Turf fuss over Toni-Ann

THE people of Arcadia, St Thomas, say they, too, have a stake in the ‘ownership’ of Miss World 2019, Toni-Ann Singh, a native of the soil.

This follows reports of her background as being born in Bath, St Thomas. But the residents of Arcadia insist that the community has outdone Bath in laying the foundation for Singh’s development.

When the Observer visited Arcadia on Wednesday, residents said they were eagerly awaiting Singh’s return.

Toni-Ann arrived in the island on Friday for a four-day visit and was scheduled to return to her home parish last night for the Unruly Fest stage show. She will tour sections of the eastern parish today, then fulfil other engagements in Kingston tomorrow before jetting off to some 40 other countries during her reign.

When the Observer visited Arcadia, residents said the small farming district in eastern St Thomas would have been the stomping ground for young Singh between the ages of four and five years old before she emigrated to the United States with her parents.

And while Toni-Ann’s mother, Jahrine Bailey, is in fact from Bath, her father, Bradshaw Singh, was born and raised in Arcadia where residents said Toni-Ann spent much of her early childhood.

Residents boasted that Toni-Ann’s father, a past principal of Barking Lodge Primary School in the parish, is a son of Arcadia and a shining example of hard work and ambition.
But now that his daughter has carried the mantle to an even grander stage, residents say Toni-Ann’s achievement will spur young people in the community to go after dreams they never thought possible in their lifetime.

Kingston College old boy Dr Warren McCalla, also a proud son of Arcadia and a general practitioner at Intown Comprehensive Health Clinic in Morant Bay, showed the Sunday Observer around the close-knit community.

“This is where she would have spent some time as a child before leaving Jamaica,” McCalla said, motioning to the quaint blue house where Singh’s father was raised with nine siblings. In the front of the yard were two headstones marking the burial spots of Toni-Ann’s paternal grandparents and where she will be making floral tributes to them today.

Dr Warren McCalla reflects on Toni-Ann’s win and what it means for the residents of Arcadia, St Thomas.
Dr Warren McCalla reflects on Toni-Ann’s win and what it means for the residents of Arcadia, St Thomas.

“This should be fresh motivation for the people of Arcadia to know that they can achieve whatever they set out in life to achieve. The fact that someone who would have walked the same ground they walked on, drank the same water, somebody who is from the same community, was able to achieve something on such a grand scale, a zeal should be present in the young people to achieve their goals,” McCalla said.

Singh’s cousin, Livernie Alladien, told the Sunday Observer that the family had got together just weeks before Toni-Ann — who, by then, was the reigning Miss Jamaica — flew to London where she was crowned Miss World 2019 on December 14.

“It was a great feeling. Even though you could say I am an old person, her achievement opened up my mind and my eyes to see that we have a lot to give here in Arcadia. We already have some outstanding children who come from Arcadia, and to see another one become Miss World is just a wonderful feeling,” said Alladien.

Having raised her own daughter and now a granddaughter in Arcadia, Alladien argued that the children in Arcadia need more exposure to opportunities outside the community.

“People have a ting fi say ‘when you bring Arcadia kids out of the community, they can’t win any race because them nuh expose’. That stuck in my head from I was a child until now,” said Alladien.

“But now I am thinking about the children coming up in Arcadia, today and I hope they see that they can do anything they want to do, because they don’t always get the kind of exposure that they need to see that more is out there to achieve,” she said.

“I also think about the girls in Arcadia who need opportunities. Because the community is so small, most of them hardly ever leave and there is no exposure, and there is not much opportunities that they know about,” Alladien added.

Her daughter, Stephanie Davidson, who bore quite a resemblance to her cousin, also shared her excitement for Toni-Ann’s crowning with the Sunday Observer.

“I am very happy for her. But I knew she was going to win because of her personality. She is a very optimistic person, and even if she didn’t win, I knew she would be happy to be in the pageant because she had an adventure,” Davidson said.

She spoke excitedly also about intimate moments she shared with her cousin during her time in the island competing for the Miss Jamaica crown.

“Everybody now is used to the Toni-Ann all dressed up, but I am used to Toni-Ann more relaxed, us going to the beach and eating fish and she being like ‘Auntie Livernie, can I get more fish?’”, Davidson said, laughing.

“I am used to a whole different side of her and I was very happy to see her win. I don’t think I have enough words to explain what this means for the community. The day when she won, the whole district had their pot covers knocking and jumping all over the place. Everybody was proud to know that this little girl came from this same district and win Miss World,” she added.

Other residents of Arcadia shared their initial reactions to Singh’s achievement with the Observer.

“From mi hear the woman say ‘Ja…’, mi run out wid mi pot cover. Mi not even wait fi di woman finish announce the winner,” said Michelle Roache, a close friend of Singh’s relatives.

“Everybody in the community feeling happy right now knowing we have a Miss World coming from Arcadia, the district in St Thomas that nobody recognise. Wi feeling good because if Arcadia never plant the seed, it couldn’t work,” Roache joked.

This, of course, was in reference to Singh’s father whose parents and grandparents were also foundation members of the district. In fact, as recently as January, Alladien said that Toni-Ann sang at her grand-aunt’s funeral where residents of the community met her.

“She sang at my mother’s funeral recently and when she win Saturday everybody was calling me asking if she was the same girl who sang at Penny’s funeral,” Alladien said.

“In August, before the Miss Jamaica competition, the entire family spent time together and she was a bit nervous and I was telling her that she was going to win. The entire family is joyful.”