Peter Jordens has given us the great news (see links to articles in English, Spanish, and Dutch below) that Guyanese novelist Edward Ricardo Braithwaite, author of To Sir with Love (the book that was made into the popular 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier), has received Guyana’s National Award. President Donald Ramotar awarded him the Cacique Crown of Honour for his outstanding contribution in the field of literature and effective service as a diplomat. [According the some records, the author is also celebrating his 100th birthday!]
[To Sir with Love] is based on Mr. Braithwaite’s experience as a schoolteacher in the East End of London some years after he attained a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in physics at the University of Cambridge. Mr. Braithwaite, a former student of Queen’s College, and then the City College of New York, became a member of the Order of Service of Guyana. The award comes the morning after Mr. Braithwaite joined a live audience to witness a Guyanese re-enactment of the play at the National Cultural Centre (NCC).
Mr. Braithwaite recounted the story of his rise to celebrity status. He was born on June 22, in Queenstown, Georgetown in the then British Guiana, a colony, to a father who was a gold and diamond miner and a mother who was a homemaker. [. . .] A studious lad, Braithwaite entered Queen’s College, but on leaving school decided to migrate to the ‘mother country’, England. [. . .] He studied engineering, then attended Cambridge University where he studied physics.
Racism: Armed with his qualifications, he then applied at various places for a job as an engineer. It was at this point that Braithwaite had his first experience with racism. Time and again, his applications were rejected. “Again, it was one of those experiences which I suppose I had to go through,” he says, “and it was all linked to my perspective of whites as being honest; truth-telling. I wasn’t prepared to see them as ordinary people, so it was my fault. In growing up, I did not understand humanity; I saw people in terms of rich, poor, bright or stupid.”
But good fortune comes in mysterious and unexpected ways. For the frustrated and unemployed Braithwaite, it came one day in the form of an elderly man. “I was sitting in a park and he came and sat on a bench near to me. [. . .] I responded and we fell into conversation, and I suppose being in my present state I told him of my difficulties. He listened and said, “why don’t’ you try teaching?” “The idea did not commend itself to me. I said that the people would not trust me with inanimate things, why would they trust me with their children?” Despite his misgivings, he applied for a teaching position. Surprisingly, he was accepted. “I was not expecting a great deal, but the rest is history.”
No quitting: But despite the covert hostility, the young teacher from British Guiana refused to quit. “Under no circumstances would I quit on them, because to quit would be to quit on teaching, and I liked the idea of being a teacher. I liked the idea of being called ‘Sir’, no matter how reluctantly it came out, and there was reluctance. “The problem was that the idea of a black teacher did not appeal to them….but after a while, the ‘blackness’ did not interfere with my teaching.” [. . .] He stayed there for nine years. When the time eventually came, parting with his students was a heart-breaking moment. [. . .] His students gave him a farewell present. It was a package, marked ‘To Sir With Love.’ The package contained cigarettes, all bearing his initials.
See scene from To Sir with Love here:
For full article (in English), see http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2012/08/26/to-sir-with-love-author-e-r-braithwaite-is-a-special-person
For article in Dutch, see http://www.dwtonline.com/website/nieuws.asp?menuid=41&id=109590
For article in Spanish, see http://www.prensa-latina.cu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=538878&Itemid=1