Sharma Taylor: undeterred, ambitious
LIFE STORYTuesday, November 12, 2013
By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer email@example.com
ATTORNEY-at-law Sharma Taylor admits that she has often questioned whether she was good enough because of her humble upbringing, but even if she is still not convinced, the 32-year-old has achieved some impressive feats, including wowing both the Jamaican and New Zealand government which conferred her with a Commonwealth scholarship so she could complete a doctorate degree in law.
"These moments in life will come when you have to answer the question, 'Can I do this? Do I really believe?' And sometimes before you actually think you can, you just actually have to say you can do it and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.
The young attorney said she draws her inspiration from her mom, a retired schoolteacher, who spent 30 years in the classroom moulding young minds while eking out a living for her and her brother. Although she had only two biological children, Taylor said the care and dedication her mom lavished on her students at Seaward All-Age was such that she would often take them home to spend holidays with her or to simply spend a few weekdays when gang violence erupted in the often volatile Olympic Gardens community where the school is located.
"Even now, when we go on the streets, people from all walks of life, whether it is in the bank, in the supermarket, in the post office, people will come up to her and say, 'You know, Miss Christie, you made a difference'. She doesn't remember the faces and the names, because over the years, there have been so many, but they remember her," Taylor said.
"That for me showed that one intervention in somebody's life, you being there for them, giving them an encouraging word, it has a ripple effect and alters the course of what they do. So I had initially wanted to be a teacher because of that, seeing how she was and what she did. I remember even as a little girl I would teach the girls outside and I would take charcoal and mark up the wall because I was going to be a teacher," she said.
But life in the classroom does have its pitfalls, one being a low economic return, and her mom, wanting so much better for her, felt she could still do good being an attorney and encouraged her along this path. After sitting the Common Entrance Examination with the other students in her mom's sixth-grade class, Taylor secured a government place at St Andrew High School for Girls.
But then her insecurities, which have been her nemesis, followed her to the all-girls institution where her classmates were predominantly girls from upper and middle class backgrounds. Up until the ninth grade, she just cruised along until one day she walked into her English class and heard her teacher reading a short story she had written and declaring to the other students that it was the best one of all the others she had graded.
"It gave me that initial confidence and I thought to myself, well, if I can write a good short story for English class, maybe I can do this, and that moment was a sort of watershed and I realised that I was as good as anybody," she said.
From that day onwards, Taylor saw herself as being more than just an average student. She started representing the school in competitions and when she matriculated to do her Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill, she graduated with first class honours. She continued this trend at the Norman Manley Law School where she was placed on the principal's roll of honour and eventually received the David Coore bursary for academics, attendance, leadership, integrity and probity, and the Raphael Codlin prize for academic excellence. She also represented the law school at a few of their international debating competitions.
"It was one of those moments in life, where you come to a crossroads and you have to decide, 'Am I going to give in to my insecurities or fears and allow myself to just drop out, or am I going to decide that I am going to give it 100 per cent and that I can in fact do it, even before I see the results'," she said of that initial first step into university life.
Many other accomplishments came after. Taylor was able to secure the Carreras postgraduate scholarship in 2005 to pursue her Master of Laws degree at UWI and that same year, also participated in the National Youth Parliament at Gordon House on behalf of the Jamaican Bar Association. She was then nominated and shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Youth Award for academics in 2006.
The attorney, who started her master's degree while at DunnCox, where she was a litigation associate in 2007, moved on to become senior legal counsel at Columbus Communications Jamaica Limited (Flow) until leaving for New Zealand to undertake doctoral studies. Although she was told by an administrator that her chances of getting the coveted scholarship were slim seeing that a Jamaican had won it just the year before, Taylor was not deterred. She completed her studies at the Victoria University of Wellington earlier this year.
"My philosophy has always been, if I don't try, there is definitely a 100 per cent chance I won't get it, but if I try something, at least, however slim the chances are, there is a possibility," said the attorney, who is a Christian.
Upon going to New Zealand, Taylor joined a church group and was given an opportunity to undertake several mission trips. She went to Nepal, for example, in 2009, which proved to be a good exercise in humanitarianism since she primarily undertook community outreach projects with women and girls who were victims of the sex slave trade. Many of them had contracted HIV/AIDS as a result and were ostracised by their families and friends. Despite the obvious language barrier, Taylor found solace in offering whatever help she could.
"There was a particular lady, we couldn't communicate with each other, but we would sit together sometimes and she would hold my hand and she would touch my hair and my skin and we would smile and it meant so much to her," Taylor recalled.
Then in 2010, Taylor sojourned to Malawi and Mozambique with her church group and while there, assisted the residents with their farming so they could better themselves.
"The first time I set foot in Africa, I felt like this is where I belonged, it is like no feeling you have ever felt, it's the first time you are going to the place, but you feel like this is your home," said the attorney.
Although she had yielded to her mother's advice to choose law over teaching, Taylor still found herself in the classroom several times over the years. She has taught at various tertiary institutions such as the Paralegal Training Institute, the University College of the Caribbean, the UWI Distance Education Centre and she is now an associate tutor at the Norman Manley Law School.
"For me, teaching has always been seen in the sense of not just teaching them (my students) a subject area, but teaching them a sense of self-belief, that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, that you will never get that sense of 'I have arrived' or 'I already have everything I need', but you don't wait for that to take a risk and to step out," she said.
(Photo: Naphtali Junior)
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