It’s the motto of the Alleyne School. It’s also the mantra of a former student of that St Andrew institution, Dr Donna Hunte-Cox, who proudly wears the wristband inscribed with the maxim, as she sits in her office on the fifth Floor of the Diplomatic Centre in New York.
When the Consul General of Barbados was just 13 and focused on what was the love of her life – dance – her uncle sat her and her siblings down to have a chat about values, expectations and the importance of education.
It was a conversation she didn’t mind. After all, it was Uncle Conrad – known to the rest of the cricketing world as West Indies batsman Conrad Hunte (later Sir Conrad) – whom she looked forward to seeing and interacting with whenever he returned home on a break from cricket.
“So we were talking and he looked at me and he said, ‘I am passing the keys of the family to you’,” Dr Hunte-Cox recalled.
“For several years I didn’t know that meant. I guess it was symbolic, but at the time I didn’t understand what he was telling me.”
But as time went by, it became clear what her Uncle Conrad foresaw.
Dr Hunte-Cox has become a shining example of service and a source of pride for the Hunte family: a community leader and mentor who has paved the way for artistic youth, led the country’s premier cultural organization, the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), and is now a diplomat.
She has been involved in community work from as far back as she can remember, but it is the development of youth that is her passion.
“If it’s a legacy that I want to leave it is that of helping shape the lives of future generations,” Dr Hunte-Cox told Barbados TODAY.
And she has already started the work.
The trained teacher was the founder of the Academy for Career Development, an organization aimed at helping young people bridge the gap between school and work.
“It helped them make sense of what they learned at school and connected it to the real world, providing mentorship and so on. Then I even had a career development conference in 2005.
That was an attempt to broaden their horizons, encourage them to think of a wide range of careers and not necessarily stick with the traditional areas, and encourage them to think of themselves as citizens of the world and to realize that they could export their skills beyond the confines of 166 square miles,” she recalled.
“And that’s one of the reasons I chose to do human resource development instead of human resource management,” added Dr Hunte-Cox, who has a Masters of Science degree in education, with a minor in Theatre Arts Administration and a doctorate in Human Resources Development.
“We always say Barbados has the people, whereas the other countries have oil and bauxite and so on. But what is the sense of having the people and not having those people realize their fullest potential? You manage what you get, but if you develop what you have you’re helping to mould and shape lives and the outlook and the philosophy of people so that they can become better citizens and better productive citizens of Barbados.”
Dr Hunte-Cox has not limited herself to assisting Barbadian youth at home.
She plans to continue assisting those with Barbadian roots, living in the 11 areas she serves as Consul General to New York, including Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“One of the things that I want to do is to really motivate and nurture the youth towards realizing their full potential. So I will be designing some programmes for the youth, including university exchange programmes,” she said.
Through it all, though, Dr Hunte-Cox has not neglected her love for the arts.
She has been able to use her talents to help in her quest to build a legacy.
Dr Donna Hunte-Cox, Consul General of Barbados in New York
“Although people may think that dance is just an art form, that it’s insignificant, that it’s not academic, it really helps to ground people and help them to be more disciplined.”
She knows this for a fact. Dr Hunte-Cox’s 40-year involvement in folk, Afro-Caribbean and some modern dance has included teaching youngsters and has seen positive results.
“I would walk the street [in Barbados] and people would stop me and . . . tell me that I taught them and I really feel proud because they are upstanding citizens and they continue to make a contribution to Barbados and I had some hand in helping to mould them.”
Dr Hunte-Cox might not have been able to make that contribution if she had walked away from dancing when, as a child, her father insisted that she focused on her schoolwork.
Carlisle Hunte would have preferred his daughter to be “more grounded academically at that time”, she admitted.
“There were times when I would be going to dance practice and my father would say ‘I have five children and when I look around I can only find four’,” Dr Hunte-Cox said.
Ironically, it was her family life that exposed her to the arts. Not only was her father a singer but her brothers were “always very musical”.
“There were five of us living on Friendship Plantation at that time and we had lots of persons who would come by, like Arturo Tappin, Nicholas Brancker, Adrian Boo Husbands, and Ian Alleyne. They would come there to practise,” she said.
“So it was in the genes,” she said with a laugh, later pointing out that her daughter Saran also inherited the interest.
Recalling her own days as a young dancer, Dr Hunte-Cox said: “From the time I could remember I was a performer. I loved to dance and I loved music; I responded well to music and then at Alleyne School it was honed by Rosemary Wilkinson [now Neilands] and Wayne Poonka Willock, who was a teacher of languages and a drummer for the Barbados Dance Theatre.”
She was part of a school dance group that also performed at community events.
She also participated in the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA), first as a performer, then as a dance teacher/choreographer, winning awards in both roles.
Dr Hunte-Cox later went on win a National Development Scholarship in 1989, and left Barbados for City University of New York in Brooklyn to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Dance.
“I was in my 30s at the time and I was dancing with youngsters who had just left high school in New York. They were 18 years old and 20 and 21 and I was about 30 or 31, so they used to call me the senior citizen of the class, which was fine because I brought a measure of maturity to the programme,” she recalled with a smile.
“I still love to dance. I’m not as agile as I used to be but I like ballroom dancing and salsa.”
She also loves to cook when she gets the opportunity and to experiment while doing it.
You learn a lot spending time with the mother of one – who is also the wife of Martin Cox, acting director of finance and the head of the civil service in Barbados – and observing her outside her office environment.
Don’t let the diplomatic title fool you. She has a sense of humour that would pull a real Bajan belly laugh out of the most distinguished of persons.
But make no mistake about it either, Dr Hunte-Cox is very serious about her work.
Having taken up the post on July 1 this year, becoming the second female ever in the position, she got right down to business, planning the first major event to celebrate Barbados’ Independence.
The 48th anniversary extravaganza, organized by a team from the Consulate and members of the Diaspora, led by her, brought together Bajan business owners living in New York to showcase their goods and services last weekend.
“We did that reasonably well and I’m very happy with the success for the first one. Of course there is room for improvement, but that was a precursor, a trailer of sorts, because as we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Barbados two years from now, I want people to see where we can go,” Dr Hunte-Cox said.
“We want to present Barbados in a big way. We want to be able to present Barbados, for example, on Second Avenue in Manhattan by bringing a picture of the beach. And we’re going to work closely with the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc and Invest Barbados to showcase Barbados and let persons see what we have to offer.
“We will probably have a steel pan player, we’ll probably import some sand, we can perhaps have a nice banner of a beach scene and create the feel of being on a beach in Barbados and say to people, ‘come to Barbados not only to enjoy the sand and the sea and the people but we have wonderful opportunities for investment as well’.”
Also on her agenda is the building of a database of Barbadian professionals who have contributed to the country’s development “to be able to get and share their stories”.
“We have a lot of Barbadians that live all over and they are doing extremely well and we’re not hearing these stories,” she said. “It will be a long-term project.”
But even that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Dr Hunte-Cox plans to do even more to continue contributing to the development of Barbadians at home and abroad.
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