by Arley Gill
So far this year I have had to mourn the passing of many outstanding Grenadians. I knew them all well, for different reasons.There were Steffi and Tangler, my calypsonian friends. Nadica McIntyre, I knew as a permanent secretary in the public service; Trevor Thwaites, for sports and journalism; and arguably, the least known nationally, was David Omowale Franklyn who was my former teacher and mentor.
Omowale Franklyn taught me history and sociology at T A Marryshow Community College when it was called National College. He was the person who has had the most profound and direct influence on my life. Essentially, he is the one that moulded my perspectives on life and living.
Omowale was simply the best teacher I ever had — and I had some really fine ones along the way. He taught me lessons of West Indian history from an Afro-Caribbean perspective, ever mindful of the syllabus, and in those days we did ‘A Level’ exams with the British, the former colonial master. He never failed to teach me to see things through my eyes and that of our African ancestors.
He instilled in me the values of black consciousness and made me aware of the subtleties of racism and imperialism. He introduced me to Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Stokely Carmichael, Mutabaruka, Gladstone Holder, Ricky Singh and so many other black thinkers and writers.
I confess it was a culture shock — as a teenager — to learn about all those wonderful things that black people achieved, and to appreciate who I was as a person and to appreciate the region in which I lived. Omowale made me explore a new world of knowledge that I never knew existed outside Christopher Columbus and the Eurocentric outlook of the society. In essence, he saved my worldly black soul.
In his very first lecture, I will never forget how he sort to motivate and inspire us. He told the class that, ‘now is the time to focus on our school work, because there will be better parties, and better boyfriends and girlfriends, so there was no need to rush for anything as if the world was running away from us.’ I repeated these lines to young persons later when I became a history teacher myself. I repeat them up to this present day when I interact with youngsters. Patricia Clarke, now a permanent secretary, sat in that class with Franklyn.
He was the person that impressed on me — and I am sure many others — the need for university education. Coming from humble rural upbringings, all you thought of in those days after finishing secondary school was to get a job to help yourself and your family. It was the first time I learnt about deferred gratification and sacrifices for an education. For that, Omowale introduced me to Eric Williams’ work, ‘Inward Hunger.’
Omowale introduced me to drama, literature, art, poetry and Caribbean music. Indeed, he went on to publish several books of poetry, short stories and novels. He wrote books like ‘Tongue of another drum,’ ‘Belvedere’ and ‘Bridging the Two Grenadas: Gairy’s and Bishop’s’. He was part of the first group of featured writers in the inaugural Spice Word Literary Festival. The truth is, unknowing to most, Omowale planted the seed for such a festival. He is the one that introduced me to the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica and taught me how to appreciate art and artistry.
Omowale was a bit perplexed at times, and got annoyed, when some of the calypsonians called themselves ‘artists’. He would remark: “Arley, them men cannot even string 2 lines together that make sense and they call themselves artists.” I have kept that lesson with me in my journey as a calypso judge and critic. What passes now for calypso and winning crown is void of any artistry in the true sense.
Omowale made me formally add Salimbi to my name and made me wear dashikis. In fact, he bought me my first dashiki when he visited me after his first return to Grenada from Kenya, where he had taken up employment with the United Nations. I still wear that first dashiki; and years later, when I visited Nairobi, Kenya, I went in search of an identical style. I have a strong feeling I went to the same market where Omowale bought me this precious gift. You see, it was a finding of self and being conscious of who you are. It is easier to ignore who we are as a people, as most persons do anyway; but the ‘finding of self’ fills one with purpose and real substance.
Above everything else, Omowale was a brilliant intellectual. A man steeped in thought, with ideas, knowledge, critical thinking. He was a philosopher. Sometime ago, I wrote that Omowale was one of the foremost thinkers to have come from Grenada. He inspired me to read widely and to never restrict myself to one viewpoint. Now, I look at RT (Russian Television) as much as CNN. He always encouraged me to question the mainstream. He was simply a brilliant mind.
I remember he introduced me to Ikeal Tafari (who has since passed as well). When I went to Cave Hill Campus, Ikeal was lecturing at UWI. I used to sit and chat with him for hours and go around Barbados meeting similar minded persons, learning from their experiences and sipping from that fountain of consciousness.
When Omowale was leaving teaching to do his Master’s degree in Jamaica, he assigned me the task of selling Caribbean Contact magazines; a task that was handed to him by a mentor of his. I later passed on that task when I left to study as well. I published my first article ‘many moons ago’ in the now defunct Caribbean Contact.
Throughout this article, I’ve spoken about my personal experience with Omowale; but, I know he also impacted an entire generation of other young professional Grenadians that sat at his feet. Persons like Sheila Harris, Nigel Stewart, Patricia Clarke, Prudence Greenidge, Andre Thomas, Crispin Moore, Francis Paul, Callistra Ferriera and many more. Much later, I had him as a guest lecturer for students like Dickon Mitchell and Archeleaus Joseph, allowing them also to sit at the feet of greatness. Many Grenadians can testify to that giant of an educator who has now passed to the great beyond. Not everyone that sat at his feet accepted his teachings on race and philosophy, but at least they heard the truth.
This life of ours is uncertain; we never know how long we will be here. To Omawale’s wife Martha and the children, heartfelt condolences. Your loss is my loss.
A great man, David Omowale Franklyn, has departed this earth. Let us give thanks for a beautiful mind. May his soul Rest in Peace.