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‘You in your small corner’
Seventy one years ago today, a man in his early thirties made a promise that has been repeated over and over again since that Sunday in Salem Congregational Church: “Tomorrow, by God’s grace, I will light a candle in Chapelton, whose flame will never be put out.” This morning, students present and past, staff members and friends will commemorate the moment as they have for many years. A long parade of participants will start off from the small cottage of humble beginnings, through the sleepy town of Chapelton, to the sprawling campus of Clarendon College. The cadets will bang their drums and blow their trumpets. The faculty will look serious and respectful. The students will giggle and take photographs. Finally the parade will enter Stuart Assembly Hall, and a program of thanks and praise will celebrate the man, the Rev. Lester Davy, and his vision and legacy.
Each time that I recall the story, I am humbled and impressed. The story of the first high school in the parish of Clarendon. It started in the heart of the hills to serve the children of the farmers of Clarendon with a handful of students, Rev. Davy and one assistant teacher, Miss Hyacinth Balfour (many of us knew her later as the Vice Principal Mrs. Peryer). The story is made poignant by the made-for-TV movie twist of the early days. In a dramatic and tragic turn of events less than a month after the start Rev. Davy was killed in a train crash on his way to purchase school supplies. Yet the force of his vision was so strong that his dream could not be permitted to die. The local citizens and ministers of the two main churches in Chapelton ensured that the school continued, and today the flame continues to burn.
Last Sunday morning I told the story to a church in Boynton Beach. Each January our local chapter of past students of Clarendon College attends a local church to celebrate our work and give thanks for another year of opportunities. This year, for the first time, we attended a Congregational Church, the church of which Rev. Davy was a minister, and the church under whose auspices the school was founded. As always I felt privileged to share the story, and despite the fact that apart from our members, there was only one Jamaican in the congregation, I could see that the story impacted the church.
The minister delivered a simple sermon based on the story of Jesus returning to his home town Nazareth. He read the words of Isaiah, and declared that the prophecy was fulfilled in him. Unfortunately this was not well received, and the minister noted how difficult it is to impress people who have known you all your life. Who did he think he was? I thought of the Rev. Davy. Did he have a hard time selling his vision? How many people did he have to convince to come on board with his plan? It is said that he first spoke of his desire two years before the founding of the school. He must have had this idea since he was in his twenties, as he was only 32 when he launched the school, and then died.
This morning I wonder how many of us have ideas that never get going. Everyone cannot be a leader, everyone cannot be a visionary. But do we realize that those who do great things may be just as unsure as we are? There may be many things that stand in their way. The Rev. Martin Luther King (also a young man cut down in his prime) must have had many people who thought he was out of his league. Despite all of the obstacles, these people let their light shine, and in doing so they created monuments that stand today.
This morning as I wake up to a cool South Florida morning, I picture a similarly cool Chapelton morning, dew on the grass, mist in the valley. I remember the rude awakening of icy cold water in the bathroom, and the crows of the roosters telling us another day was beginning. I remember the pride of putting on a crisply starched and sharply pressed uniform, my polished school shoes, and getting ready to march in our Founder’s Day parade. We have much to be proud of as we remember our founder, and as we do our part to make sure that flame is never put out.
‘You in your small corner, and I in mine.’