Boy from Demerara Road rises above adversity

Collin Gibbs graduating from UTT in 2016, where he completed a diploma in civil engineering

(Trinidad Guardian) Look­ing at 25-year-old Collin Gibbs, at first glance, one sees a smart­ly dressed and peace­ful look­ing young man. He’s soft-spo­ken but so ar­tic­u­lat­e. No one would be­lieve that just 13 years ago, the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port em­ploy­ee was com­plete­ly il­lit­er­ate and al­so a vic­tim of child ne­glect. In his in­ter­view with the Sun­day Guardian, he chron­i­cles the events of his child­hood, which most­ly evokes over­whelm­ing emo­tions of sad­ness but al­so un­de­ni­ably speaks of his stark re­silience.

Gibbs grew up with his moth­er, Coreen Gibbs, an al­co­holic and his step­fa­ther, Tim­o­thy Pierre, a con­vict­ed mur­der­er. His bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther aban­doned him from birth.

A young Gibbs spent his days home with his broth­er while his sis­ters were sent to school. It was the be­lief of Pierre, a se­mi-lit­er­ate, that the boys should not be ed­u­cat­ed. There was no op­po­si­tion from their moth­er as Pierre was the sole bread­win­ner.

Gibbs al­so de­scribed his step­fa­ther as a very con­trol­ling and bel­liger­ent man. They were nev­er al­lowed to play out­doors with oth­er chil­dren, nor could any­one—fam­i­ly or friend, vis­it the home. He was al­so oc­ca­sion­al­ly abu­sive, both ver­bal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. And of­ten times, they would be sent to bed very ear­ly in the evening.

Wak­ing ear­ly one morn­ing in 2005, Gibbs knew right away some­thing was wrong when he saw his old­er sis­ter, Sta­cy, miss­ing from the spot in which she usu­al­ly slept. At first thought, he be­lieved she might have run away again hav­ing done it be­fore, when she took him with her and es­caped to Pin­to, about a kilo­me­tre away from De­mer­ara Road in Ari­ma, where they lived.

He was fur­ther con­vinced she ran away when his step­fa­ther sent him and his old­er broth­er Ryan in search of her.

“While we were look­ing for her, Ryan said, ‘Collin, Pierre killed Sta­cy.’” I could not be­lieve it and I doubt­ed him, even call­ing him crazy be­cause it just did not make sense. It was years that we were liv­ing with him.”

Ryan sub­se­quent­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed the same mes­sage to their moth­er who al­so could not be­lieve that her com­mon-law hus­band of so many years would com­mit such a crime, let alone against one of his stepchil­dren. But with Sta­cy miss­ing and no in­cli­na­tion to her where­abouts, she fi­nal­ly con­front­ed her hus­band, ask­ing him if he killed their Sta­cy. He ve­he­ment­ly de­nied it un­til Ryan told an aunt who alert­ed the po­lice. Pierre was in­ter­ro­gat­ed and even­tu­al­ly con­fessed to the killing. Based on his con­fes­sion an ex­ca­va­tion was car­ried out to re­trieve the body, which was dumped mere me­ters away from their home.

Through a con­sid­er­ably gen­er­ous crack in the wood­en di­lap­i­dat­ed struc­ture in which they lived, Gibbs said his broth­er wit­nessed Pierre rape, stran­gle and chop Sta­cy, be­fore wrap­ping her body in plas­tic and dump­ing it in a cesspit, across the street from their home, al­so dump­ing a bag of ce­ment on top her life­less body, per­haps in the hope of dis­guis­ing it. In 2016, af­ter 11 years, Pierre was fi­nal­ly con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment.

The mur­der of her first­born, deal­ing with grief and de­nial, made Gibbs’s moth­er be­come in­creas­ing­ly de­pen­dent on al­co­hol, even reg­u­lar­ly drink­ing the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal bay rum.

At this junc­ture, the lives of the four re­main­ing chil­dren got even more tu­mul­tuous. They would be con­sis­tent­ly mov­ing from house to house—stay­ing at fam­i­ly, neigh­bours and at times, even com­plete strangers.

Gibbs would as­sume the role of “fa­ther” to his sis­ters, look­ing af­ter them and en­sur­ing they at­tend­ed school with what­ev­er lit­tle as­sis­tance they could get from those who took ‘pity’ up­on them. Coreen—a short stature mixed-race woman—was too ‘strung out’ on al­co­hol to ex­e­cute her role and func­tion as a par­ent.

