Mrs Nembhard (1929-2017) herself was a formidable force. Gentle in spirit, though strict, she expected the highest standards from her pupils and many remember her to this day. Undeterred by the racism she encountered she was aware what her Black pupils would encounter. Having been educated on a part scholarship (which she was always keen to emphasise as a tribute to her parents) at an exclusive school in Kingston Jamaica she was no stranger to being different. Mrs Nembhard, who passed in 2017, was so loved by her former pupils that in her old age they were the ones who provided an abundance of carers for her. Three full-time loving private carers were supplied by her former pupils. She was a blessing to others and in turn herself truly blessed and loved by all.
Former pupil Errol Charles pays tribute to her:
My relationship with Mrs Nembhard goes back over 40 years. She was my Primary school teacher in my adolescent years. She taught me and my fellow class mates for four consecutive years, from the age of 7 to 11. Her teaching style was very unique, it was one of a strict Caribbean nature yet filled with a heavy dose of compassion and love,
Mrs Nembhard took her job seriously and went beyond the call of duty, as her role was not just one of a teacher but one of a Mother to many of us in her class. She had a strength of character that exuded and inspired confidence, dignity and expectations of excellence. She expected only the best from her students and would not tolerate any substandard efforts or work from any of us – she was a true Matriarch.
My recollection of her back in the 70’s was one of a powerful woman who had high standards and set the bar high for her students to ensure that they achieved the best of their abilities. This is demonstrated by the fact that our class, that she taught from 1977 – 1981, achieved the highest 11 Plus exams in the borough of Westminster (at the time) and in the history of St Luke’s school. I am sure this factor influenced many of the pupils in her class to achieve what they have today.
Call it intuition or instinct on my part but from a very young age I found Mrs Nembhard to be a blessing for one key reason, growing up in the seventies, having a Black teacher was unheard of and very rare and it was something that resonated with me. Mrs Nembhard was able to appeal to the better nature of our class, which was predominantly black (as only 8 of the 32 pupils were non-black).
“…growing up in the seventies, having a Black teacher was unheard of and very rare…”
It was only in my later life, through my friendship with her that I was able to fully appreciate the true blessing she was to me and my class. One day she explained to me how her teaching our class came about. She explained to me that she had been requested by the Headmistress of the school to settle our class in the first year of the juniors, as our previous teacher had resigned as he could not cope with us and believed that we were a disruptive bunch of children and out of control.
She further explained that once she took us under her wing there was nothing at all wrong with the class – she realised that we were viewed as disruptive and out of control because of our culture differences, which the school had never experienced before, as our class was the first predominantly black class that the school had encountered. The information that she imparted to me only cemented the fact that she was truly a blessing in our lives at that early stage and how things could have turned out so differently for all of us, had we not have had the privilege of being taught and influenced by this wonderful lady.
Many have questioned why I have kept in touch with my Primary school teacher all these years. The simple answer is this, when you are fortunate to encounter special blessing in your life you must always be thankful and show appreciation. Mrs Nembhard was indeed a blessing to us all at St Luke’s and to me throughout my life and I thank her for that.