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Star student hopes red tape won't halt his dream

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JOHNSON DAVILMA, who has overcome difficulties to become head boy and valedictorian - and who now aims to study abroad if he can find funding.

By MORGAN ADDERLEY

Tribune Staff Reporter

madderley@tribunemedia.net

FOR six years, seventeen-year-old Johnson Davilma lived in a home without electricity and running water.

His financial situation was exacerbated when his single mother became unemployed, leaving the teen barely able to afford bus fare.

Despite having to study in darkness, going many days without lunch money, and oftentimes having to suffer the humiliation of ironing his uniform at other people's homes, for the class of 2018, Johnson became head boy and valedictorian of Doris Johnson Senior High School, and salutatorian of the Northern New Providence Secondary School District.

During the first term of his senior year, Johnson made a 4.0 grade-point-average, a 3.89 in the final term, and a cumulative GPA of 3.76.

His dream is to study actuarial science and mathematics abroad, then return to The Bahamas and pursue a career as an actuary.

Johnson has been accepted into multiple American tertiary institutions, including Florida Memorial University, Fisk University, and Philander Smith College, and been offered partial scholarships to two of these schools.

However, in order to make his dream a reality, Johnson requires additional funding.

Unfortunately, his status as the child of Haitian immigrants means that he does not meet the criteria for receiving Bahamian government scholarships. And as a 17-year-old, he is a full year too young to apply for Bahamian citizenship.

In an interview with The Tribune, Johnson discussed the obstacles he has overcome and the peculiar type of struggle students face when they realise their hard work does not trump the circumstances of their birth.

Johnson was born in New Providence and raised in the Englerston constituency by an immigrant mother of Haitian descent. Johnson said from a young age he was teased for not being Bahamian -- a phenomenon that was "confusing" for him because The Bahamas is all he knows.

"It's kind of confusing actually because growing up here I've never left Nassau and the fact that I am considered a foreigner despite never leaving here is kind of baffling," he said.

By the end of primary school, Johnson began to experience more struggles due to his socio-economic status.

"While in the 6th grade, a series of events led to me and my family having to live without electricity or water," Johnson said.

"This lasted for about five to almost six years. This resulted in me having to complete homework assignments, projects and studying in the dark.

"We suffered great humiliation as a result of us having to iron for school at other people's houses and on the stove and me having to study late at people's houses oftentimes.

"Because we sometimes had to depend on the help of others, they would often use this against us."

However, Johnson's goal at the time was to excel in his BJC examinations. This strengthened him to "endure the mistreatments".

According to Johnson, he received seven As and one B in those exams.

Although he had been teased since primary school about his Haitian background, it was not until Johnson was about to enter senior high school that he realised his status would prevent him from receiving scholarships -- despite his academic achievements.

"While graduating the ninth grade, I was informed that I was denied scholarships as a result of my status.

"Therefore, I made it my goal that in senior high, I would try to be the best in everything and prove that status or circumstances (do) not determine success."

Struggle

He added that in addition to no electricity or water, his mother also became unemployed around this time. This made finances available to Johnson even tighter.

"This resulted in me spending the majority of my time in high school without lunch money, simply scrapping for only $2 so that I may catch the bus to and from school.

"Despite these circumstances and through the grace of God, I continued to work hard and was able to receive As in the both the English language and mathematics BGCSEs in the 11th grade, receive a 4.0 during my first term in the 12th grade and given the opportunity to be the head boy of Doris Johnson."

Johnson said that for the most part, he had an "excellent experience" in school, and received much encouragement and support.

However, he said there were still moments when his heritage made people view his achievements in a negative light.

"The only difficulty I had, the only discouraging part about it was some persons actually were offended of the idea of having a 'foreigner', as they would say, being the head of their school.

"There was actually an occasion (when I walked past a classroom) and a teacher was scolding the students for allowing a foreigner to come into their school and do better than them and to be the head of their school.

"It made me feel upset because I (worked) hard for it, so I don't see why me being a 'foreigner' would make somebody offended of the idea."

Johnson added that "it never ceased to baffle" him that he is considered a foreigner in the country in which he was born and which he has never left.

"Despite all of these obstacles, it's still one of my dreams to go to university in the upcoming fall semester with these partial scholarships that I have," he said.

He added that he is just hoping that he can find help -- even if it doesn't come from the government -- that will allow him to be able to pay off the remaining financial requirements for university.

Johnson also expressed the hope that the day will come when other students in his predicament will not face such barriers.

