Antigua St John's - Malaka Parker does not consider herself to be a politician. When confronted with questions regarding her political career (she is, after all, operating in a political environment) the youngest senator in the Upper House will characterize herself as a “parliamentarian”.
In a manner of speaking, Parker is right on that issue. While the average, less-than-observant person might be hard put to tell the difference, the fact that Senator Parker assists in the passage of legislation does not necessarily make her a politician.
While all members of the houses of parliament are legislators, not all legislators are politicians. By that definition, Parker correctly casts herself in the role of parliamentarian as opposed to that of politician.
In doing so, however, Senator Parker steers perilously close to a display of that skill so essential to the success of any aspiring politician. The reference here is to her ability to deliver a statement that, taken at face value, would seem disingenuous and make it sound as matter-of-fact and undeniable as a comment on the weather.
Talented the youthful legislator certainly is. Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer may have been the one to pluck his young constituent from a career at First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB) and pitch-fork her into the public eye. By then, though, Parker had already made her mark on her community, her peers, and her colleagues as a young leader to be taken seriously.
There are many who view Parker as the hand-picked successor to Baldwin Spencer, a protégé destined to succeed her powerful mentor in representing the constituency of St John's Rural West on behalf of the United Progressive Party (UPP).
Perhaps they are right. After all, succession planning is an integral part of leadership, and party leader Spencer should rightfully be looking to the day when, for one reason or another, the task of representing St John's Rural West must perforce pass into other hands.
Whether or not Spencer’s ploy (if that is indeed what it is) ultimately succeeds will depend in great part upon the internal dynamics of the party branch, upon the ambitions of others who may be eyeing the parliamentary seat for themselves, and upon Parker’s own ability to project herself as a politician nationally as well as in Rural West itself.
Perhaps as a means of blunting any lingering fears as to her maturity, diminutive Senator Parker is quick to point out that her petite form and gamine appearance are misleading. “I am not as young as I look,” she smilingly advises. By now, however, the unionist, labour organiser, youth leader, and former union president must have convinced all onlookers of her ability to stand tall in any role that comes her way.
She will certainly have the opportunity to do so in the months to come, as she adjusts to the demands that will accompany her latest assignment: that of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, Social Transformation, Consumer Affairs & Local Government.
Appointed with effect from March 1, the freshly minted Parliamentary Secretary is still testing the waters, gaining an appreciation of the manifold challenges confronting that sprawling, cumbersome ministry.
Long ago, though, Senator Parker identified the philosophical basis for her work. The Agenda of the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD), an arm of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), provides a comprehensive framework for the pursuit of social justice. The ICPD Agenda will guide the parliamentarian as she performs her political functions.
It is by no means accidental that Senator Parker is driven by a powerful hunger to ensure that justice for all becomes the norm in Antigua & Barbuda (at least).“I believe in social justice,” she declares.
The daughter of career public servants, Parker was born into a world where the cards were stacked against her from the very start.
It was bad enough that her father, Vincent Parker, an educator, and her mother Cynthia, a nurse, jointly represented the epitome of social service. This circumstance alone might have sufficed to condemn thechild of such a union to a life of dedicated public servicein the unrewarding fields of Antigua & Barbuda.
It was worse that she should have spent her earliest years as a resident of Grays Green, where social justice has traditionally been far from the norm.
At the tender and impressionable age of 11, however, little Malaka suffered through an experience that probably helped to form her character for life.
Imagine yourself the child of a struggling family hailing from one of the most depressed areas of Antigua & Barbuda. Imagine, further, that despite the low expectations that accompany such a socially un-impressive origin, the child leaps over the first major hurdle of her young life, achieving fifth place in the island in the crucial Common Entrance Examination.
Imagine, now, the traumatic letdown as the child of a couple of nobodies from nowhere is denied her patently earned right to the best education her country has to offer a place at the prestigious Antigua Girls' High School.
It was Baldwin Spencer, then leader of the opposition and member of Parliament for St John's Rural West, who took up the challenge of social justice, never resting until his young constituent had been given her just due.
Young Malaka Parker learned that the poor and the friendless often suffer grievously at the hands of those who operate the levers of entrenched privilege. Through the determined efforts of her parliamentary representative, the future leader learned that social justice is too often achieved only by dint of struggle – and that effective representation is the only way to redress the balance.
This is what makes Senator Malaka Parker run.
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