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Praises for Portia - Professionals from former PM's constituency say 'superstar' MP was key to their success

Published:Friday | June 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Portia's people: Young professionals from South West St Andrew defending their former member of parliament during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.
Melissa Bryan-Smith
Nicholas Blake
Taneisha Thorpe
Joel Rickman
Sophia Hendricks
Kedeen Bryan

As the assessment continues of the near 40-year-long stewardship of Portia Simpson Miller in St Andrew South West, her critics often point to poor infrastructure in areas such as Payne Land and Majesty Gardens as signs of her failure.

But for several residents of the constituency, while the woman they call 'Mama P' or 'Sister P' has made efforts to improve their living conditions with mixed results, her greatest contribution has been the educational opportunities provided over the years.

Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and several other professionals from poor humble backgrounds quickly admit that they owe their achievements to their long-serving member of parliament, Simpson Miller.

For some, she directly paid the fees for their education, for others, she provided employment opportunities for their parents, and still others say just seeing her achievements and her encouraging words helped them to move out of the generational poverty that bedevilled their families.

"My grandmother had my mother at 16, my mother dropped out of Norman Manley High School at 17 pregnant with me. I matriculated to university at 18. From that I could step out of 33 Lane to become a doctor, ending four generations of poverty," said Dr Tamara Foster, whose superstar is Simpson Miller, the woman who helped her to achieve her dream of becoming a surgeon.

Last Wednesday, Foster told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the Hailie Selassie High School in the heart of the St Andrew South West constituency of her first brush with Simpson Miller, after a family member told the MP of her plight of not being able to find the first cent to attend medical school.


As real as it gets


Foster recalled how Simpson Miller's eyes filled with tears as she handed over a contribution towards her tuition fees at the University of the West Indies.

"I remembered it like it was yesterday. Baring her soul to someone she didn't know made me realise that this lady is as real as it gets.

"I remember when I was little how I would see her as this superstar who came to the meetings. And even when I got older, there is still this excitement because you want to see her because she has achieved so much as a woman who has come from humble beginnings," said Foster.

According to Foster, Simpson Miller encouraged to hold her head high, and not to let anyone tear her down, and that gave her the strength to go on, as she viewed her MP as someone who was torn down but who survived it all.

"So she made you want to aim high and do the things that she did. For me, she is the total package, a superstar."

Other constituents at the forum had similar stories to share as they told Gleaner editors and reporters of an MP who did her best work outside the glare of the media, with little or no announcements of her efforts to help the poor and downtrodden.

They hailed the former prime minister as an inspirational woman who, although not having children of her own, was a mother to many.

Trained teacher Melissa Bryan-Smith said she has never seen anyone with so much will and strength.

"A lot of persons have said bad things about her, and man, amid all that she still pull through. She still shine," said Bryan-Smith.

"She might have got boisterous sometimes to get her point across, but to me she is a superior human being. Yes, she is a superstar," added Bryan-Smith.

Nicholas Blake, who faced suspension at Jamaica College for his misdeeds before turning his life around and matriculating to the University of Technology, was quick to agree. "To see where she is coming from and what she has attained, it's great," Blake declared at the forum.


'She nuh fraid a nobody'


Joel Rickman, a guidance counsellor, said, unlike many others who have criticised Simpson Miller for her occasional rants and outbursts, he had no issue as those were what made his MP real and special.

"I get to realise that when you are in government, there comes a times when people want you to resign. She let them know that she nuh fraid a nobody.

"She let them know say they must not bring it here, because she will ... protect her constituents and her party members. So for me it's that mother's instinct she has to protect all," said Rickman.

Kedeen Bryan is now a student at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), and the Simpson Miller story gave her the drive to continue at times when she felt like giving up.

"That helped me because even at school, I went to Tivoli Comprehensive High School and I received eight CXC and four CAPE, and when everybody was introducing themselves (at CMU) and saying they come from this school and that school, I proudly said I went to Tivoli.

"I said look at my MP, Mrs Simpson Miller. So I big her up," declared the young woman with a passion that belied her years.

For Sophia Hendricks, what stands out for her is how Simpson Miller took care of the children and the elderly, even persons who did not support the People's National Party.

That is a Simpson Miller quality which has most impressed Taneisha Thorpe, a student at Distinction College.

While recounting the personal assistance and encouragement she received from Simpson Miller, Thorpe boasted that the veteran politician has never refused to help anyone who has shown potential.

For the young professionals and many others in the constituency, Mama P has left as their MP but the lives she touched will always reflect her work as a superstar who served for more than four decades.