I have often tried to explain to people how much my education at the Combermere school in Barbados (which is over 320 years old) prepared me to excel in every setting I’ve been in.
It is by far the most formative academic experience in my life. It is hard for people to understand that you can leave the NYC public school system as a typical under performing Black kid, get put into a school that you could never test into, and rise to become brilliant, cool, funny and mischievous, while learning to play multiple instruments, getting two certificates from the Royal Schools of Music, dominating in math, physics, history, geography etc… and in your final year having to take 24 exams for 8 subjects, covering 3 years of material and crushing them.
Combermere was a place where Black excellence was the price of entry, not a destination. You got no credit for showing up, no credit for trying, no curve, no excuses, and were ranked from first to last in every subject so you knew exactly where you stood. It was like being on Krypton … everybody could shoot lasers out of their eyes, everybody could leap over buildings, you had to come with more than that to be a beast there.
That kind of environment causes you to develop confidence in your abilities (current and future), to set high expectations for yourself, because there is only one kind of expectation – high. It is place where you learn that “verbal diarrhea is a disease that must be cured” after writing that sentence 350 times on the black board – I.e. there is a time and place to run your mouth and during class is not that time. Your teachers are excellent, and you respect them (this is not optional) and you speak when spoken to – yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, and you come prepared. You study hard, but pretend like it comes naturally to you.
You respect students in the upper classes and you stay away from those areas where they congregate unless you are willing to suffer the consequences. Students help regulate students (I.e. we had prefects-specially selected students who enforced the dress code and certain norms) and while it was unlikely, you secretly hoped to one day become the Head-boy or Head-girl (i.e. the leader of the prefects and the student with the most authority) who is almost always the most senior officer in the Cadet Corp.
Black teachers, Black students, Black administrators, all delivering Black excellence. But in truth, Black excellence is redundant. Black is excellent. No need to add a qualifier. The only time Black is not excellent is if there is an unnatural outside force preventing it. We had no such forces.
You will find that people from Combermere have a certain air about them, we respect everyone but do not believe that anyone is superior to us. Period. Full stop.
Someone once told me that I “walk like I own the ground that I walk on”. I was not even aware that my mannerisms gave that impression, but while I was appreciative of the compliment, I was not surprised by it… that’s who we are, because we’ve earned it.
Much respect to Combermere or as we affectionately call it “Caw’mere”. Up and on.
Shawn D. Rochester is the Author of The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America (www.blacktaxed.com) and CEO of Good Steward LLC and PHD Enterprise and Founder of the IDEA Institute.