“Your address does not define your success.” ~ Writer, blogger, TV host
Social Media Influencer
By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)
And there it was. A two storey, pale pink apartment complex with grey accents, looming large at the end of the cul-de-sac. Clearly in need of a paint job and repairs, it may be frowned upon by some outsiders, but to the dwellers, it is their world. It’s home.
With her customary huge grin, travel and lifestyle blogger and social media influencer, Ianthia Ferguson, jumped out of her Volkswagen Beetle in a bright yellow summer dress, a leopard printed turban wrapped around her head, flashing her trademark red lips and gave me a big hug. She then stood there and viewed the building with its towering presence, pointing to the door of the apartment where she once lived.
The middle door on the ground floor is entrance to the apartment where Ianthia grew up.
This corner is in the Wilson Tract area. The area is over the hill, bordering East Street and Wulff Road and is known as The Grove. In fact, there is another, more affluent area in New Providence with a similar name: The Grove West or as it is called on the streets, “The White Grove.” The people…the cultures are poles apart.
Meanwhile, Ianthia is proud of where she grew up. It was in this building and this area where she met family. They were not blood relatives, but they were family.
As I took photos, I noticed a movement from behind a screen door at the bottom left of the apartment. I figured these people didn’t know us and perhaps wondered why strangers were taking photos and pointing at their space. I suspected they were suspicious of us. That was until the lady careened her neck out of the door and recognized Ianthia – the child who once lived next door.
The moment Ianthia spotted an old neighbour, she got excited.
There were hugs from the lady, whose name is Kesna. She didn’t hasten to call her 71-year-old mother, who had no problem coming to the door adorned in head cloth and night clothes at about 4:30 in the day. She was beaming when she saw Ianthia, who referred to her as, “Ms. Elder.” More hugs ensued as Ms. Elder proudly declared, “Dis my grandchild!”
Ms. Elder has rented that apartment for over 30 years.
Ms. Elder, who has lived in the complex for over 30 years, takes Ianthia down memory lane.
Ianthia pointed at the narrow porch, reminiscing that it was where she learned how to ride her bicycle and skate.
“There are so many memories here. It’s nostalgic. There were a bunch of children all about in the yard. And if my mummy said, ‘Don’t come off the porch,’ I couldn’t come off. Everyone was family. We use to look out for each other,” she recalled.
Ianthia then veers off, pointing: “You remember when Marco and Mario planted this tree?”
It was under the same tree where her uncle held birthday parties that coincided with Guy Fawkes Day.
Ianthia was born and raised in this area.
“I had family nearby. Our neighbours doubled as grandmothers and aunts and cousins and uncles; we all looked out for each other, and to this day we still do,” said Ianthia.
Ianthia being held by her maternal grandmother, the late Sylvia Saunders, in the yard where she was born and spent her formative years. The wall still stands today.
“I lived there for most of my childhood, but moved out of the area when I was about eleven or 12 years old; this is when I moved to Ridgeland Park – not quite the suburbs. When I was in the 10th grade, my dad, my sister, brother and stepmother moved to St. Andrew’s Beach Estates – the suburbs,” she revealed.
Nevertheless, Ianthia has no regrets about her roots.
“My parents (Ian Smith and Benedicta Damas) did a phenomenal job at shielding us from many of the deficiencies of the area, while at the same time exposing us to our roots and what was our home at the time,” said Ianthia, who grew up in the Wilson Tract area with her mother and younger sister, Ivana.
“Although my mom and dad weren’t together, they were (and still are) the best co-parents for us. I lived with my mom, but my time was equally shared between both sides of my family and they made sure that was a mainstay…I have phenomenal parents and from a very early age they taught us that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can be and do whatever you want in life and that has stuck with me,” she added.
Newlywed, Ianthia, with her photographer husband, Farreno Ferguson and her parents, Ian Smith (L) and Benedicta Damas (R).
‘Your address does not define your success’
Ianthia has no negative stories about living over the hill. In fact, she created a shift in a common story about those who are accomplished today but came from this area, which we do not deny have some ugly truths.
