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VIDEO: Couple shows what determination can achieve

Staff reporter

Sunday, June 13, 2021

In 2011, Tashanna Walker of Trench Town, Kingston, and Henkel Valentine of Rio Grande Valley, Portland, both took a step in faith and enrolled at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, not knowing how their tuition would be covered.

Walker and Valentine met in 2015 after being accepted for a postgraduate scholarship and got engaged in 2020. Today, they are both using their success stories to encourage youngsters to take the first step even if all seem to be at odds.

“Just start. If you have the determination to complete it, the rest will figure itself out,” Valentine, a graduate of Titchfield High School, told the Jamaica Observer.

The 28-year-old has completed his PhD in Biochemistry. He related that growing up as a youngster, life was far from easy.

“Coming from a deep rural community, you know that you're faced with many challenges, opportunities sometimes are lacking, and it requires a particular push, a particular drive in order to achieve certain things. But, thankfully, growing up, I had the support of my parents who saw from very early that in order for their child, who is from a financially challenged background, to succeed, education was that key to unlocking those doors and those opportunities,” he said.

“My parents pushed me from basic school. They ensured that I knew that in order for me to achieve what I wanted, I had to focus. Being here today is because of that drive and that push from my parents.”

Valentine said one of the major challenges was financing, noting that nothing was set in stone for his family.

“I am from a very humble financial upbringing. So, my parents, like a lot of Jamaicans, they did jobs that didn't really have set salaries at the end of the month. For me, one of the major things was to just start. Attending university, it wasn't a case where I knew where any of the funding was coming from. Even in high school… at any given point, I never knew where any funding or books or anything like that is coming from,” he recalled.

“It was a case where I knew I had to start, because if I never started, then I would still be in the same situation that I was in prior. I had to get the ball going somehow and then figure it out as I go along. For a lot of persons, it's really a major deterrent. When you look at all the obstacles, they don't know how they are going to manage,” added Valentine.

His fiancée, Walker, 28, a graduate of Wolmer's High School for Girls, described trying to succeed in an inner-city community as mentally taxing. She is currently a PhD candidate in urban geography at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“Everybody know Trench Town. Everybody know the nature of the community… the history of the community – very violent, very volatile – but as a young ambitious person coming from Trench Town, it's an uphill battle. I've had a lot of help along the way to reach this point,” she said.

She said that people in inner-city communities have a tendency to give up before they start, and has urged them to remain aggressive in the pursuit of their dreams.

“Push for every opportunity that comes. It might work out. Don't count yourself out. Just apply for every opportunity that comes your way. Don't take any of them for granted. If there are 10 opportunities, apply for the 10 of them. Don't bother to pick one and regret the other nine because of laziness, procrastination, or self-doubt,” she stated.

During her academic tenure at Wolmer's, she was elected head girl. This, she said, was a very rewarding experience.

“It was fun and challenging, but I think that really set me on a path to the success I have achieved to date, because I really got a lot of support from the Wolmer's Alumni, and persons really started to buy into my story, to say this girl from Trench Town, she's not just smart, she has these other talents. And I got that support that I needed to get me to where I am today,” said Walker.

“I was very active in school. I tried to get myself involved in all the clubs and societies. I was always president, vice-president… whatever is going on. And I used to participate in these smaller clubs and societies, the less popular ones like Maths Club, Science Club. I just did my thing.”

Many youngsters in “ghetto” communities are introverted or shy, she added.

“Try to put yourself out there. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone as much as possible. That's how you get to meet people that will help you on your journey,” Walker advised them.

Walker is currently conducting research on Trench Town, which has been inspired by her experience growing up.

“Experiences through crime and violence, and also policing, militarisation, all of that. I'm very excited about my work and really proud of all that I have accomplished to date,” she said.