Shirley Chisholm Primary Symbolises “Higher Level of Excellence”

Barbados Government Information Service

Vauxhall Primary School is now the Shirley Chisholm Primary School and is set to continue on with a higher level of excellence.

This was emphasised today during a renaming ceremony at the school’s Vauxhall, Christ Church location, where former pupil, Shirley Anita Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress in 1968, was immortalised in poetry, song and tributes from several dignitaries.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley headed up the list of dignitaries that included Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney; Minister of Environment and National Beautification, Adrian Forde; United States Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Linda Taglialatela; the Senior Advisor to the Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Chad Blackman, and the family of Shirley Chisholm.

In her address, Ms. McConney, noted that Shirley Chisholm’s name carried “a significance of courage, audacity, tenacity and capacity” and highlighted her ability to “sink her teeth in, focus on where she needed to go and persevere” not only for herself but the benefit of others.

She said: “As we rename this institution today, we seek also to commemorate the indelible contribution that this school played in the formative years of our illustrious patron Shirley Anita Chisholm. We seek to evolve a unique identity for this institution of learning and to leave a historical marker that will inspire past, present and future students to walk in her footsteps and in their case, to create their own footsteps that take them even higher.”

Students were told the Ministry’s actions would prove beneficial to them. “You have in Shirley Chisholm, a great icon to inspire you. As you walk into school each morning and wait at the entrance to enter school, I want you to look up to the mural… look at all of the achievements of this great lady…and, like Shirley Anita Chisholm, focus on making a positive difference,” the Education Minister said, adding that the new name symbolised a level of excellence, achievement and legacy worthy of the school.

While pointing out that the history of the school dated back some two centuries, Ms. McConney noted that in 1803, the first Chapel School was built by the Methodist Church and it was during the 1920’s that Shirley Anita (then St. Hill), attended the Vauxhall Primary School.

Referring to Ms. Chisholm’s autobiography, “Unbought and Unbossed”, she stressed that Shirley wrote about Vauxhall when she stated: “I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing that I had my early education in the strict traditional styled schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason.”

Minister McConney revealed that there were no reservations when the idea was first brought to her Ministry’s attention that the Vauxhall School be named after Ms. Chisholm and she acknowledged it was the brainchild of diplomat Chad Blackman, the then Ambassador of Barbados to Geneva, also an alumni of Vauxhall Primary.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, officials and the family of Shirley Chisholm watch the unveiling of the new sign bearing the name of former pupil and trailblazer Shirley Anita Chisholm. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

Meanwhile, Mr. Blackman, in his remarks, thanked Prime Minister Mottley for acceding to the request to rename the school and emphasised the importance of Ms. Chisholm’s legacy being “translated into a way of life” for children who pass through the school. 

Pointing out that Ms. Chisholm was a great orator, debater, public speaker and “never shied away from raising and championing issues of great importance”, he called for the school to allow its students to become masters of the art of public speaking.

Stating that he was committed to undertaking a National Shirley Chisholm Debating Competition for primary schools, Mr. Blackman said its aim would be to annually debate critical issues of the day.

“We must create among our people the ability to express themselves, not only in academic terms, but more broadly, if we are to see Barbados become the globally competitive nation in all areas, including sport, the arts and negotiations and general day-to-day endeavours,” the Vauxhall Primary alumni stressed.

It was also noted that the school’s location could become a place where the general public and tourists could visit and gain knowledge of Ms. Chisholm. To this end, Mr. Blackman proposed a digital library that would feature her work, speeches and become a repository for information on key global issues on international affairs.

The day’s event also saw the unveiling of a plaque renaming the school; a two-sided mural; a bust of Shirley Chisholm located in the school’s Memorial Garden, and the choir’s rendering of the new school song, composed by teacher, Carol-Ann Holford-Sam.

Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Barbadian mother and Guyanese father. When she was three years old, Shirley was sent to live with her grandmother on a farm in Barbados, and received much of her primary education at Vauxhall Primary, which was then located in the Vauxhall Methodist Church. The school was officially opened at its current location on July 8, 1976.

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