Kaylia’s call to the Bar and related matters
by RALPH E. GONSALVES
On Monday, November 16, 2020, Kaylia Toney, a brilliant young lady, and two of her outstanding female colleagues, were called to the Bar as Barristers-at-Law and Solicitors before Justice Brian Cottle at the High Court of Justice; Kaylia and her parents, whom I know well, invited me to the Call. I always accept those invitations; I am frequently moved by the composite stories which these Calls tell us about struggle, sacrifice, solidarity, family, jurisprudence, and the further ennoblement of our Caribbean civilisation. This Call also emphasised, yet again, the transformative power of the Education Revolution, unleashed nearly twenty years ago and which is in the process of being deepened and broadened, in the nation’s interest. Young people are soaring with their wings unclipped. And many among us are taking it all for granted, even as our mercies, goodness, and justice are renewed morning by morning!
Kaylia and her two colleagues are children of the Education Revolution. So, too, the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Karim Nelson, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sejilla Mc Dowall, who respectively moved and seconded Kaylia’s call. It was a most joyous, emotional, and reflective occasion for me as I sat in the public section of the well-populated Court House with the young lawyers’ families and friends, being an eye-witness and an ear-witness to a remarkable and uplifting ceremony of achievement, of love, and of hope for our beautiful country and people. To be sure, though we are not better than anyone else, no one is better than us!
The Court was informed, dryly, by Affidavit evidence, as highlighted by Karim Nelson, of the requisites to satisfy statute law for Kaylia’s admission to practice law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Among other things, Kaylia’s brilliance as a student was sketched from primary and secondary schools, University of the West Indies (Mona Campus), and the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago. Along the way, she obtained a First Class Honours Degree from the University, an Honours Listing from the Law School, and an array of scholastic prizes; she was also an activist student in multiple uplifting ventures. All of this is testimony to an outstanding academic career thus far; and an all-round personality of the highest quality.
KAYLIA’S JOURNEY IS OUR COLLECTIVE JOURNEY, TOO
But Kaylia’s background story was not told; and it should be told. I know much of it from personal knowledge and from history, from her father’s side of the family tree. As a little boy growing up in Colonarie I first got to know Kaylia’s great grandparents Christiana Tempro and her life-long partner, Mandie Toney; they were well-known in our village; they were good people; they possessed great intelligence but little formal schooling; they were a strong family with many children, one of whom was Hugh, Kaylia’s grandfather, who eventually lived at Edinboro; they were hard-working, and they were poor. Christiana and Mandie were friends of my parents. I was a little brother to their sons Bertie, Hugh, Albert and Thomas. We were frequently in our respective parents’ humble dwelling-places. Kaylia’s journey is our journey, too. Chistiana, who outlived Mandie by many, many years, was slender in size, beautiful, and with an engaging persona. She was an admixture of African and Indian; Mandie was of pure African blood. As a boy, I heard that Christiana had family in Rose Bank. The enslavement of African bodies and the indentureship of Indians begat Christiana; Mandie’s forebears would have had to endure slavery up to 1838.
In the post-war years up to the early 1970s, Colonarie was dominated largely by two estates: Belle Vue Estate; and Colonarie Estate. Colonarie Estate, owned in that period by Alban Dos Santos, and later by Basil Balcombe, until subsequently purchased by Milton Cato’s Labour Party government, had the greater hold on our village. Mandie worked at the estate-owner’s Great House as a general handyman; he also helped to look after Dos Santos’ health; it was a settled view of the village that he periodically administered “the enema” to ease, allegedly, his employer’s constipation. That encouraged many to visit Mandie as a kind of “bush doctor”.
Christiana worked in the fields, especially the arrowroot fields. In my mind’s eye I can still see this slightly-built, dignified woman wielding her “5P hoe” digging arrowroot, better than any strong man! On evenings, like the virtuous woman in the Book of Proverbs, she would cook and sew for her family; like a merchant ship she would bring provisions from near and far. During “tri tri” season, she would go to the nearly Colonarie River to catch “tri tri”. I swear that other than my mother, she made the best “tri tri” cake in the world: Just the right amount of batter, fried dry, with enough curry and pepper. Even in Christiana’s old-age she would make “tri tri” cake for me, send it in a small container by a van-man, and had it hand-delivered to my Law Office for lunch! I loved her very much.
For recreation, Christiana would sit outside her board-house, which rested on stilts, with a thatched roof (old-man beard grass), and smoke cheap tobacco in her simple, chalk pipe; or she would join others, on moonlight nights, to sing and play ring games. I still remember many of the ditties which were sung.
Underneath the board-house, on stilts, was the storing place for the village steel band in which Bertie and Hugh were leaders; I was introduced to steel-pan playing by them. Bertie was a champion cyclist. The Toney boys were also very good cricketers; so, too, their first cousin Peter De Freitas, son of Beryl, Christiana’s first child. Racquel Lawrence nee De Freitas, our country’s youngest and first female Labour Commissioner, and Kaylia share the same great grandmother. They may not even know of their blood relationship.