Comments

paperbahamian 5 years, 11 months ago

Students like Johnson have been fighting this battle for many, many years. When I was teaching in Nassau in the 80's and 90's I encountered a number of students of Haitian descent who excelled in the classroom but were looked down upon by their peers (and some teachers). Back then, being a Valedictorian or a Head Prefect was nigh impossible because of the power wielded by certain people in the school. Perhaps a good samaritan could sponsor this young man at the University of the Bahamas until his status in regularised. Kids like this who work so hard to raise themselves up deserve to be given some assistance - there are successful legal Haitians in the country, mabe they could step up in a gesture of support.

Felecia77 5 years, 11 months ago

Johnson will continue to excel...and that will happen on the international stage. For years, the Bahamas has done a great disservice to the country by not giving exceptional students an opportunity. This leads to a brain drain. These students are being offered scholarships by other countries and once they leave, they rarely return. Why? Because others see the benefit of keeping gifted students. If nationality continues to be the only reason gifted students are not given scholarships to study in the Bahamas, sad days are ahead.

BahamaRed 5 years, 11 months ago

Sorry I disagree... his parents came here illegally to benefit from this country's free education. It's awesome to see that he took full advantage of what many Bahamians take for granted.

But the fact is, he's still in a country illegally. So therefore he needs to go and legally obtain the Haitian passport that he his entitled to and then legally go about getting himself off to school.

I'm tired of this issue... people coming here illegally and having children, then they don't apply for any type of papers for them. Then when something happens they cry that they are stateless. These Haitian parents are doing a disservice to their children.

The Jean-Tony case has opened the flood gate for this. First the girl with a brain cyst and now this student.

SMH.... stop coming to people's country illegally, having children, and then demanding the government to give your child status.

ListenAndObserve 5 years, 11 months ago

I know how it feels. Same story and same predicament

Dee00 5 years, 11 months ago

The child’s parents are foreigners, not the child. If the child was born here then of course their parents should get all their documents straight 🙄. Nobody made demands for the government to give the child status so what in the world bahamared talking about 🙄. The government made their immigration rules and whatever documents we must get then we have to get it. This child is soaring high in his education. Either way, wherever he go he’ll always represent the BAHAMAS because that’s all he knows as he said. It’s really confusing to be called a foreigner in a country that you were born and raised in. Yes, my parents are foreigners, but I refuse for someone to call me a foreigner.

pocoloo 5 years, 11 months ago

Parents come here illegally, have these anchor babies now they expect the govt to bend the rules? The mother of that child needs to take responsibility for his problem. Go get a Haitian passport. For the love of God, when will the government remove article 7 from the Constitution?

bogart 5 years, 11 months ago

EXCELLENT STICKABILITY AN DETERMINATION TO SUCCEED., KEEPS IT UP YOUNG MAN..,!! Dese situations are like situations in law relating to banking.....da bank cannot gives you a loan to fail...or intentionally makes mistakes for you to fail...dis is called NEGLIGENCE...,!!!....LACK OF DUE CARE...,! Dese students needs to sue the Minister of Education and the Offocials who AUTHORIZED...ALLOWED....FACILATED....CHILDREN OF FOREIGN ILLEGAL PARENTS FREE EDUCATION...PAID FOR BE LEGAL CITIZENS......THE LAW ABIDING CITIZENS DO NOT SANCTION SLACKNESS....SO DESE CHILDREN HAVE TO GO TO DA MINISTER WHO GAVE THEM THE "FREE" EDUCATION....fully knowing they did not have the authority to give these children automatoc citozenry nationality when needed....!!!!! All Bahamian citizens can point out the law on APPLYING FOR CITIZENSHIP AT 18 YEARS WHICHININ THE GOVT DOES NOT EVEN HAVE TO GIVE...,!,!!....is likes nobody should put you on a travel boat knowing it gon run outta fuel half way...!!!!

bogart 5 years, 11 months ago

,.....on da suing da Minister an officials....forget it...dont take my suggestion seriously.....my head bad....likely to gets you in trouble ...

BahamaRed 5 years, 11 months ago

Dee00... I have foreign parentage as well and was born in The Bahamas. But my mother did her due diligence and ensured I was given the proper documentation that was required to receive citizenship.

I have no empathy because under the current law I wouldn't be considered Bahamian, and should I have the gall to marry a foreign man my children wouldn't be Bahamian either.

They need to get these immigration laws together. To many loopholes and mixup that allow for discrimination.

That being said, let his parents get him Haitian status and then when he his 18 let him apply for citizenship to The Bahamas- as stated in the constitution.

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