Club St. Vincent, Inc., a pre-eminent cultural and educational organization in Brooklyn, on Saturday honored Vincentian educator Jabari Kitwana Edwards and Cultural Ambassador Cyril “Scorcher” Thomas during the group’s biennial cultural exposition at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center, 671 Prospect Pl., in Brooklyn.
With the presence of Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves – who made a surprise, maiden visit to the exposition – Ancilla Friday, Club St. Vincent, Inc.’s vice president, presented the Educational Leadership Award to Edwards, Principal of PS 346 in Brooklyn, stating that he “took advantage of every opportunity passed at him.”
Edwards told the ceremony that he was “deeply honored and humbled to stand before you today to accept this incredible award.
“First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Club St. Vincent for bestowing upon me this remarkable recognition,” he said. “This moment is a testament to the hard work, dedication and passion that have driven me to reach this point in my journey.”
Edwards gave “special thanks” to his aunt, Verna Arthur, a former president of Club St. Vincent, Inc., who has been coordinating the symposium, over the years, for her “belief” in his potential and for her “constant encouragement” that helped to shape his journey.
He also expressed gratitude to other members of Club St. Vincent, Inc., as well as to his family and parents, Cornelia and Twah “Ben” Edwards, and friends for their “unwaveringly” support throughout his endeavors.
“To my parents, whose unwavering love, sacrifices and belief in me have been the bedrock of my journey, I owe you a debt of gratitude that words cannot fully express,” Edwards said. “Your endless support and sacrifices have empowered me to dream, strive and achieve. I am who I am today because of the values and lessons you have instilled in me.
“Last, but not least, to my wife and kids, who are also in the audience tonight, thank you for your patience, love and constant encouragement,” he added. “In accepting this award, I am reminded of the importance of upholding the West Indian values and traditions that have guided me on my journey.
“Integrity, compassion and a dedication to the greater good are principles that have shaped not only my work but also my interactions with those around me,” Edwards continued. “Let us remember that our actions carry the potential to impact lives, influence change and shape the world for the better. We must honor the culture and traditions that have brought us here.
“It is essential to recognize that none of us achieve greatness in isolation,” he said. “Our accomplishments are built upon the foundation laid by those who came before us, and it is our responsibility to pave the way for those who will follow. Let us continue to foster an environment of collaboration and support, where diverse voices and perspectives can thrive.”
Additionally, Edwards urged the audience to “continue to unite as a Diaspora to support the educational system in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“This award symbolizes believing in our own; this award belongs to all of us. It serves as a testament to the power and ability of Vincentians to navigate a country that is very different from our own – a country that has a tendency to be unkind and xenophobic to ‘Small Island People,’” Edwards declared.
“In conclusion, I accept this award with immense gratitude, humility and a renewed commitment to excellence,” he continued, receiving much applause from the enthusiastic patrons. “I am excited about what lies ahead and the opportunities that await us as we explore, create and innovate. Thank you again to Club St. Vincent and all who have gathered here for this cultural exposition. Here’s to a future filled with even more remarkable achievements and positive change. Rastafari!”
Edwards’s parents told Caribbean Life afterwards that their hearts were “filled with profound pride to witness our son, Jabari, being honored by Club St. Vincent, Inc. Thanks Club St. Vincent, Inc.
“It was amazing to hear Prime Minister Gonsalves’ message was in sync with Jabari’s keynote address,” the parents said. “It showed that we did a wonderful job in his upbringing.”
In addressing the ceremony, Prime Minister Gonsalves, who was visiting the Mission to the United Nations and Embassy in Washington, D.C., said he listened “very carefully” to Edwards’ acceptance speech and was very gratified by his invocation of the salience of education.
“He said he would not be able to achieve but for the solidarity of others,” the Vincentian leader said. “Solidarity: There are some who tell us we must have naked individualism. Anything that you have achieved, you have achieved with solidarity with the Diaspora.”
In his brief biography, furnished to Caribbean Life, Edwards is described as “a passionate educator with over 17 years of experience in teaching.”
Born in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, Edwards and his family migrated to New York in the early 1980s, residing in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he developed a love for education at an early age.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in childhood education from the City University of New York, Edwards started his teaching career as an English teacher at a middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
He quickly became known for his innovative teaching methods and ability to connect with his students and their families. His dedication to his students’ success earned him multiple awards and recognition from the school community.
