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Champion Coach and Scholar: The Hanif Brown Story

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMKrysta Anderson
Hanif Brown
The Gleaner’s Children’s Own 2016 Spelling Bee Champion Chaunte Blackwood (centre) gets a hug from coach Hanif Brown (right) and second-place winner Assana Thompson, after she won the championship in February.

To follow in the footsteps of the late, great Spelling Bee coach the Reverend Glen Archer was no easy feat, but when the head-coaching baton was passed to former Spelling Bee champion and Ardenne High School student Hanif Brown, he rose to the occasion and ultimately led his student, Chaunte Blackwood, to victory.

We caught up with the 18-year-old coach recently, and he shared his story.

He was born and raised in the rural district of Airy Castle, St Thomas, and was sociable, active in the community, interested in the great outdoors and sports, but understood the value of having a good education.







"On the first day of basic school I got homework and immediately after going home, I told my mom that I had homework and that the teacher said it was to be done now. She replied by saying she would help me when she gets back from taking care of the animals (we had a farm). She left me for a short time, came back and saw me in the bed doing the homework by myself. She laughed and I said, 'Teacher said the homework must be done now'," he told Outlook.

He continued working towards his goals and reaped the rewards when he was named the Paul Bogle Scholar for attaining the highest male GSAT average in St Thomas in 2010, and The Gleaner's Children's Own Spelling Bee Competition in 2011.




Brown, from a tender age, too, learnt that his family was facing financial difficulties. "My parents realised that I was promising and hard-working. So they found it incumbent to do whatever it takes to find financial resources to fund my education and upbringing. I frequently remember situations of my mother serving me dinner. I noticed that she wasn't eating sometimes and I asked her why. She replied, 'It's OK, I am all right, son'. The truth was that nothing else was there in the house to eat, or what was there was for another day. She could not afford to buy something for herself to eat, but always ensured that I was never hungry."

After leaving Airy Castle Primary to attend Ardenne High School, he was hit with more serious financial hardship. While his school fee was taken care of, courtesy of scholarships and grants, he struggled with other expenses, boarding at more than five different places in Kingston. For one reason or another, he said, things just would not work out. "Financially, it has been challenging at times to find money to buy things that I need, be it books, khaki, food and other needs. Different situations since living away from my parents have made me more independent and opened my eyes to life."

He recalled living in two inner-city communities for more than two years, where three persons had to sleep on one bed and share one room; and frequently leaving home without breakfast, not by choice but because none could be provided. "One day, I came to my temporary abode on a casual school day only to be greeted with news that I cannot live there anymore and that I must leave. In spite of all the happenings, I kept my faith in God and maintained my focus. I knew that these situations would not last forever. I've accepted that I needed to go through hardship in order to achieve my goals - the bigger picture."




In grade nine, fate stepped in. Attempting to go home from school one day, he turned back and was met by a woman. She asked if Brown could assist in training her son for Spelling Bee, to which he replied that he could. He began going to the woman's house to train her son. When the family learnt of Brown's situation, the mother offered her humble abode to him until the end of the school year. Her son became the National Spelling Bee Champion, and after serious consideration, Brown was given a new home. "She told me that I could stay for the rest of my time at Ardenne and for as long as I needed to - the hand of God at work. They are like my second family, treating me just like they treat their son."

Finding joy in passing on knowledge to his students and helping them to be the best that they can be was something Brown enjoyed. "I felt as if I belonged when doing that didactic work. Rev Archer soon began to introduce me to his students as his 'assistant coach' and from there I learnt. While having my personal commitments and other activities, I always found time to help in the coaching of his students."

He had a lot on his plate: still attending school, having student government responsibilities, co-curricular activities, and coaching students of Spelling Bee. But he took on the challenge, stuck to a plan, overcame difficulties, made sacrifices, and when Chaunte Blackwood won this year's National Spelling Bee, he found satisfaction. All the hard work had finally paid off.

"Sometimes I used to be at school and did things which were wrong and out of place. I gradually learnt that from being a Spelling Bee champion, such behaviour was unbecoming. While I was never one to seek to meet others' expectations, I understood and later accepted that people look to me to be a role model. In being a coach, I simply have to live by what I teach, embracing the strong moral values each child is supposed to learn and embrace."




For Brown who was recently appointed head boy, balancing it all hasn't been easy but because of the hunger to achieve a goal, to reward the sacrifices his parents have made for him, to work towards being an inspiration, he presses on. "That mental reminder arguably plays the most crucial part in balancing, causing me to go the extra mile each time. Balancing forced me to go home from coaching duties at 9 p.m., then wake up at 3 a.m. because I have homework to submit - there are no excuses. It's all about making up your mind that you want something, and deciding that nothing is going to stop you from getting there. Then, you act. That mental power will make you do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal."

As it relates to his source of inspiration and motivation, Brown had this to say: "The Lord Jesus Christ is head of my life and I seek to be moulded by Him into what He wants me to be. Above all else, God has guided me every step of the way and has taught me many lessons. Many persons have helped to make me into a better individual but, I must respectfully mention the Reverend Glen Archer, the Reverend Claude Ellis, Mrs Joan Davis-Williams, Nicole McLaren Campbell, and Mr Roger Allen as persons who have helped to mentor me into becoming a better individual."




Outside of scholastic pursuits and achievement, he loves playing sports and being active. "I have represented my school in track and field, basketball and football at different levels of national competition. Football is my favourite sport. While I was boarding in Arnett Gardens, I played for the Tivoli Gardens Under-15 football team, winning the KSAFA Football League with the team. Through this, I embraced my interest of playing football."

While he is still not sure about his desired career, he has discovered his interests in languages, communication and media. His next step - looking to get a full scholarship to university in order to fulfil tertiary studies. "That goal has been made easier to achieve, having been awarded a scholarship in 2015 by AIM Educational Services which takes care of all the facets of my college preparation. They are the connoisseurs when it comes to getting you into college."

His advice to others: "Ensure that the dream is in accordance with the will of God for your life. After that, accept that it will not be easy to accomplish that dream, then you decide that you'll do whatever it takes to accomplish that dream. Then, just do whatever it takes to see that dream and live it out loud. When you want to see that dream as bad as you breathe, then you'll accomplish it."