By Anesta Henry
Raised by a caring single mother who sacrificed to make sure her home was filled with love and peace, even when tangible necessities were at times out of reach, Senator Shanika Roberts-Odle promised herself that one day she would overcome the circumstances of poverty.
Making the best use of Barbados’ system of free education, she has accomplished more than just that.
The 35-year-old daughter of the soil, who has become known for her ability to command attention on the political platform, has been busy writing her name on history’s page, locally and internationally.
2022 has been an especially big year for Roberts-Odle.
Following the January 19 general elections, she was given the opportunity to serve as a Government Senator. In July, she was appointed Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Medicinal Cannabis Licensing Authority (BMCLA).
A few months later, she made her mark on the international stage when she was named among the Global 100 Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) under the age of 40, for her contribution to politics and governance. The distinction earned her a place at the Most Influential 100 Recognition Week 2022 events held in New York, from September 30 to October 4.
“I was excited about it. It’s a big thing at this point in my career to be recognised for the things that I have been able to do as it relates to politics, governance and other activities within Barbados,” she said about being included in MIPAD, which identifies high achievers in public and private sectors all around the world.
“One of the things we as Barbadians do is we are extremely humble about things; we don’t like to talk too much about the things that we have achieved. And while that is good in some ways I realise, particularly coming out of the lost decade, that people need an opportunity to see other people achieving, not necessarily for bragging rights but because it allows you to keep working, to see that somebody else is getting somewhere and I will get there too, if I keep working,” Roberts-Odle told Barbados TODAY at the BMCLA’s Warrens, St Michael office.
Knowing what it means to truly struggle to make ends meet and work hard to achieve academic and professional success, Roberts-Odle declared that she is aspiring to be a positive example for younger generations.
She noted that, unfortunately, many young people believe there are no opportunities for them and fail to see a promising future.
“So, I want to take this time to point out that your future is yours. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what exists around you in the space you are in. You have to look at what it is that you want to do and what you want to be and lock into that,” said Roberts-Odle, who has spearheaded several community-oriented projects.
“I can tell anyone that I know what it is to be poor. I know what it is to eat only the breadfruit that is on the tree next to you because the only money that your mother is making has to go to rent because if it doesn’t there will be no place for you to live, and I know what that can do to you psychologically.
“But I also know what it is to lock into focus, to see that this does not have to be my future, this is my past. Because I can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it. But you need to see the vision of someone doing it in order for you to know there is a possibility.”
Questioned about why she entered politics, Roberts-Odle said that from an early age, she recognised that the opportunities that were available for her to overcome her obstacles had come as a result of legislation passed and policies set by people in the political arena.
“The framework is there, but what we have stopped doing in some cases is tapping into the framework. And, for me, what I understood is that somebody had to take the slings and the arrows. Somebody had to take all the ‘politics is a nasty game’ talk but focused on what they needed to do to accelerate the lives of poor people, to give opportunities and spaces for advancement. And someone has done that for me during the course of my life.
“Without free education, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to afford to go to university, to have a master’s, to have a bachelor’s, to even go to secondary school. Going to university itself was a hard thing when my mother was alive because as she pointedly told me one day, ‘sweetheart, I cannot pay for these books that you need, or for you to get there every day’. This meant that I had to work during the summer vacation every year to be able to have money for books. One of my uncles, who unfortunately passed, would give me money every week to ensure that I could get to and from university.
“In Barbados, that has been the relay race of many families, where one person in each generation has gotten the opportunity to get somewhere but is looking back to help others. So my uncle was the first and only one in my mother’s generation to go to university,” she added.
Though not speaking as loudly as she would have on a political platform, the motivational speaker boasted that Barbados has one of the best and most stable governance systems in the region because past and present leaders view the governing process as a relay race.
“You can’t tear down what was done before you. It’s a relay race until we get to where we need to go as a nation. And that means that despite our political differences, despite our different views, there has to be respect and understanding and love for your country because, at the end of the day, advancing Barbados is the only goal of us all.
“And that is why for me, you have to examine where you are at, examine the group of people that sit around you and if you can be settled that we are all pushing for Barbados, then you are in the right place at the right time,” she said.
Roberts-Odle, who said she intends to advance her political career, indicated that her immediate focus is on her role as a senator and her responsibility to make sure Barbadians understand the legislation passed in the Upper House and how those laws are expected to improve people’s lives.
The international trade policy specialist is taking the same approach in her role at the BMCLA, the agency tasked with successful implementation of the medicinal cannabis industry.
“I feel pressure, but it’s good to have an opportunity to have an impact. I think it goes with the Prime Minister’s commitment to giving young people an opportunity to make their mark. Here, I really want to be able to work hard to see this come to fruition for Barbadians. I want to do as much as I can to fulfil this particular promise to Barbadians,” Roberts-Odle declared.