“I know what the general thoughts are on successful people who come from over the hill – that there’s always this down trodden defeated journey that they finally overcome. But my journey was a little different. I was actually teased in school for being a “Rich girl,” she noted.
“Can you believe it?” she continued, “I lived in the same neighbourhoods and walked the same track roads to get to school but they hated me because my parents took me to Disney World or I came to school with a new pair of shoes in the middle of the semester, or my dad would randomly pop up with McDonalds for lunch. My success is the result of a big over the hill family who taught me that your address does not define your success,” she stated.
Ianthia and her cousin Reggie on graduation day from Columbus Primary School.
It was while growing up in that apartment Ianthia came first in her class every single semester at Columbus Primary School. It was while growing up in that apartment a studious Ianthia was nominated for the first ever Primary School Student of the Year Award. It was in that department where she learned words and their meanings, and spelled her way to success, winning the Ministry of Education’s District Spelling Bee competition twice for C. H. Reeves Junior High.
“So I knew very early on, success was on me – not my address. My parents always made it a point to expose us to a world beyond what we saw daily; every summer we traveled to somewhere new, we watched TV programming that helped to open our eyes and minds to a broader world and I was an avid reader…it would seem like living in Wilson Tract and achieving all I have, means I defied some odds, which is essentially true but, honestly some odds I never even saw because my mom refused to let me out the house some days. We were perfectly sheltered and perfectly exposed at the same time,” she reminisced.
Social Media Influencer
Today, the little girl who went to Columbus Primary, C.H. Reeves and eventually to a private school – Westminster College – where she graduated as valedictorian – is representing over the hill well. She is a tv host, travel and lifestyle influencer, who once anchored television news for the country’s national news network. She is also author of two e-books, ‘Create. Post. Push.’ and ‘P*tch Say What?!’ – a 5-step guide to pitching, getting picked and getting paid. This is in addition to being a contributing writer for XONecole, Travel Noire, ESSENCE.com and Forbes Travel Guide.
That’s not even all, but that’s what I’ve decided to mention.
Ianthia’s latest e-book, P*tch Say What?!
So what was the defining moment that opened Ianthia’s eyes about the possibilities that existed while living over the hill?
“Honestly, there’s no one defining moment. I owe this all to my parents, in reality. They protected, shielded, fended off, kept me away from, guarded and guided me down this path. There was never a time where I even had to look up and say, ‘I have to get out of this place.’ The area known as over the hill and being what it is and having the history and reputation that it does, never adversely affected me. I only knew it as home. I was aware that it wasn’t some affluent, rich neighbourhood, but it was home,” said the grateful daughter.
Ianthia (r) had an outgoing personality from a little girl. She is shown here with her sister, Ivana.
Ianthia added that growing up over the hill has definitely shaped her into who she is today and worked for her during her news reporting days.
“It’s made me humble, made me value family and friendships, made me value education and even success. Even in my life as a reporter, being from these parts, has helped. Since I walked these streets, went to the schools and knew people who also lived over the hill, getting interviews was super easy, especially when it came to doing man-on-the-street interviews and even the hard ones we were forced to do after some tragedy,” said Ianthia.
Advice to youth
Questioned as to what advice she would give to young people living over the hill, Ianthia said they should not allow their address to define them.
“They are bigger than whatever situation surrounds them and with the love and support of their family, a keen focus to be the best they can be, they too can elevate to whatever level they dream of. I think a lot of people become so attached and connected to the areas they live in, they can’t see anything beyond it and there’s so much beyond it,” concluded the young woman who recently attended Summit21 in Atlanta that is annually hosted for girl bosses.
Ianthia is huge on connecting with other creatives. Here, she is seen at the recent Summit21 conference in Atlanta.
As I drove away from that Friday afternoon interview, I didn’t just drive slowly because there were children playing tennis in the road – only parting to allow my car to pass – I also drove slowly because I was mulling over where Ianthia came from and who she is today.
As my eyes met the gaze of the little girls, I wondered. ‘Which one of these is the next Ianthia?’