SASHAKAY Fairclough is passionate about people, advocacy, and uses every platform in her life to encourage young people to be bold and stand up for what they believe in.
At just 27 years old, the young attorney-at-law has overcome many challenges, and today uses her life story as a means of inspiration to others.
Born in a little district in St Mary called Charles Town, Fairclough spent her early years with her grandmother before moving to St Ann at the age of six to be with her mother.
From there Fairclough moved to Kingston and attended Holy Childhood High School, where she was exposed to another side of the island and notes that she learnt to put school first and to act and speak like a lady.
This, Fairclough said, instilled a discipline in her which resulted in her performing well academically and graduating as one of the top students from her school, before moving on to attend the University of Huddersfield in England where she pursed a Bachelor of Laws degree.
But while Fairclough was enthusiastic about the experience, she said it reshaped her entire world as she was now on her own and had to fend for herself from early on. She worked at odd jobs, which included standing outside in inches of snow with negative temperatures, begging people to give to a charity.
“Most people did not even bother to stop. I was determined to eat that night, so I stood there from early in the morning until around 6:30 pm, with no gloves on, holding the tin cup and shivering like a leaf. I managed to collect enough money and was paid about £10 for the day. I went home with the worst cold of my life, but did the job for two weeks until I found another,” she said.
The other job saw her being constantly disrespected by her boss, and after leaving she could not find employment for a year; however, she said that taught her resilience and gave her the will to press on, which further ignited her passion for advocacy when she interned at a few High Street law firms. This experience, she said, further strengthened her when she came face to face with racism from one of her lecturers.
“It felt like there was an invisible glass ceiling over my head there, as if I couldn’t rise past a certain level. The most blatant form of it that I experienced was at law school. There was one tutor who would e-mail information for tests to only the white students. He would even meet with them to have extra classes, but never invited anyone else. One or two of the white students pretended to be upset that other races were not invited to participate, but refused to confront him or to share the content of the secret e-mails with us for fear of losing their ‘white privilege’,” she said.
Fairclough added: “I was the only black person in the class; the other minorities were South and East Asian. That same tutor always talked about black people having smaller brains, and whites discovering the world. Once he randomly mentioned slavery, looked right at me, and asked if I ever wondered what it would feel like to be a slave. I complained about him, but it didn’t make a difference.”
And so, Fairclough said when she completed her bachelor’s, her bar professional training course at the University of Law, and was called to the bar of England and Wales in 2014, “it made everything I went through worthwhile”.
On moving back to Jamaica in late 2015, Fairclough did legal work, fiddled with politics, and mentored young people at Ocho Rios High through the DebateMate programme — an educational charity that uses debating as a vehicle to teach key transferable skills such as resilience, critical thinking and leadership. She then pursued the six-month programme at Norman Manley Law School in 2016 after which she was called to the bar in Jamaica in November 2017.
Now a barrister in England and an attorney-at-law in Jamaica, Fairclough continues her advocacy for young people by championing the cause against bullying, which she has experienced.
“I was bullied a lot growing up. I was really shy, and some people took that to mean that I was arrogant. I was physically assaulted once, and the rest was verbal and emotional bullying. I was beaten up by about four or five boys when I was in primary school. I wasn’t hurt badly and only had some bruises. It happened because one said he liked me and I said I didn’t like him back. He was really popular and the others thought I ‘dissed’ their friend by rejecting him. This made me terrified of men for many years. It’s hard to understand but I was already painfully shy, so when this happened I thought all men were violent. I cannot imagine how much worse it must be for children who are physically bullied every day. The level of trauma is unprecedented. I am saddened by the increase in suicide among children who are bullied. It is hard because children just want to fit in. If you are being physically bullied, do not be afraid to report it to a teacher or principal,” she advised.
Fairclough is also involved in youth-centred broadcast media programmes, which include Talk Up Youth and Talk Up Radio on Nationwide. She also has plans to be become a published author soon, with her current novel, a work in progress, inspired by some of the most notorious crime stories on the island. In her spare time Fairclough reads and has functioned as a freelance journalist, writing articles for newspapers in the United Kingdom, United States, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
Overall, she encourages youth to have a positive attitude despite what they are up against, where they live, and to create their own opportunities.
“I learnt early on in England that no one is going to save you. You have to save yourself,” she declared.
By: Kimberley Hibbert