Showing people with challenges that they can make it despite the odds
She has never been to one of his concerts, but for Racquel Newman, Winston Foster – the reggae and dancehall DJ whose stage name King Yellowman is an ode to his albinism – holds a special place in her heart.
Yellowman rose to prominence in the 1980s with a series of popular singles, and in 2018, was conferred with the Order of Distinction in the rank of officer.
Newman received the Spirit Award for community service during this year’s National Heroes’ Day ceremony hosted by the Portmore City Municipality, and the exploits of the king weren’t far from her mind.
“I have to give thanks to King Yellowman because if it had not been for him, it would have taken longer for people like me to be accepted in our society. He opened the door for us to be seen as people rather than something to be hidden away and pushed aside and even in the work place, too,” she shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
Like King Yellowman, Newman is an albino, a condition that makes her eye muscles weak and has rendered them hyper-sensitive to light to the extent that she is legally blind.
“I have been getting congratulations all around. People are really proud of me and have said that it’s well deserved because I really have been serving for about 20 years or more in different community projects,” she said.
Proud and excited as she is at being recognised for service to the Portmore community, in particular Edgewater, where she has spent most of her life, Newman admits that growing up has not been smooth sailing. Teased at school and hurt by mean banter at work, she admits to having grown a thick skin as a coping mechanism.
Forced to sit or stand right up against the board to copy lessons, her visually impaired challenges from school days followed Newman into the work environment, when she used a magnifying glass to check her work on the computer.
Still, she persevered and after passing the Common Entrance Examination for Bridgeport High School and then the Portmore Community College, the Edgewater resident pursued a first degree in management studies with a minor in human resource development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus.
By the time she left the UWI, Newman’s self-confidence was soaring.
“My studies have given me confidence. There is something about being on the UWI Mona Campus that makes you feel that you can take on the world, and in about 2008, for a year, I was in Japan teaching English, and I keep saying to myself, ‘if I can travel to a completely new country, different language, culture, everything, why not here?’” Newman stated.
The population in the Japanese countryside where she was assigned comprised mostly senior citizens, most of whom were reclusive, and then there was the language barrier. This made things very interesting, as well as embarrassing, Newman recalled.
“One night we went to KFC, and were trying to figure out how to say body parts – breast and leg and breast and wing – but we just couldn’t work it out because we didn’t want to point to our own body parts,” she recounted with amusement.
Eventually, they just settled for what they got.
She also recalled the time she travelled on her own to New York, where she got lost on the train and had to find her way back, as well as travelling by bus from Atlanta to Jacksonville in Georgia.
She has a few tips to share.
“Practise a little street smarts, and if you are in a new place and need directions, find someone in uniform, or if you go into a store, ask the cashier or store owner to help,” she said.
Newman has always been fortunate to have very good friends who have stood up for her.
At Bridgeport High, she found a strong supporter in Principal Karen Kennedy, who suggested that she wear a hat and jacket and implored the students not to pick fights with her. Still, there are painful memories from that time.
“I remember going into a taxi and this little girl was squeezing up beside her mommy because she didn’t want me to rub off on her,” she shared, a recollection she can now laugh at, noting that Ricardo, her older brother by two years, is also an albino.
PASSION FOR SERVICE
The constant challenges did not deter the child who insisted on participating in every community concert or event, doing her signature song, ‘I Believe The Children Are Our Future’, and would join the chess club in high school and at community college.
But it was when a friend introduced her to the Junior Chamber International (JCI), a global non-profit organisation, that her passion for service really flourished.
“That’s where my service really started because they were trying to reignite Portmore, and my friend was the public relations officer, and she recruited me, and it just really started from there. I would say I blossomed because we got involved in a number of community projects – painted basic schools, pedestrian crossings. I spearheaded health fairs because I eventually became the president, and we went on different clean-up projects, and it was just an amazing journey,” Newman declared with pride.
“When it comes to community service, I give 100 per cent. When it comes to work, I give 100 per cent, and I realise that my purpose in life is to show people with challenges that they can make it despite the odds. Everything that I have gone through education-wise, work-wise, has built my confidence, and so I don’t feel limited.”
She continued, “Overall, my purpose is to show people that they can make it, and so I envision myself spearheading activities that will help people with visual challenges to get around, and I will do it through my book, the Albino Marketer.
“The book is finished and is available on Amazon. You can order it in the Kindle format or the printed version on Amazon. The book details my life, and so through the book, I want to have that inspiration to show people that, yes, you can make it.”