Wed | Oct 21, 2020

‘I’m not here to just fall in line’ - Youngest-ever senator vows to make impact as women sworn in for service

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2020 | 12:16 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Gleaner Writer
Government and opposition women senators pose at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston on Tuesday. They are (from left) Natalie Campbell Rodriques, Janice Allen, Kamina Johnson Smith, Sherene Golding Campbell, Donna Scott Mottley, Sophia Fraser-Binns, Gabriela Morris, Dr Saphire Longmore.
Gabriela Morris, newly minted opposition senator, will use her position to advocate for gender equality in the Upper House.
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Up to Monday night, 23-year-old Gabriela Morris was just a university student focused on youth representation.

But today, the Montego Bay native holds the title of being the country’s youngest ever senator.

“Life comes at you fast,” she said, reflecting on her historic rise to the Upper House.

Still “revelling in the moment”, the opposition senator, who currently studies at The University of the West Indies, Mona, said that she is ready to learn, grow, and serve.

“There is the question of youth, as expected, and experience, as expected, but I believe that I have amassed some sort of experience in my own way and I believe that there was something that was seen in me that warranted me being appointed to the Senate,” she told The Gleaner on Tuesday, minutes before she was sworn in.

Morris is pursuing a master’s in communication for social and behavioural change at the Caribbean School of Media and Communication. She is also employed by The UWI as a resident adviser for Irvine Hall.

Though failing in her bid to become president of the university’s Guild of Students, she has slipped comfortably into her position as a vice-president.

Now, her mandate is much greater, but the student leader feels she is up to the task.

“There has been a great call for youth voices in the political process, and I am here as a young person,” said Morris, who is also a member of the People’s National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO).

Her name was not among the list of nominees PNPYO President Krystal Tomlinson had submitted as a potential senator to PNP President Dr Peter Phillips in a controversial letter that was leaked to the media on Tuesday.

For the most part, Morris has lived in the shadows but has always been involved in community work.

WAITING TO SEE

She has already been bombarded with questions about her political aspirations, the most notable being whether she hopes to become prime minister one day. But the Montego Bay High alumna said she is still waiting to see what the future holds for her.

“I am certainly new, but I believe that I am here to do a new thing, not just here to fall in line, so I am not intimidated,” she told The Gleaner.

“I am here to learn, and everybody has been very warm and welcoming so far,” said the young senator, who hopes to lend her voice to a wide range of issues, including gender equality and youth access to education.

Phillips held to his word in a political debate weeks ago that he would allot at least half of his eight Senate picks to women.

Morris made up 38 per cent of the overall number of women who were sworn in to the Senate on Tuesday.

“It is indeed a point for noting, a point for acknowledgement, even as we continue to strive for more,” said government senator Kamina Johnson Smith.

“The fact is that it is the largest percentage that we have ever achieved.”

First-time senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques, who lost in her bid to unseat incumbent Natalie Neita of the PNP in the September 3 election, said she intends to serve with dignity and integrity.

Like her, opposition senator Janice Allen said service will be her mantra.

Allen is also a former Montego Bay High School student and has worked on several campaigns for the PNP in the west. The 46-year-old businesswoman has spent more than 20 years in public and private service.

“I hope to bring all of these years of experience together to contribute in a wholesome way,” she said.

Sherene Golding Campbell was a bit emotional after being sworn in on the anniversary of the passing of her grandmother, Enid Louise Bent Golding, who died in 2011.

“I wish I could talk to her about today. I wish I could have spoken to her about what was going to happen today, but I feel her eyes looking down on me,” she said.

Golding Campbell comes from a family with rich political stock - her father Bruce Golding being a former prime minister and her late grandfather, Tacius, a former Speaker of the House.

Former senator Kerensia Morrison had a few words of advice for the new members of the Upper House.

Morrison was sworn in on Tuesday as member of parliament for St Catherine North East.

“It is really a test of mettle, it is a test of character, a test of integrity, and it really calls you to draw on your inner strength to be strong, to be firm, to be self-assured, to know who you are and most importantly to remain grounded,” she said.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com