KENYA Charles is one of the latest sporting personalities to enter the field of politics.
Charles, who last represented the TT women’s football team in 2015, believes her career in football developed character traits like determination and teamwork which would help her journey into politics. The UNC candidate for St Ann’s East in the upcoming 2020 general elections is also ready to face the critics.
She is one of several former and current athletes, along with sport administrators, to throw their hat into the political ring. Former West Indies cricketer Mervyn Dillon, TT shot putter Cleopatra Borel, former national football captain David Nakhid and TT Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis are among those who have attempted to enter politics this year. They follow a long history of athletes who have entered politics which included former national star netballer Jean Pierre, who was the minister of sport in the 1990s.
An athlete often has to face criticism from their coaches, fans and the media. The field of politics also places you in the firing line of criticism based on the decisions you make. Charles, 31, was asked if she was ready for that challenge when entering politics in 2019.
“That was a question put to me early because I am a private person generally and I was wondering if I would be able to (handle it)…I have been criticised before on many occasions and it never stopped me from being who I am today. That is just part of life…everybody have their reasons and they have their own opinions. I think I am ready for it. "
Playing football taught Charles about teamwork. Politics is no different, she said.
“Same thing goes in politics. It is not about you…I might be the candidate that everybody is seeing but I have a team behind me that is working, I have a party behind me, I have a political leader that gave me the opportunity. It is a team effort and I now have people that giving me their ear to speak and I now have to speak on behalf of them as part of the constituency.”
Charles, who still plays club football for St Augustine FC, grew up in Maracas Valley, St Joseph. She attended El Dorado West Secondary and St Augustine Secondary schools, the latter popularly known as the Green Machine. As a footballer, Charles helped the Green Machine to multiple football titles.
Her life in sports started long before that though.
“My sporting background started since I was a child because my father is Marlon Charles, former national player (and) former female coach. That did not make it easier for me to make the women’s team at all trust me, it made it even harder,” Charles said laughing.
Charles is also the cousin of former national player Alvin Thomas. “I came from a sporting background, football was it for me. I was around football from a young age and with my dad going out to the savannah I use to just follow him.”
Politics is not a walk in the park and Charles has shown her toughness during her playing career since she was a teenager.
“In 2005 I broke my nose…the same time the TT men’s team qualified for the World Cup I had a broken nose from a training session.”
Charles said it was a great experience travelling around the world with the women’s Under-20 national team.
On the senior team, Charles was not always available for team selection as she was pursuing a degree in the US. She had attained a football scholarship to attend Mars Hill University in North Carolina, before transferring to Bethel University in Tennessee where she completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Charles continued to educate herself as she returned to TT to complete her master’s in educational psychology.
“It was a lot to strike the balance that time. I struck the balance before, all the other times, but during the master’s (degree) you really needed to put in that time and effort.”
Charles, who was on numerous walkabouts with UNC, including last weekend in Santa Cruz, has realised that people need strong representation. “Thus far it has been an eye opener for me also.”
Charles has met residents in St Ann’s East and along the north coast.
“Places like Rincon have been forgotten by many. I am 31-years-old and since I have known myself St Ann’s East has been underneath the PNM and we have not gotten the representation that we deserve and you see that in places like Rincon.”
Charles also has a passion for young people. She was the assistant coach of the Real Maracas Under-18 boys team for approximately one year.
“My passion, if you realise, is young people. I decided if I can’t see proper representation throughout my constituency and especially in my are, let me try my hand and see what I can do to develop my constituency.”