It took 36 years for T&T to gain its second gold medal at Olympic level—a welcoming achievement as this country celebrates its golden jubilee, 50 years of independence. Now, people are hoping the same magic that followed 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott will rub off on Athaliah Samuel as she gets ready to vie for the Miss World title, on Saturday in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.
If Samuel wins, it will be the second Miss World title for T&T in 26 years. The first and only to date was captured by Giselle Laronde-West in 1986. Samuel’s mother Gail says unlike many representatives before her, Samuel has had a rough ride, having little or no support as the chosen representative. She has endured bitter “tongue lashes” from those who felt she was not beautiful enough to be a queen and unsuitable because of where she lives—John John, Laventille. These naysayers even used Facebook, a popular social network, to express their unkind remarks on a daily basis.
However, in an interview with the T&T Guardian before leaving for China, the 24-year-old said, “I cannot allow what they are saying to deter me from accomplishing my goal. I have worked long and hard for this and I deserve the chance just as much as the representatives who have gone before me and who will come after me.” Her mother, speaking out for the first time in her daughter’s defence, told the T&T Guardian she couldn’t understand why people were being so negative about her daughter’s accomplishment. She says it is a very sad day for T&T when in the 21st century the message of togetherness and equality is constantly preached but not practised. “All of us cannot be cut from the same cloth but that does not give anybody the right to view others negatively because of where they live. Many good things come out of neglected communities all the time and not just in Trinidad but across the globe. “I think we are in a time where we just cannot continue our insular thinking. We must try to uplift each other instead of pulling each other down, and more so when it comes to our youth,” she said. “It hurts me to see that when we have our youth doing something positive people still have nothing good to say.
No fly-by night
Highlighting all of her daughter’s academic accomplishments and other achievements in the field of modelling and pageantry, the older Samuel said her daughter is no fly-by night. “Athaliah has earned her way. She was always a very constructive child. From an early age she showed interest in fashion and art.” However, due to financial constraints at that time she was not able to help her daughter enhance her skills. “I gave all that I could have because I wanted a better life for all my children,” said the mother of four. She is proud that her daughter will soon complete her BA in Mass Communication at Costaatt.
“All of my children are doing well and I thank God for that.” The young woman has entered both the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants a number of times before but never made it past the first stage. “They (pageant directors) told her that her only hindrance was the gap in her front teeth. She now wears braces made possible by the Ministry of Health.”
The proud mother isn’t habouring any negative thoughts about her daughter’s chances. “She is like a celebrity in the community, especially for the kids. It pleases me because it is the first time any youth from John John has made such a positive breakthrough in the community.” She says she only speaks words of encouragement to her daughter. “Athaliah was hurt by the level of hostility meted out to her by the public but I kept on encouraging her and even though I was hurt and to some degree angry, I never let her see it.” Despite it all, the she says her daughter just wants T&T to send their love and support to her, as she is not representing her self but T&T. Samuel thanked all the sponsors and members of the John John community who made it possible for Athaliah to make the trip to China well-equipped and ready to take on the world.