1. What was your favorite age growing up?
Looking back on my childhood, I can honestly say that all my years growing up in Trinidad and Tobago were my favorite. However, I particularly cherished the years I spent playing football seriously before leaving for university on a football scholarship at the age of 17.
Between the ages of 11 and 17, I played for a minor league team in Champs Fleurs called Santos, which was my best time. Unfortunately, my dad did not allow me to play sports at St. Mary’s College, so I had to sneak away to play until I reached form six, when he finally allowed me to play. It was during these formative years that I discovered my passion for football, and I would say that the period between the ages of 11 and 16, 17 was the most meaningful for me.
2. What is it you remember most about the place or time you grew up?
As I reflect on my life, I find myself using the games and teams I played with as a reference point for my memories. One significant period for me was when I was between the ages of 12 and 14. During those years, every July and August, I would visit my uncle’s place in Laventille to play with my cousins. At the same time, I was also playing for Santos, a team I joined at the age of 13 or 14, competing against adults in the Eddie Hart League. Looking back, I have fond memories of Champs Fleurs, St. Joseph, and Laventille, which were the areas where I grew up.
In addition to playing sports, I spent a lot of time on the land we owned in St. Joseph, which helped me develop a deep appreciation for nature and the river.
3. What is your proudest personal achievement in life and why?
When I think about my proudest personal achievement in life, my four boys come to mind without a doubt. They are turning into great men, and I couldn’t be prouder. Another major achievement for me was my success in football. I was the first player from Trinidad and Tobago to play in Europe’s First Division in 1988-89, and I also had the distinction of being the first player to play in the Champions League (European Cup).
Throughout my career, I won the MVP of the Caribbean three times, was named National Player of the Year twice, and was voted one of the best 100 players in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as one of the best 50 players in the College’s League. I also received several personal awards in football, including Player of the Year at American University twice, Player of the Year in Lebanon three times, and Player of the Year in Belgium twice. Looking back, I am proud of all these personal achievements and awards.
4. Has there been a particular struggle that has defined your life’s journey? Why this struggle?
One of the struggles that has most defined my life is when I started my activism protesting against South African apartheid while studying at American University in Washington DC. Our campus was located on Massachusetts Ave, right by the South African embassy at the time. That’s where my activism began, and it eventually led me to Lebanon, where I advocated for the fair treatment of African players, including 20, 29 or 27 players, who were being mistreated. Unfortunately, my efforts led to me being jailed.
Despite the challenges, we were eventually able to change the law in the football federation and improve the treatment of African players and foreign players in general. This experience taught me the importance of standing up for what is right and using my voice to fight against injustice, even in the face of adversity.
5. Throughout your life, what has been your main source of inspiration, or your main source of strength to take on the challenges you have faced?
It may sound cliché, but my main source of inspiration has always been the struggles of our forefathers in Islam and my own family’s history. I look to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his family, and I draw strength from their struggles. In contemporary times, I find inspiration in Malcolm X, whose teachings were instrumental in my development.
These individuals and their stories serve as a reminder that the road to progress is often filled with obstacles and challenges, but with determination and faith, we can overcome them. I am grateful for their examples and the lessons they have taught me, and I strive to apply them to my own life and work.
6. What incident(s) would you point to as the main turning point(s) in your life, in the context of this journey.
There were several turning points in my life, but a few stand out in particular. One was when I almost got arrested during a protest in Washington, D.C. The situation became tense and violent, but I was fortunate to have a girlfriend who used her white privilege to help secure my release. This experience opened my eyes to the power of privilege and its impact on the world.
Another turning point was when I protested against the University of South Florida for allowing three South African students who had served in the South African army to play on their team. The protest almost cost me my scholarship, but with the help of my teammates and the exception of one English player, we were able to make a difference.
Finally, meeting coach John Kerr, Sr. in Washington, D.C. was a crucial turning point for me. He became a mentor and had a significant influence on my development after leaving Trinidad. Overall, these experiences have taught me the importance of standing up for what I believe in and the power of mentorship in shaping one’s path in life.
7. Are there any hidden talents or skills you would like to share with us?
My hidden talent or skill is cricket. People may not know this, but I was an excellent cricketer, and still am. As an open batsman and wicketkeeper, I played at a high level, representing St. Mary’s under-16 team and Curepe Sports men’s open level team. I was considered to be very talented in the sport. Additionally, I also played basketball at a high level and performed well.
8. What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
My favorite way to spend a day off would be to either stay at home and read, or go to the river or beach for some relaxation. Another option would be to watch a cricket match or simply relax around the Savannah. I also enjoy listening to puns and drinking Desperados, it’s my favorite drink.
9. When you want to give up, what keeps you going?
I never think about giving up, never! Not once!
10. What inspired you to become a politician?
I have always been inspired to help people, and I believe that my upbringing played a significant role in shaping this desire. I come from a family of individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others. Having seen the struggles that people in Laventille and the East-West Corridor face, I am motivated to make a positive difference in their lives. My uncle, Rudolf Charles, a.k.a ‘The Hammer,’ hails from Laventille, and I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by the residents there. As a politician, I aim to address the issues that the current government has neglected for over 52 years and strive to make a real impact in the lives of the people in the East-West Corridor.
11. Compare life in the Middle East to life in TT
Life in the Middle East depends on where you are. In my opinion, Lebanon and Trinidad and Tobago are very similar societies, both being faith-based and community-oriented. Of course, Lebanon is more so than Trinidad and Tobago. I often refer to Lebanese people as “fair-skinned Trinbagonians.” However, if you compare it to Dubai, where I also lived, it is very different. Dubai has a very ostentatious and luxurious lifestyle due to proper leadership and more equitable distribution of resources to the people. In contrast, we haven’t had that here in Trinidad and Tobago. Our major stakeholders, Africans and Indo-Trinbagonians, have been left out of the loop for the most part. Small communities have benefited in an inequitable manner, not at the expense of the Afro and Indo-Trinbagonians, but due to the PNM government’s control of those communities and the kickbacks they receive. However, the Syrian community has flipped the script through their involvement in drugs, as well as the Chinese. They now control the PNM.