A caller on KREM’s WUB morning show on Tuesday morning made the point that the new national heroes of the Belize football selection now had the responsibility of behaving like role models for the young boys and children who are now looking up to them for example.
It was a good point the caller made, but life is often more complicated than it appears. For example, I happen to know that one of our new national heroes went through an extended period where he, just a teenager, was being threatened by violent gang forces because of one of his close relatives. The close relative was involved with the neighborhood gang reality, and the hero, as a consequence, received death threats which were absolutely frightening.
Stress like this can affect your behavior, and you really can’t go public to complain or explain. I want to tell you about an episode of betrayal which took place when I was just 17 years old. I’m not going to use that episode to excuse any “misbehavior” for which I have been responsible through the years, but the time has come for me to tell it like it was.
The important thing today is that I have reached the point of being able to forgive, and it took a long time getting here. It took 47 years, more or less.
Before 1964, Sixth Form studies at St. John’s College were always a two- year process, and the Advanced Level studies took place in the same campus buildings where the high school was located. 1964 was the year when the Government of Belize arbitrarily changed the school summer holiday months from April and May to July and August, and so our Sixth Form class was the one, I think the only one, which did the “A” Levels in a year and a half instead of two.
We began the “A” Level studies in January of 1964 after graduating from the SJC high school in December of 1963. From that January until the 1964 summer break, we were still on the high school campus. This was our half year.
Our one full year of studies began in September of 1964 at two buildings on the eastern side of the campus which were previously used to house Central American students from rich and powerful families who came to SJC to attend a high school where they could learn English. Those Central American students were called “internos.” SJC quietly gave up that program, without any fanfare, and it has vanished into history. Thus, the two buildings became available for a more ambitious SJC Sixth Form program.
This new, ambitious Sixth Form, which, amazingly for SJC, went co-ed that September of 1964, was under the management of Ronald Zinkle, S.J., and it became obvious that he was excited by the opportunity and the power. He had taught my high school class mathematics in fourth and fifth forms, so we were acquainted with him.
Remember now, 1964 was the year that British Honduras achieved internal self-government, and so it was that the mighty United States of America decided that the time had come to offer some of their foreign aid to Belizeans. It’s a long time ago, but I would say it was in late December of 1964 or early January of 1965 that the United States Consulate here announced that they would be offering a four-year university scholarship to the Belizean student with the best academic record. That would have been yours truly, you understand, all things being equal.
Before that U.S. Consulate announcement, sensational for those humble times in Belize, my chance to travel abroad to study would have depended on a good performance in the June/July “A” Levels for which we were preparing at Zinkle’s Sixth Form, where his authority was totalitarian.
There were five finalists for the American scholarship who were interviewed at the Consulate. One day the people at the Consulate called my dad over and told him they had decided to give his eldest son the scholarship, even though the Dean of the SJC Sixth Form, Ronald Zinkle, had recommended against him. My dad was told that he could tell me of my good fortune, but I was not to say anything.
So, I continued attending SJC Sixth Form classes as per usual. One afternoon a couple days later, while I was in Mr. Stuart Simmons’ Spanish class, Fr. Zinkle came by the glass windows and made signs to me to come out to see him. His face was flushed red with excitement.
“I have great news for you,” he said.
“Yes, father?” I “Tommed,” with my head down.
“You’ve won the scholarship,” he cried.
“Yes, father,” I “Tommed.”
A week after that, a second “bogus” episode took place when Zinkle came to my class to tell me I was going to Dartmouth. I knew that days before he did. On that occasion he even added, “I thought they would be sending you to a junior college.”
For a couple years before that, I’d been experiencing treatment which was ambiguous, to say the least. Previous to the time I was 15 or so, I was being “powdered.” I can see that now, but things weren’t all that clear to me then. Zinkle’s behavior, however, was immediately treacherous, and he was behaving as if he were my friend. This, from a “man of God.” I was still a Roman Catholic at the time. What Zinkle did, did not cause me to lose my faith. For sure, however, it made me begin to become cynical.
As the years went by, my understanding, for what it’s worth, was that Zinkle wanted someone else from the SJC family to get the American scholarship, because he felt the chances were good that I would win the British Honduras Open Scholarship later that year. In 1965, however, all of my Belizean generation wanted to go to America, and, more than anything else, Jack, try the old saying: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.