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There are times when friendship, respect, shared aspirations and events converge to ignite and fan flames. Perhaps this is one of such occasions…

In May 2014, I was considering to start the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Sports and Games Academy. In July, after the General Elections, I invited Mr. Colin James and Ms. Heather Samuel, from the Ministry of Sports, to the Caribbean Relay Company (CRC) to show them the facility, and to inform them of my plans.

On Sunday, November 16, 2014, my wife, Veron, and I went to purchase our usual Sunday coconuts from the brothers who applied their trade on the front door pavement of the Central Marketing Corporation (CMC) at the West Bus Station. On random occasions, we would meet Mr. Mali Adelaja Olatunji and others and discuss politics, culture, and Cricket among other things. On this Sunday, November 16, we met Mr. Olatunji there, and we were in time to hear him telling someone that he was going to leave Antigua and not return. He complained that he was frustrated: being in Antigua and not getting the opportunity to teach and contribute in the development of the youth. He emphasized, “I have so much to offer…”

I had my coconut, came home and continued to work on a software project. Then suddenly it struck me: “Mali should not have to leave Antigua; why not ask him to help with the Youth Academy. Stop what you are doing and go to see him right now.” I decided that I would not impose and ask him to come with me to see CRC right away, but I hoped he would ask.

I visited Mali at his home, and shared my thoughts. And, just as I had hoped, he said, “I can come and see the place now.” He was so excited as he saw CRC and as I continued to share my vision with him. He immediately said he would assist me, but I would have to find a way to include the word “Art” in the name of the Academy.

Mali began coming to CRC twice weekly: every Wednesday and Saturday – and he began to assist cleaning offices and rearranging some of the furniture to his liking. I introduced my son, Zikomo - who has an interest in photography, to Mr. Olatunji - and Mali began teaching Zikomo photography on Wednesdays… In the process, Mali introduced me to Austin Maxwell Thomas and Samantha Merchant. He spoke highly of them - and said he wanted to work with them.

I promised Mali that I would come up with a name for the Academy and write him a working document that would “hit him for six” before the year’s end. Mali “schupzed” and smiled dismissively, “Boy you can’t write any document that would hit me for six, do you know the amount of documents I have already seen!”

Over the next few weeks, and after many disharmonious and lengthy permutations of “Youth”, “Games”, “Sports”, “Art” and “Academy” in the name, I finally settled with the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Enlightenment Academy.” Mali kept asking for the name, but I was not ready to tell...

I began to write the working document on December 28, 2014, and on the 30th I delivered the first draft and the Academy’s name to Mali. When I handed him the document I said, “This is the abridged version.” He replied, “Abridged! This is already a book!”

Subsequently, Mali asked me about ABYEA’s logo and letterhead...

Many thanks to Uncle Mali - as he is affectionately called by a number of young scholars who cherish his mentorship, and to whom he has introduced me.

Lawrence A. Jardine
ABYEA founder
January 11, 2015