BWI Turns 89 Tomorrow

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(flashback) BWI Principal and CEO Tarnue at last year. occasion

Several activities lined up to mark Founder’s Day

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh Alumnus/Journalist

Several activities have been lined up this weekend in commemoration of the 89th founding anniversary of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), Liberia’s oldest technical and vocational training high school in Kakata, Margibi County.

The institute came into being in 1929 through the vision and instrumentality of President Charles D. B. King who, on a visit to the USA, had appealed to the emotions of the American government and people to help establish such a learning facility in his country.

His dream came true when a US private foundation, headed by a philanthropist, provided funding for the setting up of what would become one of West Africa’s “best brains academies.”

The bill to establish BWI suffered some delays in the legislature, but some lawmakers, led by Senator William V.S. Tubman of Maryland County, the youngest senator at the time, succeeded in convincing their colleagues to get the bill passed in the interest of Liberia, according to Kenneth Y. Best’s publication, “The BWI Story.”

The school is named in honor of an African-American civil rights activist and educator, Booker T. Washington, whose statue stands conspicuously on the campus —- thanks to God and the Class of 1976.

BWI’s first principal was an American, James Longstreet Sibley, who died from yellow fever and was buried on the campus based on his will, prior to taking ill. Sibley’s statue, ideally placed between those of Presidents King and Tubman — the two men who campaigned to ensure there was a BWI — invites guests entering the campus. June 29 each year is BWI’s founding anniversary; but traditionally the main celebrations have always been scheduled on the last Saturday in June, to allow working people form part of the events.

“We anticipate a great celebration this year,” Principal of BWI Harris Fomba Tarnue said in a statement. Attorney Tarnue assumed the leadership of the school a little over two years ago, first succeeding in stabilizing the institute and uniting the workforce that had been divided over administrative issues. His immediate predecessors, who made some enormous contributions as well, include Mr. Mulbah Jackollie, who took over the school during the civil war and took it to a certain level before the coming in, in 2013 of Mr. Alexander Melvin Massey, who served as an interim principal for two years before Atty. Tarnue was appointed.

Messrs Jackollie and Massey are members of the Class of 1976 and 1977, respectively.

Atty. Fomba Tanue, a member of the Class of 1980, says the school will add some flavor to this year’s celebration so that it is more than the usual gathering of alumni and students to parade and then assemble for an indoor program.

“We are dedicating the frontal electrified fence from Du River to the main gate; a flag stage to hoist the flags of the 15 counties and those of our development partners — a symbol of their support to BWI,” Principal Tarnue said.

Also as part of this year’s celebration, the school will be presenting start-up packages to 24 young teenage mothers that the institute trained last year in pastry making. Some sporting events have also been planned. As expected, the campus has been given a facelift and made ready to receive guests going to join in the celebration.

In earlier preparations for the celebration, the school’s alumni association produced souvenir items including t-shirts and caps in May. The red and white outfits are what alumni of BWI will be outfitted in and drilling to honor a school they so cherish.

On Saturday, June 30, alumni, as a matter of tradition, will lead an anniversary celebration parade through the principal streets of Kakata and then converge on the campus for an indoor program. The BWI Majorettes, dressed in their splendid red and white, will put up a spectacular performance—to tell guests going to celebrate with the school that it was certainly not a waste of time.

Traffic between the BWI campus and Kakata is expected to come to a standstill or snail’s pace as the parade proceeds and progresses. But measures have been put in place to ensure the parade does not impede the free flow of traffic and movements of people.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Zeogar Wilson will serve as the keynote speaker, while the EU ambassador to Liberia has consented to make a statement on behalf of partners.

The AFL marching band has been invited to team up with BWI’s own brass band to grace the occasion.

The celebration of BWI’s 89th anniversary is also taking place in the United States where graduates will gather for three days in the Washington-Maryland areas to execute various programs.

According to the official website of the association, bwitiger.org, activities will include a business session, president’s dinner, executive night, Tiger Night and election. The convention’s main venue is the St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New Hampshire, Maryland.

The BWI National Alumni Association of North America (BWINAANA), currently headed by Alumnus Eric Harris of the Class of 1986, is one of the largest and strongest member organizations of the Union of Liberian Associations in The Americas (ULAA.)

The Association has over the years made significant contributions to the improvement of BWI.

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