After several years of teaching, Edwards decided to pursue a degree in Education Leadership from Long Island University.
With his advanced certificate in educational leadership, he became a school administrator, and worked to create a positive learning environment for students and teachers alike.
He spent several years as an assistant principal before being promoted to elementary school principal in East New York, Brooklyn.
Edwards said he often leads professional development sessions for his colleagues, stating that he believes every student deserves a quality education.
Hence, he said he “works tirelessly to ensure all his students have the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.”
Beyond his work in school, Edwards is also involved in fostering the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) of students and teachers in his district.
He volunteers with local organizations that support education and mentors aspiring school leaders.
Arthur presented Thomas – a calypsonian, former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Deputy Consul General in New York and retired public school teacher in Brooklyn – with the award after her performed some of his popular hits, such as “I Am a Darkie” and “Lollipop”, to the effervescent crowd.
Thomas did not give an acceptance speech, but he told Caribbean Life afterwards that it was “indeed, a pleasure to be honored at any time, but I did not expect anything for my services.
“I feel very lucky to be called for national services whenever and wherever possible,” he said. “SVG [St. Vincent and the Grenadines] has been very good to me and am proud to do something in return to show my appreciation.
“Verna Arthur, Ancilla Friday, Sandra Millington, Colonel Celia Bramble and the rest of the club should be honored for their many years of service to SVG,” Thomas added. “I feel like I am a cheat in the presence of these altruistic servants and daughters of SVG. I am not ungrateful in any way, but I just want to shed some light on these indefatigable Vincentians. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Despite his modesty and humility, Thomas I served in the US Army from July 26, 1969 to July 25, 1971, with 11 months in Vietnam
While in Vietnam, he received the National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Combat Infantry Badge; Army Commendation Medal; Vietnam Campaign Medal w/60 Device; Bronze Star Medal; Sharpshooter Badge Rifle M16; and the Good Conduct Medal.
After returning to the US, he finished his term of service at the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Meade, MD.
On leaving the army, Thomas enrolled in Brooklyn College, where I took advantage of the G.I. Bill and earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Political Science.
While in college, he said the Veterans Administration “got me a job” in the US Postal Service.
On graduation, Thomas said he took some education credits and served as a High School teacher for 18 years.
He also received an advanced certificate in educational administration and supervision from Brooklyn College; and a permanent certificate from the State of New York in School District Administration and Supervision.
Thomas served as Deputy Consul General from Oct.1, 2001 to May 31, 2011, and was appointed Cultural Ambassador of SVG, by the Gonsalves-led administration, on Nov. 23, 2014.
Thomas said he started singing calypso in public 197, when “a great Vincentian nationalist, Mary Neverson-Morris,” gave him his first opportunity to perform before a live audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on her annual SVG Cultural Extravaganza.
Some of Thomas’s preferred contributions include: Party Fever; The Legend of Soca; Cultural Resistance; The Pipelayer; Sweetness Is My Weakness; We Still In Slavery; Don One; No Rain Could Stop The Carnival; Scorcher Don’t Go; Fork Up The Beaches; We Only Dancin’; Let The Music Play; Wake Up The Party; Bring Back The Gallows; Revolutionary Man; The Rocking Of The Ocean; Shake Up Your Thickness; Fowl Thief; The Hoper; I Took The Blows; The Phantom DJ; I Am A Darkie; Public Enemy No.1; Get Your Assets Out; Tonight, Tonight.
Thomas was also a sportsman. He served as goalkeeper for SVG National Football (Soccer) Team from 1967 – 1968.
He was also Varsity Goalkeeper for Brooklyn College, Division 111 Champions 1972 and All-Star Goalkeeper for Brooklyn League in 1974.
Sandra Millington, Club St. Vincent’s president, congratulated and gave “much respect to the honorees – Amb. Cyril N. Thomas and Mr. Jabari Edwards.”
“These two gentlemen have given of their time and talent, and attention to the children to assist our organization over the years; and, thus, enable it to survive and overcome many challenges,” she said.
“Whenever we sought their assistance, they were always ready and willing to help,” Millington added. “May they be forever blessed with good health and prosperity.”