He talked about days on end eat­ing “sweet rice”—rice and sug­ar. When that was not avail­able, the on­ly thing close to his mouth would be the sali­va in it.

They would soon set­tle in an aban­doned filthy makeshift for­ma­tion with their moth­er’s new boyfriend—“a mad man shoe­mak­er” as Gibbs de­scribed him.

But it would be at this dwelling that Gibbs would be “res­cued”. Lucky for him and his sib­lings, a so­cial work­er who lived in the neigh­bour­hood, no­ticed they were not at­tend­ing school and in­ter­vened. Gibbs, 12, would soon find him­self at­tend­ing the San­gre Grande Gov­ern­ment Pri­ma­ry School in the in­fants’ de­part­ment, now learn­ing the vow­el sounds and how to write.

“It was very em­bar­rass­ing for me, be­cause oth­er chil­dren would come and peep at me and laugh at times,” Gibbs re­calls.

As hu­mil­i­at­ing as it was, even then, he knew he had to try. By Stan­dard Two, now al­most 14-years-old, on the ar­gu­ment he was get­ting too old to go through all the stan­dards, Gibbs was skipped to Stan­dard Four and was signed up to sit the SEA ex­am. This brought pan­ic and con­fu­sion to his then young mind, rea­son­ably so, mov­ing on­ly re­cent­ly from be­ing to­tal­ly il­lit­er­ate.

“I was re­al­ly con­cerned be­cause I al­ready didn’t know every­thing and now I am about to sit a qual­i­fy­ing ex­am with chunks of work I would have nev­er done.”

But per­haps God sent help in the form of his Stan­dard Four teacher, Mrs Ali, as he re­calls her name. She would take Gibbs un­der her wing and suc­cess­ful­ly pre­pare him for the ex­am.

“She worked with me every day, stay­ing back af­ter school. She used to tell the class she was on­ly com­ing to school for me be­cause I re­al­ly want to learn,” he says through a half-smile.

With Ali’s en­cour­age­ment and be­lief in Gibbs, he sat the ex­am with con­fi­dence and would blow him­self away with the re­sults. Scor­ing 91 out of a 100 in Math and 64 out of a 100 in Eng­lish—Gibbs passed for his first choice, North East­ern Col­lege.

Over­joyed at his vic­to­ry, Gibbs said many came ‘bear­ing gifts’ of school­books, uni­forms and all that was need­ed for him to at­tend the school. Ali, he re­mem­bers, gave him the biggest hug, fol­low­ing on with the words, “I al­ways knew you could do it. I am so proud of you!”

He con­tin­ued to ex­cel at sec­ondary school, be­com­ing one of the more not­ed aca­d­e­m­ic stu­dents. But he al­so threw him­self in­to some vo­ca­tion­al stud­ies and sport, both of which he ef­fort­less­ly out­matched.

To­ward the end, he ac­quired eight O’Lev­el pass­es, six of which were grade ones. He al­so re­ceived sev­er­al awards for his over­all aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance through­out the years spent at North East­ern Col­lege. This, he tells us, was achieved through late-night stud­ies with the use of the street light, as there was no elec­tric­i­ty at home.

It must have been one month since his moth­er passed be­fore he went on to at­tain a diplo­ma in civ­il en­gi­neer­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of T&T (UTT). This was a dif­fi­cult pill for Gibbs to swal­low, since he felt as though his moth­er had fall­en prey to her “demons”, and she was re­al­ly all he had.

“If she were here, she would cry,” he says in a mel­low tone.

That aside, Gibbs is al­so a bud­ding song­writer and singer who has penned and record­ed sev­er­al songs which could be found on his YouTube chan­nel un­der his so­bri­quet, Col­ly Boss. He is al­so the coach of the San­gre Grande Supreme Squad Rug­by Club.

From pover­ty and il­lit­er­a­cy to aca­d­e­m­ic awards and the turn­ing of tas­sels, con­firm­ing his new-found grad­u­ate sta­tus. To­day, this sim­ple but beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion is per­formed at com­mence­ments across the coun­try. Gibbs em­bod­ies vic­to­ry and per­se­ver­ance.

Collin Gibbs

Asked to share some words of in­spi­ra­tion, he says, “You could nev­er know who or what you can be­come if you are sat­is­fied with whom you are. Nev­er judge your­self based on the present re­al­i­ty or the un­avail­abil­i­ty of re­sources. Al­low what you have to be ac­cept­able to make you more than qual­i­fied to be a suc­cess.”




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