South Florida is unquestionably the place to be each year the first Saturday in October for what is now one of the biggest and most prolific fund raising events held to benefit a Jamaican high school. So this year, as before, I headed to the Miramar Cultural Center, to attend the Kingston College Old Boys (KCOB) South Florida Chapter’s signature event, The Big Purple Session.
The Big Purple Session: The name says it all, really. It is, indeed, a major event of enormous proportions. As for the “Purple” in the name, purple and white are the colors of the Anglican Church, and speak to our religious connections. Emphasis is placed on purple, no doubt, to signify royal lineage.
“Session” is quite apt as part of the name, since the event is not just a magnificent celebration, and not just the most significant fund raising event by any standard for a Jamaican high school, and not just a big-time reunion of friends, and certainly not just a great party. It is all that, and more. After all, the dedicated supporters who attend see the Big Purple Session through their very own set of lenses; it is whatever they want it to be. And they come to make their presence felt, and they come expecting to have their individual wishes fulfilled, and they come to see excellence in motion, and they come, most of all, in honor what many say is one of the best high schools in Jamaica, Kingston College.
It is a difficult task trying to estimate the number of Purple Session attendees. This is so since, even with a capacity ballroom, there could be hundreds of patrons lazing in the courtyard areas, or many who line the mighty and lengthy hallways of this statuesque Miramar Cultural Center building that has served as the Purple Session venue over the last few years. So, patrons are to be found all over the massive complex--some on the ballroom floor, and others, outdoors, busy chatting with old friends, or simply catching up on the old times, or merrily kindling new friendships.
Undoubtedly, many patrons come specifically to hear Fab 5, the “world’s most versatile band.” Fab 5 is pretty much a fixture at the Purple Session…and with their repertoire of hits and their own timeless renditions of classic hits, they are a perennial crowd-pleaser.
The entertainment program was somewhat different this year overall, though. The program was a bit extended, with a variety of artistes performing on stage, a few of them being past students of the great College. Key Purple Session organizer Audley Hewett confirmed the need to keep things fresh. “A tweak here and there helps to maintain an exciting program,” he offered. Watch our next publication for a key feature highlighting Audley’s fund raising genius.
This year I assigned myself the task of learning who some of the patrons were. In addition, I thought that it would have been interesting to learn what ties they had to the College. I did not have to wait long to get the shock of my life.
I casually walked over to a table in the courtyard of this massive building complex, and I got permission to join a small group of patrons who were already seated at the table. I introduced myself, and Bernardo Henry responded almost instantaneously: “Now this is a guy from my time…way, way back!”
We had actually attended primary school together. And since he had entered KC a year before I did, he must be a year younger that I am, though you might not have been able to tell. Anyhow, what an amazing coincidence!
To my surprise, I soon found out that Bernardo, an educator, was a part of a group known as the ’65-ers. Other members of the group seated at the table were Michael Mirander, a physician, and Barry Parkinson, who works in the actuarial field. Other members of the group (whom I did not meet at the table) include Selbourne Goode, a cardiologist, and of all persons, Winston Stewart, an engineer (Winston and I are from the KCOB-Atlanta Chapter). There are, reportedly, several other high-profile, highly successful members of the group.
Now, if you think that was all, brace yourself! The members of this group were the product of an obviously successful experiment at KC, dating back to 1965. They had the distinction of being allowed to skip an entire year at the College. You can just imagine a group of first-formers, who went straight to Form 3-G.
The members I spoke with report a tight bond with each other. They were forced to form a tight bond as a group, they said. This was especially so since they were relatively young when they were promoted.
Interestingly enough, they take claim for the invention of book cricket and money football. As I understand it, they were a “think tank,” of sorts (my assessment). They hold a formal reunion at the Purple Session every 5 years.
At a separate table I interviewed two beautiful women: Maria Phillips, and Colleen Palmer. They both live in Florida, with Maria living in Palm Bay, and Colleen in Tamarac.
Both women were in formalwear, so they were a bit troubled about that, since they could not traverse the dance floor as they had hoped.
Some patrons wear formalwear to the Purple Session, while others dress a bit more casually. And quite a few choose an outfit highlighting purple and white, or a purple-accented outfit. Our purple and white school colors signify royalty and purity.
The women were nevertheless happy to be at the event. They were enjoying themselves. They just hoped that they each had an extra pair of shoes.
After that I spoke with Sonia Dacres and Maxine Thompson. Both had been on the dance floor virtually non-stop, and they identified themselves as avid KC fans. Both dressed casually, and Sonia had on a purple outfit. They had dressed casually, Sonia said, because they were told that they needed to do so if they planned to pull an all-nighter on the dance floor.
I asked Sonia to comment on the event. “Awesome,” she said. “I was totally impressed with the affair’s elegant setting.”
Sonia also complimented the event organizers on what she termed “water features,” in obvious reference to a section near a bar where water gently cascaded off a wall. “It’s quite relaxing in the courtyard, and you can eat out there, and socialize with others by the bar, or whatever,” Sonia explained.
The women also thought that everyone seemed to be friendly. Everyone had been complimenting them all night, as I understand it. Asked whether it was men or women who had been complimenting them, Sonia said both.
Of course, they especially liked the fact that the ballroom was packed to near capacity. Maxine had been to a Fab 5 event before, but that was Sonia’s first time. Even so, dancing to Fab 5 was an extra special treat for both of them. Even more special was that, on the dance floor, they had bumped into several friends that they had not seen for years and years. “This is a classy affair, and it’s for a worthwhile cause,” Sonia concluded.
I strolled into the ballroom near the end of the program, just to see if things were still “hot, hot, hot,” as they had been for most of the night. I am pleased to report that, even at that late stage, the ballroom was still jam-packed. It was almost as if the patrons wanted to be, as Stevie Wonder might say, “jamming until the break of dawn.”