Kaylia’s great grandparents moved from their board-house with thatched roof in the early 1960s after Ebenezer Joshua’s government built two-room wall-houses for many of the poor in Colonarie. The people in Colonarie supported overwhelmingly Joshua and his People’s Political Party. The next leader to build houses for the poor in Colonarie was Ralph Gonsalves in the early 21st century. More are to be built.
Up to the early 1960s, electricity did not exist in the homes in Colonarie; there was no pipe-borne water in the houses; and only pit toilets were available. Gradually, over time, this state of affairs changed; these changes were accelerated under the ULP government.
HUGH COMES/GOES TO TOWN
Hugh Toney, son of Christiana Tempro and Mandie Toney, and paternal grandfather to Kaylia, went/came to town. He married a wonderful woman from the country. They made their home at Edinboro.
Hugh as a quiet, intelligent man with strong views on life and living; he was disciplined; he was a good family man and model citizen. He worked for years as a driver for Banana Growers’ Association (BGA). I could still see him at the wheel of the jeep of the BGA; just as I would see him playing his guitar pan, or hitting the cricket ball very hard as a no-nonsense batsman, or riding the waves on the Atlantic, or swimming in the deep hole at Colonarie River, or fishing or hunting at nights.
Hugh’s son, Kaylia’s father, is a highly-valued person with abundant technical skills who has given yeoman’s service at the Ottley Hall Marina/Shipyard. Kaylia’s own words at her Call celebrate the immense contribution to her success of her own wonderful parents. And in the large sweep of history, this amazing journey started much earlier, even before Kaylia’s birth.
UNLIMITED SUPPLIES OF CHEAP LABOUR VS UNLIMITED SUPPLIES OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Between 1763 at colonialism’s organised beginning in our country and the sunset years of the 20th century, a span of nearly 240 years, the mantra was “development” with unlimited supplies of cheap labour in an economy dominated by a single crop in colonial or neo-colonial trade relations. Among other things, that “development” was based on cheap labour — slave, indentured or low-wage; in that past was Kaylia’s forebears. Today, sustainable development demands an unlimited supply of knowledge and skill in the quest to build a modern, competitive, many-sided post-colonial economy which is at once national, regional, and global. The old model became exhausted and led to a cul-de-sac by the forces of modernisation and trade liberalisation abroad, and social democratic advances at home. The other path — one of sustainable development — has to be grounded in hard and smart work through the fullest application of knowledge and skills. In this strategic path, among other things, the Education Revolution is pivotal. This is where Kaylia and her colleagues of their generation are so instrumental to our progress. Mirages, such as selling passports to foreigners, and quick-fix, quixotic ventures will not do.
It is to be noted that prior to 2001, there were few lawyers coming from the poor and working people; indeed, a disproportionate number of them came from families with a lawyering tradition. The Education Revolution, inclusive of massive financial support for the study of law at UWI and at Law School, has opened the floodgates for children of the poor, the working people, farmers, and fisherfolk. In this regard, too, young women have prospered immensely. The Education Revolution has been transformative for the poor, the working people, and hitherto marginalised women. We are lifting SVG Higher!
All those who participated in the Call of Kaylia and her colleagues have fascinating autobiographies; so, too, their historical forbears. Let’s celebrate them all!
The 20th century journey of Kaylia Toney originated, from among other places, the arrowroot field of a planter, tilled and reaped by a great grandmother with a “5P-hoe” and rushed onwards to the 21st century achievement of Kaylia Toney in the High Court of Justice, with a laptop and immense promise.
This, too, is our collective journey. The “dramatis personae” of the Call to the Bar included the DPP whose father was a policeman from Gorse and the Assistant DPP whose origins are from the inner-city of Kingstown, also have had amazing journeys. So, too, Kaylia’s two colleagues at the Call.
Christiana Tempro/Toney was not only a great grandmother to Kaylia and Racquel. Among the other great grandchildren of achievement include: A veterinary surgeon in the employ of the government; accomplished members of the Coast Guard, Police, and Prison Services; teachers and nurses; and college students. These achievements are in flesh and blood, not in monuments of stone or marble.
As I listened to the speeches at the Call and as I looked around the Court House, two iconic Vincentian poets came to my mind: First, Shake Keane, who advises us in “Private Prayer” “to come home to ourselves”; and in order “to understand how the whole thing run, we must ask our mother and father, our daughter and son”. Secondly, Daniel Williams in “We are the Cenotaphs” who teaches that: “We are all time; only the future is ours to desecrate; the present is the past.”
I am most pleased to be the living bridge between Christiana and Kaylia, with magnificent vistas opened up, and opening up, for all of us to Lift SVG Higher. These wonderful young people are central to our avoidance of desecrating our future. Although it is blissful for me to be alive; but for the young, it is very heaven. Together let us help to make them realise fully the benefits of their heavenly condition. Above all, though, they must seize the time and opportunities available; they must act accordingly! Kaylia is but one example!
Kaylia’s individual brilliance is to be celebrated. But far more important is the solidarity of so many who caused her brilliance to shine manifestly, in communion with others. This solidarity and communion ensure that this is a brilliance which illuminates, not an individualistic or selfish one, which necessarily blinds! More struggles and the accomplishments lay ahead! Blessings all around!
Dated the 18th day of November, 2020.