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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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From Beetham poverty to manager, Floyd Solomon overcomes
It was the new age author Ralph Blum who said nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings. In Floyd Solomon’s case, this was true to form. At first glance, the bright-eyed, 36-year-old looks quite polished and when he speaks he does so with authority. His words are well-pronounced, clean and clear-cut, coming through a booming distinct voice he has used in voicing ads. He is now a manager at a telecommunications company. But life was not always peaches and cream for Solomon. There were many hungry days, many sacrifices and countless lessons learned that sculpted this former Beetham Gardens resident into the gracious, compassionate man he is today.
When Solomon’s father, Clyde Solomon Sr, died at 37 in a car accident while on his way to work, it immediately took a toll on the family as daddy, a stevedore, was the sole breadwinner. Solomon’s mother Jacqueline, a homemaker who had only attained primary school level education, was left to put food on the table for Solomon and his older brothers Ricardo and Clyde Jr. She survived mostly on social welfare, which barely helped the family get by. Solomon said he only really became aware of their situation when he was around eight. “As a child growing up before the age of eight I did not realise that we were poor because I had no other lifestyle to compare ours to,” Solomon said. He remembers having nothing but sugar water to drink many times. His eyes searching the corners of his mind, he said, “It was like a staple in our house.”
They did not have three meals a day. There were no such “treats” like thriving households would normally have, such as peanut butter, jam, sausages or eggs. “If we got any of that it was like a huge deal. It was Christmas come early,” he joked. But through all their struggles, Solomon said his mother remained a pillar of strength with an unwavering faith. “I remember this one Christmas when there was so little on the table and I wished there was so much more, given what I saw on the tables of my friends’ homes in the neighbourhood. That is when my mother said to me it did not matter what was on the table, rather who is at the table. In her exact words, ‘We might not have what they have but we have a lot more in that we are at our table together praying; we are healthy and we love each other…we have love’.”
At that time his mother’s resolve did not make much sense to Solomon, but when he became a man he realised the seed his mother had planted. “She was teaching me that real wealth was not in having a lot of money, or a nice house, or even stocked cupboards, rather it was about family, humility and gratitude.” The father of two said he was able to relive that experience through his eight-year-old son, Jaden, at a 2013 Christmas dinner. Jaden had previously been told the story and asked his father if he could get sugar water for dinner instead of all the Christmas food fuss. “He came to me and asked, ‘Daddy, can we have sugar water tonight and pray together, the way you and grandma used to?’” The moment was a touching one for Solomon and he knew there and then the seed his mother planted years ago had indeed manifested in the fullest of fruit.
Managing an education
Worn-out school clothes, empty lunch kits and no schoolbooks were Solomon’s experience at primary and secondary school. He remembers being on the school feeding programme and taking a bread and butter sandwich to school. But no matter the situation, his mother always ensured he attended school. “From early my mother would always instill in us the value of education. ‘Do your homework and study before you play,’ she used to say. I suppose she saw education being the way to rise above the circumstances we were in.” Despite his situation, Solomon excelled in his studies and even leapfrogged from standard three to five at Nelson Street Boys’ RC, Port-of-Spain.
He credited his teachers like Mr Mohammed, Sekou Ajene and Mr Beaumont, who, once they had knowledge of his situation at home, became involved and would bring him lunch to ensure he had a solid meal to eat. Ajene was also instrumental in helping Solomon develop his spirituality. With their support, his mother’s and that of some community members, Solomon wrote the then Common Entrance exam and passed for his first choice Queen’s Royal College. The achievement was historic for his community, as for 15 years no boy from Beetham Gardens had passed for a college. He shared the moment with another resident Damian Weekes, who also passed for QRC. “When the community heard I passed for QRC, it was an instant celebration because many residents who knew of my academic potential thought I would have been zoned and sent to neighbouring schools like Success Laventille or Belmont Boys’ Secondary. Everyone was genuinely happy for me and many of them gave my mother and even me money and pledged to contribute to my books and stationary for the new school term,” Solomon related.
