“Ever Upward” the Latin translation to New York State’s motto of Excelsior and also the name of a secondary school in Kingston, Jamaica will be extolled often during a gala event marking a holiday tradition and presentation of a community service award to Duane Coombs.
Coombs, a New Yorker was unanimously voted the 2017 recipient by the Board of Directors of the Excelsior Alumni Association of Florida.
Co-named with posthumous recipient Allan “Ali” Cole Jr., the son of Jamaica’s star footballer nicknamed “Skill” who died two months ago — Coombs will be front and center at the Caribbean Cultural Center in Lauderhilll on Dec. 9 to accept his deserved honor during the 15th annual gala and fundraising dinner in the Sunshine state.
There the event will publicly laud the New York transplant for his dedication, service and a long list of commendations president Althea Robinson recently detailed to this Insider.
“People don’t know how consistent, passionate, committed and dedicated Duane has been to the Excelsior community,” Robinson explained. “He is accessible, crucial and critical to teachers, students, principals and the entire XLCR community.”
“I sent out a single email nominating him for the award and every single board member responded ‘yes.”
The president said responders represented students that graduated in 1969, 1977 and in the 90s — all of whom agreeing to honor Coombs for his volunteerism and service.
“With his exemplary communication skills and vast data base he has reached out” providing information and pictures to alums — from the youngest to the oldest— throughout the world.
In addition to offering updates on the Kingston, Jamaica institution, Coombs has been on the forefront of hailing achieving former students and graduates.
In 2011, he was among the first to acknowledge and inform his contacts that Excelsorian Angella Reid was named the first ever White House usher.
Coombs touted the fact Reid would serve as an advisor to President Barack Obama, the very first Black leader of the United States.
Dismissed five months into the Donald Trump administration, Reid served with honor to the exultations from Coombs and his proud list of alumni contacts.
Coombs has also celebrated the triumphs of actors, athletes, musicians, doctors, lawyers, comedians, politicians and numerous professionals whose formative years were shaped by educators at XLCR.
In times of despair, Coombs has also extended condolences and remorse to individuals affected by grief and tragedy.
A quiet contributor to advancing the legacy of the institution also known as Antrim, he endorses the tradition the Florida-based association advances.
“Excelsior was started on January 19, 1931. There were five students on the verandah of A. Wesley Powell’s parents’ home in Campbell Town. The sign that hung over the gate – painted on a green background with bold yellow letters read “EXCELSIOR SCHOOL” and below in small letters – “Kindergarten, Preparatory, Secondary and Commercial” – in hind sight he was prophetic.
The school’s academic reputation, willingness to “rescue and recover” academically challenged students as well as much cheaper tuition led to increased attendance and the need for larger accommodations. It moved from Campbell Town to North Street and finally to Antrim.”
Coombs attended the Mountain View Ave. Antrim landmark institution from 1971 to 1976.
“Those were the most impactful years of my life,” Coombs said. “My best friends are from that period and those bonds then cemented the most meaningful period of my life.”
After migrating to New York he quickly aligned with the alumni chapter that organized two years before he first attended the school. He was elected its treasurer. Throughout his tenure he helped bolster the coffers by reaching out to alums in the area and endeared them to attend fundraisers and the signature awards ceremony.
He was able to attract past students who would otherwise remain elusive to the fraternally unifying organization.
Reportedly, Coombs was able to entreat unprecedented amounts of donations.
A much talked about accomplishment was that due to his alliance, an independent donor offered a generous $10,000 to the association with an understanding to remain anonymous.
More than anything, during his tenure Coombs sought increased membership and was able to achieve maximum participation and interest from alums residing in Europe, Canada, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Florida and other states throughout the USA.
On more than one occasion, from Germany an individual flew to New York for the gala and returned to Europe the very next day.
Groups from Florida were acclaimed for buying tables of 10 to support the annual. And from Canada, Coombs invited entertainers and their guests to add to the revelry
Often preferring to fade into the background, Coombs seemed to remain ambiguous and remained elusive to the spotlights.
Instead he elicited support from media outlets to support the learning institution.
Following each event he graciously sent thank you notes and acknowledgements of published notices.
Simultaneous to his local outreach, he also penned articles, biographies, press releases and notifications promoting the Florida chapter.
“Each year, the Board of Directors seeks out individuals in our community who are trail blazers who uphold the beliefs and values of the Caribbean people. While holding the torch as the chief communicator, conduit and philanthropist, we want to thank you for priceless contributions made to our Excelsior community, both in Jamaica and abroad.”
The presentation will be made at the 15th annual Xmas Bash and will feature foods familiar to the palate of every Jamaican national.
The wintertime soiree, under the theme retro 70s and 80s, promises an evening of pure fun, harking back to the disco era of the 1970 and 80s.
“We are delighted that we have received such overwhelming support over the years from fellow alumni and friends of Excelsior who patronize the Xmas bash,” Robinson added.
Proceeds from the annual holiday fete have enabled the alumni association to donate close to nearly one million Jamaican dollars to fund a wide range of projects at the alma mater.
Catch You On The Inside!
In addition to supporting a number of initiatives related to the school, the organization has also donated to building funds, maintenance of school properties, funding athletes to the Penn Relays and even aiding other Jamaica-based schools.
Since its restructuring, the volunteer-driven Florida group has reunited countless former students to now boast a formidable global network of like-minded grateful alums.
Coombs epitomizes the Excelsior moniker as well as its motto “Age Animo!” which interprets to mean — “Do it to thy might!”
Catch You On The Inside!