The late Geoffrey Griffin used to quip that no publicity is bad publicity. He should have known since from its early years his school, Starehe Boys Centre, was beset by myriad negative rumours fueled by ignorance or even bad faith.
Recently, a self-styled cultural activist took it a notch higher. According to her, Griffin was gay. Being so, it then behoved his biographer Yussuf King’ala to let us in on his sexuality, the writer thought. It has been said some people separate wheat from chaff and then keep the chaff.
Well, as for Griffin’s sexuality, I don’t know. But I know more meaningful facts. I first visited Starehe in 2002. I found a hospitable Griffin who gave me his biography by Roger Martin, one time his deputy.
Anthem of Bugles is the most comprehensive historical document on Starehe’s founding.
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I worked at Starehe for the better part of 2005. It made me know what Martin meant when he said that Starehe kept haunting him from the moment he passed through its gates.
Philosophers have said at the intersection of metaphysics and literature lies word. Word, they say, outlives time. It conquers space. Legends, be they Griffin, James Mwangi, Steve Jobs, all of them remain alive due to what has been recorded about them. That is why (auto) biographies form a critical part of the literacy genre. Without the recorded matter, people’s identity and doings attain the status of myth and simple folklore.
As for Griffin, he created not just a school but a way of life. A specific form of civilisation. One of the clubs at Starehe is called Life Skills. If rectitude, discipline, punctuality, punctiliousness, respect and desire to succeed constitute life skills, then Griffin succeeded in what he set out to make of Starehe. Today, Starehe will be celebrating its Founders’ Day. It is an annual ceremony to cement the institution’s unique identity. This year’s guest Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi is one of the notable benefactors of the institution.
There are certain similarities between the founding of Equity and Starehe. Both were never taken seriously by their peers as they grew up. By the time they stormed the big stage, it was too late for competition.
Equity was not allowed into the clearing house by fellow banks when it graduated from a building society in 2004. Starehe would be derisively called “dirt at our door step” by a principal of a neighbouring school.
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Equity and Starehe Boys though can claim to still stamp continental authority on micro-finance and education.
I visited Starehe again this week after some years and was still impressed by the orderliness. Success is looked at in totality. Those who work at Starehe remain fiercely loyal to the brand in spite of modest pay. So that in sum I say, rest in peace Griffin, no matter.