Out of tragedy...a glimmer of hope
Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
Out of the dark, heartbreaking sadness of a young life lost beams a beacon of light that brings laughter in between the tears, joy in the midst of grief.
Inspired by The Gleaner's story 'Okeeffe Lewis, a bright light never to shine again', published on Tuesday, reactions, encouragement, and offers have been pouring in from all over the world for Waterford High School.
It was a heart-rending story of 17-year-old Okeeffe's impact on the lives of so many before gunmen robbed him of his life in an early morning attack on his home.
Okeeffe, affectionately called Bill, was the reserve goalkeeper for Waterford High's Manning Cup football team. Since his murder, the team and the school have found a renewed sense of fortitude, and that extra push of determination to go on to win their semi-final match, and are now prepared to take home the cup today in the finals against many-time winner Jamaica College.
It is the first time in the history of Waterford that the school has reached the finals.
"We are doing this for Bill and Waterford!" the players said.
The sad irony? Okeeffe's light really does continue to shine - even in death. Because of the tragedy, many are now rallying in support of the school and the team.
Inspired by their determination, director of the international Jonathan Hibbert Foundation Football Tournament at Munro College, Copeland Lewis, has invited some of the Waterford football team players to the tournament scheduled for January 8, 2011, where the top boys will have a chance to earn scholarships to overseas colleges.
Principal of Waterford High, Cecile Bernard, who is very passionate about her school and students, was quite excited about what was happening for her school and her boys. But she added, "It is sad, though, isn't it? That something so good for the school is coming out of something so tragic."
She said ever since The Gleaner story, the school has been flooded with calls from all over, many concerned, offering support, condolences, and counselling for the boys.
"Words cannot describe the effect that story had. It melted your heart, touched you to the core, and pulled on every nerve ending. It appealed to your every emotion," said the principal.
"People said although they never knew Okeeffe, after reading that story, they felt his very presence. It was like he was their very own," she said.
"The biggest concern everyone has is that when it is all over, after the game tomorrow, they will crash, and crash hard. And I suspect that it will be a delayed reaction. I think come next week Tuesday or Wednesday, as we prepare for the funeral, everyone will just hug each other and bawl. It will be like a dam let loose," said Bernard.
She said they were arranging some counselling for the boys starting next week.
What also keeps Principal Bernard up at nights is Okeeffe's mother, Marcia Petgrave. "Can you imagine being in her position? She lost everything. Although 11 of her children were spared, she lost all her worldly possessions; her youngest child that was her ray of hope; the love of her life, Okeeffe's stepfather; her identity, because she has to relocate and start all over again. It's like building back from ashes."
Bernard stopped and with tears in her eyes, reflected. Then she said, "In spite of all this, life has to go on."
After another pause, she said: "It must be for a purpose. It just can't be all in vain."
But Bernard has to be strong for her school and her boys. And so with hope in her heart, she said: "Tomorrow (today) will be our shining day of gold, because we will be like little David going up against the great Goliath. We want to win, not for win sake, but for the sense of accomplishment, a ray of hope."
Bernard said today should be an amazing day at the National Stadium at the Manning Cup finals because so many schools had called to say that they would be coming out in support of the boys.
While The Gleaner was at the school, former mayor George Lee's wife came to see the principal to offer support, and during the interview, Captain Horace Burrell called to make arrangements to be at the game.
"Even the vendors at the school gate have been sending in condolence cards, and they are coming out, too. Okeeffe and that story have done an amazing thing for Waterford High," she said.