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Presidential honour - 22-year-old humbled at being selected to introduce United States president

Published:Friday | April 10, 2015 | 4:00 AMJanet Silvera
Aubrey Stewart, introducing the President of the United States Barack Obama.

Despite being born in a community where young men are marginalised and shunned by the society, Aubrey Stewart knew from an early age he would be a product of hope.

That hope was realised when the 22-year-old student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona - Western Jamaica Campus (WJC), was selected to introduce the United States President Barack Obama during yesterday's town hall meeting with Caribbean youth leaders at the UWI, Mona.

"It was quite an honour because I had a chance today to introduce my inspiration. Obama has been my inspiration since I was 14 years old," Stewart told The Gleaner afterwards, admitting that he was extremely nervous on the eve of his presentation. However, while backstage with the US president, he found his footing.

"He (Obama) told me not to be afraid or shy, then he asked me how many persons knew about the presentation. He was really, really very funny backstage, even asking me if my girlfriend would be watching," Stewart quipped.

Still in a state of awe by being selected, the youth leader, who is studying political leadership strategy and management, said as a young man from the inner city, getting the opportunity he got shows "that it doesn't matter where you are coming from, everybody has a chance".

The former junior mayor of Montego Bay said he never thought this day would come.

"President Obama is really my inspiration, so to hear from him and to be asked to introduce him, I was moved," Stewart said.

Pointing out that his other inspirations were Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey, the 22-year-old, who was honoured with the Prime Minister's Youth Award for Excellence in Leadership in 2011, said being marginalised as a youth, he realised he needed to prove everybody wrong by being focused.

Unaware of how he qualified for the honour to introduce Obama, he said US Embassy advised him that after all the profiles for consideration were vetted, he came out as the top candidate.

"They said that I was the person who stood out the most," Stewart said, adding that his speech, was vetted by a team from the White House while he prepared for the meeting.

His mentor, Dr Luz Longsworth, campus director at WJC, was not surprised he was selected.

"In my mind, I have always seen Aubrey on the same stage as an Obama. At his young age, he already embodies those leadership qualities," Longsworth told The Gleaner.

 

EARLY POTENTIAL

 

The UWI WJC director said she first noticed Stewart while he was a student at Cornwall College two years ago and a competitor in the Junior Mayor Competition.

"When he walked on to the platform, I realised the vision, the eloquence and the potential of this young man, and immediately [I] started discussing how he could come to the UWI WJC," she said.

It was his interest in politics, she admits, which lead Longsworth and her team to advocate for that programme to be offered in the west.

University, for Aubrey Stewart, was also a way for him to not have to deal with the sound of gunfire in the volatile Albion Lane community in which he lives. Surrounded by areas such as Canterbury, Paradise and North Gully, he has had to flee his home in the past because of attacks on his family.

"I was shot in the shoulder and the knee one night while we were here watching television in the house," his grandmother Joyce Grant revealed, adding that young Stewart was forced to move to Trelawny in his teen years for his safety.

Seeing her grandson introducing the US president left Grant speechless.

"I can't even explain how I feel. I feel big," she said, stating that her grandson had it tough growing up.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com