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Celebrate your fabulousness—Wendy Fitzwilliam to Nelson Street Girls’ RC

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

People don’t throw stones at barren trees, Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam told pupils of the Nelson Street Girls’ RC in a motivational talk January 29 at the school.

“They see in their heads you are a rung above, they want what you have…” she told the girls from the Standards 1-5 classes, who listened closely to her stories. Fitzwilliam, a lawyer, actress, model, singer, and TV host shared various anecdotes about her life and journey to being Miss Universe.

A smiling Fitzwilliam recalled her thinness when she was competing to be Miss Trinidad and Tobago. She joked that her nickname in secondary school was “mantis” for praying mantis. She added, “And I am not pale black. I am black black and proudly black black.”

Although she was a model for fashion designer Meiling and others, after becoming Miss Trinidad and Tobago there were positive comments but also very hurtful ones too like ‘where that tall, thin black girl think she going? She will never make a note at Miss Universe’. Fitzwilliam said, “That is why to this day I don’t listen to the radio. I had my own radio show for eight years and did not listen to the radio because the things you hear so vile, so ugly and I heard things…”

She recalled as Miss Trinidad and Tobago going into the Dairy Bar ice-cream shop in St James with friends and a homeless man looked at her and said, “I don’t know where you going nah, only dog like bone”. Fitzwilliam shared her  hurt that most of the comments came from people who looked like her. “I can’t deny that it did hurt and I thought to myself ‘why are they treating me like this?’.” She was “fortunate” to have parents, and their friends who always believed in her.

Responding to another question during the Q and A, Fitzwilliam said she experienced “subtle” racism. She and her sister Dionyse “lived very much in a bubble” with a “very diverse” upbringing. Her father was a “saltfish”—easygoing and had friends from all walks of life. One of his best friends was a “white Trinidadian”. Her mother grew up in Tortuga and she had a best friend of East Indian descent.

Her first “taste” of racism was when she entered secondary school. A few girls in her class who looked like her approached her with “plenty attitude” asking “Who are you? Where you come from?”.  The two girls to befriend  her were of other races.

She explained the racism was, “never overt… because I won Miss Universe and who I am but I use my platform, the opportunity I get to cut it down to size, politely. I’m never disrespectful but I am very firm in celebrating my black fabulousness.” She asked the pupils, “Are you going to celebrate your fabulousness as well?”

“Yes!” the girls yelled in response.

Through each anecdote she had an encouraging message- to work hard, prepare for whatever career they chose but have a “fall back” position if their choice did not work out. She told the girls that at times they will do things they love and at other times, they may have to do things they did not love.  “What do you have to do? Press on,” Fitzwilliam said. She advised the girls that it was important how they presented themselves and to be careful what they posted on social media as this was a “permanent record”.

Fitzwilliam’s visit was facilitated by the alumni of St Joseph’s Convent (SJC), Port of Spain. A few members of the past pupils’ association have been mentoring pupils of Standards One and Five since 2018 with the aim of exposing them to attitudes and practices which will serve them throughout their life.