TEN-YEAR-OLD Malachi Wilkins was caught off guard when he was crowned the new Little Genius champion at the 10th staging of the competition held at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
“I feel excited about the winning. I got completely off guard. I never thought that I was really going to win because before they announced my name I heard harsh criticisms in the background,” he told the Jamaica Observer after the event on May 28.
The grade five student of Windward Road Primary and Junior High School is thankful for the support of his mother who “helped me with the things that I was weakest in, like my talent piece”, he said.
In a gesture of gratitude Malachi pledged to split his $30,000 cash prize from the Jamaica Public Service with his mother.
“I am going to give half of it to my mother because we are in desperate need for a house,” he said.
Malachi’s mother, Halima Jackson-Wilkins, could not contain her emotions as she reacted to her son’s triumph.
“I am feeling good. I am very proud of him. We have a little thing that we say, ‘If you put in the work, then you will get the results,’ and that’s what happened tonight — he put in the work.
“And what I liked about all of what went on here is that it allowed us to come closer together because, as a single mother, we had discussions. We were discussing the economy, we were discussing the environment, and both of us got brighter together. So he, as a little genius, was really pulling me up as a mom. Children can teach parents, and that’s what happened with us,” she said.
Jackson-Wilkins said the competition has also strengthened the relationship she has with her son.
“We were in touch with our emotional side because when I saw him crying tonight on the stage I was like, ‘Wow’, so it really did something to me. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of the work. I see that he is focused and the sky is the limit for Malachi Wilkins,” she stated.
In introducing himself at the start of the show a poised and articulate Malachi won the hearts of many parents and supporters in the audience with his bold ambition and sense of humour.
“In the next 15 years I will become the youngest prime minister of Jamaica. I plan to keep this country on the right path to ensure that it is free from economic, political, and civil unrest. Right now my favourite pasttime is researching world affairs and having a robust conversation about it. I love fun facts, animal facts, and military facts. It seems I am a facts [fax] machine. May I also tell you that I enjoy good humour?” he asked to loud cheers.
Second-place winner Shaunroy Gordon from St Thomas was a ball of excitement, having secured one of the top spots.
“Right now I am feeling very proud of myself and I am feeling very happy because my mom really prepared me for this. We prayed a lot… even this morning when we were coming she was running me through the questions… I am feeling very proud,” said the grade six student who attends New Hope Preparatory School.
His mother, Shana Sherriffe, was equally overjoyed.
“I am feeling excited, and I am feeling more so excited because Shaunroy is always a winner. We trust God, we prayed, we worked, and God has come through for him. I am just so excited,” she told the Observer.
Third-place winner, 10-year old Kamoya Powell was surprised at her placement.
“I feel shocked and excited because I didn’t expect it at all. I outperformed myself and I am really proud,” she said.
She said she would use a portion of her cash award to treat herself for her 10th birthday — celebrated on May 31 — and save the rest.
Her mother, Racquel Mceachron-Copeland, is satisfied with her placement, especially after a long and rigorous training process.
“I am overwhelmed. I am so happy because it has been such a journey and she put in the work, and I am extremely proud of her tonight,” she said.
The Little Genius Competition is a critical thinking, public speaking, and talent competition that targets children between the ages of eight and 11 living in Jamaica. The competition is organised by NexxStepp Lifelong Educational Services Limited and endorsed by the governor general of Jamaica’s I Believe Initiative and the Jamaica Association for Debating and Empowerment (JADE). The aim of the competition is to engage young minds and empower them with key skills they can use for their future advancement.
Participants in the competition undergo a series of workshops, training and mentorship sessions that adequately prepare them for the final production in which they demonstrate the skills acquired throughout the four segments of the final show, namely an opening group piece, introduction, debate (face-off in pairs), and talent presentation.
The focus of this year’s staging was the doughnut economy, which proposes an alternative business model that focuses on achieving a balance between the needs of the people and the planet’s necessities, more than solely developing the gross domestic product (GDP). In the debate segment the children argued whether economic growth should be prioritised over environmental preservation.
Conceptualiser and co-emcee of the competition, Tishauna Mullings described the event as a revolution.
“I think what we witnessed here tonight is what I have been saying: This is a critical thinking revolution. This is more than just a competition; this is a platform where we demonstrate that Jamaican children are full of knowledge, they can argue, they can engage, they have their own thoughts. There are contestants here who are enthusiasts around things like world history… Every single debating pair that went up there, they were able to handle the argument and really exchange rebuttals that demonstrated that they understood what they were talking about,” she said.
“This is not a typical show where kids go up there with a speech that was written by their teachers or parents and they recite it. This is a show that encourages them to think, and to think deep and understand the process that goes into thinking. PEP [Primary Exit Profile examination] is a good way forward, and Little Genius is an extension of what we are trying to do with them,” she explained.
Mullings hopes the competition will reach the international level within the next 10 years.
“This competition has already been growing. Born out of St Thomas seven years and then two years online (due to COVID-19) and now we are officially a national show — in person — and I feel like it is going to continue to grow. It might become something regional, maybe something international.
“One of the shows I am inspired by is Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots… This is the kind of thing I wanna keep doing. And we create a family, so whatever the children’s placement, it doesn’t matter,” she noted.
Mullings is grateful for the sponsors who contributed to a successful event. JPS covered cash awards for the winners as well as a cheque valued at $50,000 for Malachi to carry out a community project. Guardian Life Jamaica Limited and National Commercial Bank Foundation contributed to production expenses. Bresheh supplied gifts for the participants and adjudicators. St Thomas Renaissance provided Chromebooks for the top awardees. Inzzpire365 gave gifts to the parents and little geniuses, while Russells Catering fed the staff and participants.
Mullings looks forward to having even more sponsors on board for 2024.