His teachers subsequently got together and purchased all his books and uniforms for his new school. Form one was one of only two occasions Solomon had all his books and uniforms—the other time being form six.
His battle with poverty continued when his mother had another child and his elder brothers became ineligible for social welfare. Not wanting to become a statistic, Solomon determined in his heart he would make it. He began collecting beer bottles in the community, which he sold at 25 cents a case to vendors. After school he worked at Kay Donna Drive In cinema in Curepe as a parking attendant. He also worked as a bartender whenever special events were held there. He got home after 10 pm most nights but still mustered the strength to do homework and at least one hour studying. But trying to balance his life as a schoolboy by day and employee by night inevitably took a toll on the then 16-year-old. Too tired to get up, he began missing school regularly.
Solomon’s teachers realised something was going on and the dean of discipline, Lennard Hinkson, also his Spanish teacher, intervened. “He picked up on my high absenteeism and called me to his office to find out what was the problem. I had never told anyone about my financial situation at home because I did not want anyone to pity me. But that day I decided to open up to Mr Hinkson about it. I distinctly remember his words,”Floyd, why didn’t you say something, we would have stepped in and helped you? “My initial response was to ask him how. That is when I was informed of the school’s fund which was set up for students who were finically challenged. He also knew I was good at accounting so he asked me to do a budget that would cover all my expenses.”
To his surprise, after the talk he began receiving free lunches from the school’s cafeteria and Hinkson presented two cheques to Solomon with the amount based on the budget he had done. The cheques covered all Solomon’s expenses and took him through both lower and upper form six. Elated, he took the cheques home to his mother but she placed them back in his hands and told him to manage it himself. “I trust you. You did not come this far to mess up,” she told Solomon. He subsequently attained seven passes at CXC and at GCE level secured high grades in management of business, accounting, Spanish and general paper.
Entering the world of work
While still attending QRC, Solomon got the opportunity to intern at the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC) on the invitation of its former manager of accounting and finance and executive director, Michael Alexander. Alexander had met Solomon at a basketball game. “We played a game against Fatima College and won. After the game Michael approached me and spoke of him being impressed with my leadership as the captain. He then invited the team to Harvard’s Sports Club to play an exhibition game against their basketball team. “It was after this game that he asked me if I would be interested in joining the company’s internship programme. My immediate response was yes.”
Solomon began working part-time while completing A level studies. It became a full-time job once he graduated. He was the lone provider in his home while also paying his way through university. He says that too was a huge accomplishment for him, as some in his community doubted he would have got the job because of the stigma associated with people who came from marginalised communities like the Beetham Estate. “They said that I was wasting my time and no one will hire somebody from the Beetham in a ‘big office’.” They said I would just end up doing URP, remain in the Beetham, and settle for a life and a family there.
“I can tell them now they were all wrong, because where I grew up never even mattered to my teachers or my job. All they saw was a young man who wanted to be different.” After exiting UTC, he became a business development officer at the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited (NEDCO), then on to Alston’s Marketing as a senior brand manager. When his brother Clyde Jr passed away in 2002 after a car accident, it was a highly emotional time for Solomon. Stricken with grief and the need to make his life more meaningful, Solomon drew closer to his spirituality and to God. This renaissance made him realise his true purpose was to lead a family in the same way his mother had lead theirs; with the key ingredients of integrity, humility and spirituality. It was on this new journey he met his wife Gayle, whom he says epitomises all that his now deceased mother stood for. “I could not be married to anyone else,” he says with a smile. Accepting Christianity and living a life after God has made Solomon appreciate all the blessings he received and why his journey began the way it did. With his past behind, Solomon says: “My humble beginning taught me how to have courage and faith. And I thank God that my success today was not by my own doing, but with the help of the many people God used to influence my life, especially my dear mother.”
Solomon now gives back to his beloved community through the Massy Group’s Boys to Men Mentorship Programme and he also mentors young men at his alma mater.
He left these words of advice to young men in his former circumstance: “Nothing that you are going through is by chance or left to waste; everything has meaning and purpose and will eventually shape the men you will become one day. But it will all count for nothing if you don’t take what you have learned and impart it to others to enrich their lives.”