Street vendor thrilled as two daughters graduate from UWI
‘This let me achieve greatness,’ young woman says of stall
Over the last 25 years, Elizabeth ‘Jennifer’ Williams was shot once and robbed multiple times as she tried to eke out a living on the gritty Corporate Area streets and send her five daughters through school. Last week when two of her daughters graduated from The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, it was validation that despite the dangers, the risk was worth it.
“Dem never have any fathers fi stand up fi dem. Dem fathers run from the responsibility, so mi haffi stand up and seh mi nuh want dem be worse off dan kids weh live wid dem mother and father,” a relieved Williams told The Gleaner.
Her two youngest daughters, Iesha and Christal Bell, graduated from The UWI with degrees in psychology and liberal studies, respectively.
Christal, the only sister who participated in the graduation ceremony, expressed pride in her achievement. But she is equally proud of her mother, who she has observed making many sacrifices over the years to ensure they could keep hope alive for a better life.
“I am proud of myself to know that she pushed me to do really great so I don’t have to come here [at the stall] in the future to do something like this. But I still want to remember my roots, where I am coming from. This let me achieve greatness,” she said.
“Sunday to Sunday, mi deh road. Mi wi leave she [Christal] a di stall and go up go wash, cook, and come back down by inna di night and dem fi go up fi go school a morning. It wasn’t an easy task, mi haffi bend mi mind ... . I never go out – no freedom; nothing at all more than here so,” her mother chimed in.
Williams started out selling shoe polish and brushes before upgrading to a juice stall. She then progressed to her current stall, which offers a wide variety of merchandise in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, using the profits and partner draws to fund her children’s education.
Christal said that Williams insisted that neither she nor Iesha would take student loans to attend university and made sure they participated in overseas summer work and travel programmes to the United States as she also wanted them to experience travelling.
“In the last year of my university, when I came back from work and travel, I said, ‘I’ll pay for my tuition’,” Christal told The Gleaner. “She’s like, ‘No. Keep your money. Save your money’, and she paid for it nonetheless.”
Throughout her tenure at Tarrant High and then The UWI, Christal would help her mom at the stall. And although she said she was not embarrassed to be seen selling on the streets, she experienced bullying and discrimination because of it.
“Sometimes I’m here and persons don’t want something because they say maybe it’s expensive and they’re like, ‘If yuh did tek yuh lesson inna school, you wouldn’t deh ya suh a sell’,” she further related.
But juggling her studies with selling at the stall was at times challenging.
“Sometimes I didn’t get the chance to study because I had to be here supporting her, but nonetheless, I accomplished this,” said the elated grad. “There was this time when I had a presentation at UWI, my mom had to go to town (downtown Kingston) and she left me here and my presentation started at 1 p.m. I had to close down the shop and ran up to UWI at 1:30 p.m. to get my presentation done.”
Now, she looks back on these moments with pride, seeing them as stepping stones to a future she and her mother can be proud of.
“I’m feeling really good to accomplish something great. ... Not a lot of persons use this to reach that far and it’s a milestone,” she said, sharing that she intends to pursue a master’s in integrated communication, starting next year.