MORE THAN just giving us relief, Jafar Howe – who is bound for Princeton after overcoming many obstacles – has given us hope, beaming a direct warning to our society about stigma and discrimination.
“It was hard because when some students found out that I was from Laventille, they had already put an idea in their minds of what to expect from me,” Howe told Newsday. “Some of the students would even make jokes about it, but I never let it affect me.”
But instead of lashing out, Howe demonstrated he stands in a league of his own.
“I had to change the perception of Laventille in their minds,” he resolved. “So, I beat them – in test.”
Such altruistic public service and activism are as valuable as they are rare. Howe took it upon himself to become a powerful role model. And, alongside his family, he showed resourcefulness. There were several fundraisers and a GoFundMe page was launched. But equally commendable is the incredible act of generosity from an anonymous businessman who pledged US$20,000 which would help him cover all his expenses, as well as all those who have given support in other ways.
It’s not the first time the public has rallied behind a good cause. In fact, as a nation we are very good at acts of warm-hearted generosity. It’s also not the first time a student has used social media tools at their disposal to draw the financial support needed to complete their course. But Howe’s case suggests the need for a review of how our national scholarships work. Is there no programme in place to assist worthy students, no matter their conduit to higher education?
Much has been made of Howe’s coming from Laventille. Yet his is a victory not only for that place but also every place that has been over-simplified, vilified, erased. It is a reminder that no one should be limited, and neither should our understanding of any place.
“I am just one of the few who were publicised,” Howe reminded us. “We have good sportsmen and sportswomen. We have professionals that come out of Laventille and I just want that to get into the minds of as much people as possible.”
And yet, aside from the politics of geography, Howe deserves praise on his own merit. It’s an achievement to gain admission to one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive Ivy League schools. Such a feat is testimony to the excellence of local talent generally, a reminder of what we are capable of individually and therefore collectively.
A lack of resources, a perception of being disenfranchised – both can be overcome with hard work. That’s the hopeful message. We wish Howe best of luck!