Isaiah Phillip

It’s not an easy road

And many see the glamour and the glitter so them think a bed of rose, mi say

Who feels it knows, ooh

Lord help me sustain these blows. … Not An Easy Road

—Jamaican reggae singer Buju Banton

While COVID-19 cast a dark shadow over 2020 and the new year, ten shining beacons of hope and inspiration from East Port-of-Spain (EPoS) emerged in their finest hour among this year’s University of the West Indies St Augustine Campus graduates.

Their university dreams and achievements were made more poignant and significant given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tremendous adversity they had to overcome while putting paid to the negative stereotype that only bad things come out of East PoS and so-called depressed areas.

The graduates include:

1. Akil Dacon (Morvant) – BSc Double Major in Biology and Biochemistry.

2. Cavell Seales (Morvant) – BA in Carnival studies with a minor in Music.

3. Chikara Mitchell (Laventille) – Valedictorian in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

4. Isaiah Phillip (Beetham Gardens) – BSc Banking and Finance.

5. Jenelle Sandy (Morvant) – BSc Psychology with a minor in Criminology

6. Kareem Marcelle (Beetham Gardens) – Bachelor of Laws (LLB).

7. Kern Balfour (Straker Village, Laventille) – BSc Mathematics with a double minor in Criminology and Accounting (2nd Class Honours)

8. Khadeshia Khadine Hall (Morvant) – BSc Social Work

9. Tahirah David (Belmont) – BSc Physics

10. Tanisha Joseph (Sea Lots) – BSc Spanish

Guardian Media spoke to Beetham Gardens resident Isaiah Phillip, who received a Bsc in Banking and Finance (Special) degree and Kern Balfour, from Straker Village, Laventille, who received a BSc in Mathematics degree, about how they accomplished their goals and what tips they had for young people looking to emulate them.

Phillip said, “It (his degree) certainly isn’t an anomaly. Whether through academic excellence, tradesmanship, music, sports etc, East Port-of-Spain continues to produce individuals of excellence that positively impacts T&T in varying degrees. It’s just a matter of this being showcased to the wider community.”

He added, “Growing up, one ‘nugget of advice’ I received from many was to use a different address on my resume due to the stereotypes associated with my hometown, Beetham Gardens.

“This, however, was one nugget I never used. I’m grateful for companies like Hamel-Smith & Co and the T&T Mortgage Finance (TTMF) for looking past geographical location and giving me the opportunity to showcase my skills and abilities.

“In various social settings, once persons become aware of your permanent residence, the negative stereotypes are automatically attached to you. The work in overcoming these prejudices was mainly self-work. I often had to remember who I am, my morals and values in order to showcase my character and personality, which usually helps others to see that East Port-of-Spain is greater than the negative stereotypes.”

He said every day many individuals from his community were making strides holistically to be better for their families, communities and themselves.

Phillip said he too followed suit but this often went unnoticed. However, he said he believed that only through increased awareness would the wider country’s perception of persons from East PoS shift and evolve.

Phillip said he knew members of his community were proud of him and he hopes he can be an inspiration for the younger ones coming up.

He urged persons in his community to dream, plan and execute, noting that very often, people fear doing something that they hadn’t seen done before. However, he urged them to dare to dream big and when in doubt, pray for guidance and wisdom.

Phillip said while he dreamed of going to university full time, it was not a realistically tangible option for him. Instead, he went to UWI via its “Evening University” programme whilst being employed at TTMF full time.

He said he usually went to the university’s library or TLC (Teaching and Learning Complex) after class to review work, but the majority of his efforts were made on campus for several hours late into the night on weekends.

Phillip said most of his time was spent away from home and he rarely had time with his family while juggling school, work and a fitness/health regimen.

He said throughout his academic life, he had received tremendous emotional and financial support from his mother, Natasha Noel, many aunts and cousins. Phillip said his mother allowed him to not only be an independent thinker but to pursue his dreams.

He said his Form Six and university friends also played an instrumental role in keeping him awake during their overnight studies for exams when he was exhausted.

Phillip said he knew for a fact that all his family and friends were proud of his accomplishments and he hoped to continue to make them proud.

Kern Balfour, meanwhile, said he did not regard his achievement as an anomaly either, noting great accomplishments have emerged and continue to emerge out of the Laventillle community.

He said the question to ask was how many of Laventille’s accomplishments were recognised within the media?

He said he had encountered “Laventillians” who worked as lecturers within UWI and one of them wore the prestigious title of a Doctor in the field of Mathematics and another was working towards their PhD.

Balfour said there was a proliferation of good within the Laventille community, but sometimes it seemed as though only the bad reality attracted attention and was remembered by the media and masses. He said he was not asking media houses to hide wrongdoing within Laventille but to be more balanced in their reporting.

Balfour said in this 21st century, in the socio-economic context of Trinbago, many were asking whether any good person can come out of Laventille.

Noting the likes of Winston “Spree” Simon, with the invention of the steelpan, to skilled tradesmen, footballers like Ataullah Guerra and a significant amount of public servants who were making their contribution to the country, all from Laventille, Balfour said a significant portion didn’t receive recognition for their commitment and accomplishments over the years. However, he said thanks to Facebook and some journalists, things were changing.

He said he firmly believed that once more attention was given to the positive occurring within Laventille, employers within the private and public sectors will be more open-minded.

Asked if his achievement was a step in changing the stereotypes of his community, Balfour said changing public perception was volatile and he was more concerned about experiencing more personal growth spiritually, educationally, financially and on a relationship level.

Balfour said, however, that some people were rooted in their personal beliefs and no amount of success can change it. He said his accomplishment took some people in the community by surprise, some didn’t expect anything less and a significant portion wasn’t aware.

Balfour said his strategy for success was the two Gs: God every day and grind every day to make his goals become a reality, without God, there was no breath of life. Balfour said grinding every day meant victory did not come by accident.

“Some will have it harder than others in their journey in this life. However, use your experiences to build you, rather than allow it to break you in your journey in this life!” Balfour said.

“Reject negative behaviour as a way of life and remember you have to answer to God one day. When you begin to experience growth spiritually, educationally and financially, remember reciprocity and give back.”

He said at university, he had to adjust his strategy, noting that when someone was emerging from humble beginnings, money tended to be limited.

Balfour said the combined support of his parents, personal savings, and Good Samaritans were adequate to keep him financially afloat to initiate and conquer his educational pursuits.

He said his family was super proud to observe his accomplishments, noting he was the second person in his immediate family to obtain a university degree.

However, he pointed out that had it not been for Christ’s intervention within his life through the Picton Worship Centre, he would have “wrecked himself and underutilised the potential of his mind.”