multiply, the old boys’ associations have had to revisit the roles that they play, taking on a greater responsibility for mentoring and welfare support at their respective alma maters. In taking on these changes, the old boys of Jamaica College (JC), Kingston College (KC), and Calabar High School joined forces to explore how a closer union between the ‘Big Three’ could improve operations and outcomes at each institution.

Joint fundraiser

One of the most visible manifestations of that partnership was the annual Three the Hard Way Retro-Reunion party where old boys came together to plan, host, and stage a joint fundraiser. What most people didn’t see, however, were the not-so-glamorous aspects of the collaboration, such as the numerous discussions and think-thank sessions that were held to help create a learning process based on shared and unique prior experience.

The trio was also able to strengthen its trademark and branding protection efforts, as well as share knowledge on how to deal with some of the discipline and academic challenges they faced. Two years later, St George’s College and Wolmer’s Boys’ joined the movement to help support the cause, and then in 2019, the circle was complete when Munro College and Cornwall College joined the alliance.

One of the most successful joint projects coming out of the groups’ interaction was the launch of the Big Brother Student Support programme which was kicked off at JC. Under this new programme, old boys can help current boys to complete their education at JC, by either setting aside a monthly contribution to help a boy attend school each day, or by making a contribution to a pool of funds set aside to cover monthly allowances in either or all of four categories. These categories include daily lunch, bus fare, school uniforms, books, or any combination of the four.

The Big Brother programme was the brainchild of Jamaica College Old Boys’ Association (JCOBA) President Major Basil Jarrett, who got the idea when an old boy called him one Sunday morning to offer to help a student. “I got a call one morning,” said Jarrett, “from an old boy living overseas who wanted to make a monthly donation to a young man to cover his lunch and bus fares. We spoke for nearly an hour as the old boy recounted how he was only able to come to JC and receive a quality education because a neighbour saw him struggling to come to school and decided to help with bus fare and lunch money.” The old boy said that he never forgot that act of kindness and swore to himself that one day he would return the favour. That call inspired Jarrett to reach out to the family of JC old boys, to make a call for similar support. “The result was overwhelming,” he said, “as old boys from all over the world immediately felt the value and relevance of the programme. From as small a donation as J$50 to over J$250,000 in some cases, everyone played a part as we turned down no one, regardless of their pledged amount.”

No boy left behind

Under the programme, 50 boys were nominated to receive the support, and according to Jarrett, every single nominee was accommodated. “We determined from the start that no boy should be left behind. I can’t tell you how elated we were to see that we were able to bring every single applicant under the programme’s umbrella.”

Having refined and successfully implemented the programme, Jarrett then set out to share the concept with the other old boys’ associations. Captain Denver Ennis of the Munro old boys was one of the first to jump at the opportunity. “We saw the success at JC and listened to their account of how they were able to pull it off. Obviously, being situated in St Elizabeth meant we had to make some adjustments to the programme. But based on JC’s learning curve, we were able to formulate and refine our own programme and launch it at our annual old boys brunch last October.”

Dr Patrick Dallas, immediate past president of the Kingston College Old Boys’ Association, endorses this view. “Unity is truly strength, and since we’ve taken a collaborative approach to certain aspects of our business, we’ve realised that not only are our challenges similar, but certain components of the solution lie with our brothers and rivals.”

One such problem that Dallas identified was funding. “KC old boys love their school and are very generous. But because the needs at North Street are so great, we never have enough to meet those needs. Well-placed old boys do sponsor and support their school, but that pool is not limitless and so we had to be very selective and strategic in who and how we asked for support in order not to place too much of a burden on any one old boy. That perspective changed in 2015 when we sat down with the guys from JC and Calabar to create the joint fundraiser, Three the Hard Way.”

Three the Hard Way is an extraordinary concept: a joint fundraising event by the boys’ schools where each school is represented by an old boy DJ, playing ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s retro music for an audience of old boys, teachers, staff, parents, well-wishers, and just about anyone who enjoys good, clean, mature music, and all for a worthy cause. The event not only generates much-needed funds to help the respective associations to support the boys at their schools with school fees, books, lunch, uniforms, etc, but also demonstrates the unity, camaraderie, and mutual support that exists among the schools and their respective old boys’ associations.

Keith Whyte of the Calabar Old Boys’ Association says that Three the Hard Way was a game changer for his organisation. “Getting sponsorship for the event was a breeze because once corporate Jamaica saw the intent and the goodwill and the relevance of what we were doing by uniting the boys, there was an outpour of support from all angles. We no longer needed to hope that one of our old boys could be well placed enough to take on the project, because the raison d’être was so relevant, timely, and on point, that all of Jamaica endorsed our product. The event pretty much sold itself.”

Funds from the event have been used to cover everything from fees, lunch, uniforms, books, bus fares, sports supplies and small projects throughout the schools.

Three the Hard has since evolved to become Three the Hard Way and Friends, encompassing all seven old boys’ associations from Jamaica College, Kingston College, Wolmer’s Boys’, St George’s College, Munro College, Calabar High and Cornwall College from as far away as Montego Bay. The next instalment of the event will be held next Friday, November 22, at the Constant Spring Golf Club. It will feature a number old boys – DJs Collin Hines, Dr Dre, Squeeze, Krazy Kris, DJ Smurf, Marlon Young and DJ Venom. Tickets are $1,500 presold and are available from the respective old boys offices and Extra’s Mall Plaza.