Norfolk teacher tells her inspirational story
2010: An inspirational and pioneering Norfolk teacher, who grew up in the slums of Antigua, and fought decades of poverty, racism and violence, has just published her life story. Co-book author Sandie Shirley reports.
Seventy seven year-old grandmother, Coralita Martin, has gone from the slums of Antigua to the suburbs of London and the wilds of Norfolk to pursue the doorways of destiny to influence thousands of youngsters for 50 years despite poverty, abuse and prejudice.
The first black teacher in Watton and Thetford and in many London schools, she has written her dream in ink with the publication of her biography: Courage to Dream – the impossible becomes reality (Last Word Publications).
Coralita has fought injustice, silenced misery and outlasted fear during eviction, near-death, a violent marriage and forced departure to the East End of London where she faced racism and hardship. She has found divine grace to forgive those who have hurt her, including the man she was forced to marry who warred against her soul for more than 25 years and twice tried to kill her.
She pleaded for his leniency when she mounted the witness box at the Old Bailey in London. She says: “In the quietened formal proceedings, I forgave him for every terrible deed and despicable act. I forgave him as Jesus my Saviour forgave me for all my wrongs when he died on the cross. Forgiveness – the total letting go – may not always blunt the pain and distress, but I knew it was the only way.”
Coralita was rejected by her mother in Antigua when she was just ten days old. She lived with her godmother who she loved, in a tiny two-bedroom house with a tin roof by the beach in Antigua with no kitchen, bathroom or electricity; she cooked and washed outside, using a standpipe. At six she was summoned back to the family home. There were no regular meals, she slept on the floor and fought rejection and outwitted poverty when she sold empty bottles for a few pennies and helped with her mother’s fruit and vegetable business before school.
As a schoolgirl she changed history when she became the first youngster from the slums in Antigua to win a school scholarship. She excelled at her studies, survived a hurricane and worked at the Christian mission while having a heart fired with faith after attending a mammoth crusade led by Billy Graham
– a dynamic young man at the time whose warm gospel message cut across every culture and class.
Home tutoring students became the launch pad for her dream to teach; at 21 she began a life-long vocation that started in Antigua without any formal teaching qualifications.
An angel with provision, friends of mercy and doors of opportunity helped mark her path. “Provision was unexpected and divinely imparted. Sometimes there were anonymous finances and huge bags of potatoes left on my doorstep when I wondered how I would feed my children,” said Coralita. “My family and friends have wondered how I have managed but God has always made a way where there was no way – his light has shone through the darkest night.”
Teaching has spanned the generations and cultures from a private school in the Caribbean (where she knew now famous entertainer, Joan Armatrading) to tough inner London schools, exclusive fee-paying ones, and a variety in Norfolk; she taught in Thetford until she was 70 years old.
Over the years she has schooled future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and dined with rich, influential parents and cried tears for the youngsters downtrodden by abuse, fear and poverty as they struck a strong chord of empathy.
“I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. If you want something badly enough you have to keep persevering although it may be a struggle,” says Coralita who studied long and hard to qualify as a teacher in England despite the difficulties.
“Seeing the happiness on children’s faces has made it all worthwhile. Looking back I see my life as a rose bush among thorns. The thorns are the pain but the roses are like the joy that has bloomed in the sunshine,” says Coralita who adds: “Faith, hope and love have been important but the most important has been love for others.”
Coralita will be signing copies of her book when she speaks at the Norwich chapter of Aglow International on Tuesday January 25 at 7pm. The meeting, with an optional meal, is held at the Holiday Inn, Ipswich Road. For more details contact Sharon Plummer: 01953 454606, e-mail email@example.com
Courage to Dream – the impossible becomes reality by Coralita Martin with Sandie Shirley (Last Word Publications, ISBN 9780955943942) is available at £7.99 from www.lastwordpublications.com. Stockists include Jarrold, Waterstones (Castle Street), Norwich and Bury St Edmunds.