Jodi-Ann Quarrie: All the possibilities

Jodi-Ann Quarrie: All the possibilities


Monday, July 13, 2020

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HAD Jodi-Ann Quarrie got into the Faculty of Law on her first try, she reckons she would not have become the woman she is today. This roadblock drove her to detour into the Faculty of Humanities at The University of the West Indies (UWI), where she planned to study language, communication and society until she could transfer to law the following semester. But she proceeded to have the worst semester of her entire academic career, so much so that she didn't even bother to apply for the transfer.

“That set me up for the rest of my life,” Quarrie, who is now a seasoned radio host, advocate, and international human rights and environmental attorney told All Woman. “Many of the concepts that I understand today, and many of the things that I have done, came out of that first degree.”

Though she had not failed the semester, Quarrie looked realistically at her grades and decided to stay in her linguistics programme, with a minor in philosophy. Serendipitously, after completing her degree, returning to St Hugh's to teach for two years, then finally being accepted into law school, Quarrie's first major undertaking in the area of human rights came as a result of her training in linguistics.

Jamaica, in 2011, was deciding whether to add the Jamaican language to the Constitution, and Quarrie's professor in linguistics called her to come work on it, since by then she was in law.

“That's the first time I would have touched a major constitutional issue and a major human rights issue,” she said.

Up until that point, Quarrie had thought that it was constitutional law that she enjoyed, but the experience of advocating on behalf of Jamaicans who are disadvantaged or marginalised because of language barriers provided clarity on her passion and purpose.

In hindsight, Quarrie realised it was also on this detour, while she worked as a substitute teacher, that she saw the demand for a personal development and academic coach, and rose to the occasion with her You Need Life Skills initiative.

“I had a few students who were staying at school too late and they couldn't get their homework done, and they needed help,” she shared.

This would grow into a website with resources to help students manage their time, budget, choose careers, and prepare for adulthood.

Instead of continuing at Mona, Quarrie ended up reading for her bachelor of laws degree at UWI's Cave Hill campus in Barbados, where she got to see regional integration in action. This experience, she believes, was another trek off the beaten path that altered the rest of her journey for the better.

“I have friends across the region because of Cave Hill, and I'm very grateful for that experience,” she smiled. “But I also got to be involved in international moots, for example, and take advantage of many opportunities that weren't yet available at Mona.”

She would be further steeped into regional integration when she got the opportunity to complete an internship at the Caribbean Court of Justice in her first year at Norman Manley Law School. While this was a great learning experience for Quarrie, it signalled the beginning of a very bumpy patch along her journey.

“The night before I was supposed to leave, my grandfather had to be rushed to hospital,” she recalled of the last time she saw the man who fathered her alive. He died a couple days before I came back to Jamaica, and that was very difficult for me because we were incredibly close.”

With her mother also getting laid off from her job that year, Quarrie stumbled through the next few months aimlessly, with no clear vision of the road ahead.

“By the time the year ended, I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore. I was tired, I didn't want to hand in my forms to be called to the bar. I just wanted to take some time to patch myself up,” she reflected.

Quarrie recalls breaking down completely on a beach in Barbados.

“I felt like I was suffocating under all the pressure and expectations. Everyone kept asking what I was doing next,” she said.

Thankfully, she had the support of those closest to her, and one such friend in Barbados came along with a jumper cable and helped her to get back on track. She stayed a few weeks longer in the country, and recharged her battery with books, breeze and beaches.

“I ended up being called to the bar in Barbados,” Quarrie said. “Then that December I got called to the bar in Jamaica. I came home and did nothing. My mother was going to kick me out because I wasn't working, but I had applied for a fellowship in Washington, DC and was waiting to hear from them.”

She eventually did, and she has been throttling steadily since. In 2015, she became a Rómulo Gallegos Fellow at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the first Caricom woman to do so. She obtained an advanced certificate in economic, social and cultural rights from American University Washington College of Law.

Quarrie then went on to complete a master's of law in international human rights law from the University of Notre Dame as the first Caricom attorney to be admitted to the programme. Quarrie was also the only Caribbean representative named as a 2018 United Nations Fellow for People of African Descent, and is the first Caricom attorney to be selected for the fellowship.

“Nothing in my life story is something that I would have thought that I could have done, or I would've achieved, or I would have seen,” she said as she returned to the present, in which she spends the first part of her days co-hosting the Morning Agenda radio programme on Power 106 FM.

“I also do consultation with Government and international bodies on human rights and environmental issues. I'm active on social media, which is something that I enjoy, that also allows me to educate and advocate for human rights,” she summarised.

Quarrie shared that while she is proud of the ground she has covered, she is even more pleased to know that her family is proud of her.

“What I strive for is to ensure that by virtue of my being alive and having these skills, that Jamaica and the Caribbean is one per cent better after I've lived,” she said.

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