Johnson Smith credits success with sound upbringing

New foreign affairs minister wants to make the most of political opportunity

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, March 12, 2016

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SHE’S a wife, daughter, aunt, sister, disciplined, loving, multifaceted, athletic lawyer, dancer, and lover of music who is passionate about building a better Jamaica and the empowerment of women.


In addition, she’s known as Kams, Kamsi, Kamsimina, Kumina, Ms Kums, Ms Kumsimina and Johnno, and posses a very polite demeanour and a smile that can easily disarm you.


But, though petite and cordial, she’s no pushover and professionally has risen to become the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, which she says is an honour and very humbling achievement.


Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who has a bachelor’s degree in French and international relations, an LLB degree from the University of the West Indies (UWI), a degree in Commercial Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the first foreign minister to be born after Jamaica’s Independence in 1962, told the Jamaica Observer that her success is credited to the influence her greatest role models — her parents — had on her while growing up.


"As an adult I can look back and see the Importance of a stable family unit, how it influences the stability of your children and their ability to fulfil their potential. Having parents who believed in their children made them confident and made them believe in their abilities, that made them ‘study dem book’, made them go to school — even when it’s not fun, but taught them discipline it is clear as day, I can look back and see how these things growing up has shaped my siblings and I," she said.


"My parents always made sure we were independent. For example, they sent us to swim classes and we could go alone while other parents maybe wanted to oversee their children. We had social lives while we were getting grades, but if not, don’t expect fun," she reminisced.


Moreover, as it relates to her professional accolades, Johnson Smith, also a past student of Campion College, said she never once imagined going into government or law while growing up; rather, she had her sights set on being a diplomat, but after a heart-to-heart talk with her father, she decided to change her mind.


"I didn’t have a real concept of what level or how to be at the top of a ministry. But, my father had said to me he thought I needed a profession and I needed to be independents as I had a strong personality and [one] that required me to have a profession. So we agreed that I would study law and if I still wanted to go back to international relations after then he would support me," she said.


Her father, Ambassador Anthony Johnson, a Kingston College old boy, served as Ambassador to the United States and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. A former senator, Ambassador Johnson was also Member of Parliament for North East St Catherine.


And so, the first step of her career began as she left for Barbados in the direct entry programme to study law and fell in love with the discipline.


"I loved it in the first semester. In the direct entry programme you do the degree in two years instead of three, so it was very intensive, double the class work, double the courses, but I loved the intellectual exercises, arguing, figuring things out and trying to position them and I did study some international relations courses while there," she quipped.


More so, Johnson Smith is extremely passionate about education, empowerment of young people, women and gender affairs.


"How I represent my country and seek to make opportunities better on the world stage is very important to me. Education and how important it is to our national development, the empowerment of young people and how we’re going to get the unattached young people into the loop, gender affairs, the empowerment of women, and reduction of violence against women — all these issues have an international and local component and there’s much to be done," she said.


While she admitted that it would take a lengthy interview to express how passionate she is about violence against women, she said she feels a deep sense of outrage at the damage done in this regard as it creates a negative ripple effect on society.


"It doesn’t just impact women as individuals. It impacts their family, the children who are likely to become perpetrators or victims of violence when they become adults; it affects their productivity, it affects their self esteem and it has such a knock on effect on lives that to me I feel very deeply as it is something that affects us more than we realise as a people trying to get at the heart of how violent our society is. I feel it is one of our root causes that need to be fixed," she stated.


And, as there are two sides to every story, when Johnson Smith isn’t about the Government’s business, she spends her downtime with her husband watching Netflix, playing dominoes with her gal pals and if possible she heads to the beach or goes for a run.


She’s also a lover of the arts — a founding member of the UWI Dance Society in Barbados and has danced with Movements and The Company Dance Theatre, while doing Kaleidoscope at Edna Manley as a child and classes with National Dance Theatre Company.


Though she admittedly can’t sing, she enjoys the likes of the UWI Chorale and UWI Singers. Johnson Smith also plays football and was vice captain of the Jamaica girls’ football team while she studied in Barbados.


When it comes to travelling locally, she enjoys Portland and Negril because of what they offer in terms of Jamaican beauty, and internationally it’s Paris and London.


Moreover, Johnson Smith believes in being disciplined and doing her very best, and encourages young people to believe wholeheartedly in that and put aside the myth that links supersedes qualifications.


"Nothing beats discipline and hard work; it’s not who you know. That myth needs to be put aside," she said and added that women need to be their sister’s keeper. "If you have doors open, when you walk through it hold it open too, don’t just walk through."


Johnson Smith added: "I’m very excited at the opportunities serving at this level provides me. It’s not something I planned, so I feel very, very blessed. I’m a pretty driven person. If I’m given something to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities and that’s something I got from my parents. If you’re given something to do you have to get it done."

   

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