Athaliah Samuel grew up in John John, a small, inner-city community of Laventille in Port of Spain. The last of four children, she was raised by her mother. Her family struggled to get by, and to make ends meet, her mother made great sacrifices. “Living in our wooden house on a hill was not a bed of roses,” Athaliah says, “but I spent some of the most memorable days of my life there.” Despite her circumstances—with the odds stacked against her—Athaliah succeeded in being crowned Miss Trinidad and Tobago World.
As a child, Athaliah attended St. Phillip’s Government Primary School; later, she enrolled at St. Dominic’s Girls Convent, a private high school in Barataria. She was an avid athlete. At St. Dominic’s, she played netball, lawn tennis, football (soccer), and competed on the track and field team. She also took up dance. Athaliah, together with a group of other like-minded young women, formed a dance group in order to exert a positive influence in her community. They spent their after school hours channeling their creativity and passion. Her love for dance—folk dance in particular—grew, and she would later become a backup dancer for Destra Garcia, touring with her for three years.
Although Athaliah kept herself busy with sports and dance at St. Dominic’s, she found herself gravitating toward design. She loved to make clothing. Her penchant for art led her to become an art student with a focus on graphic design. This field of study, however, presented a particular set of challenges to Athaliah: she didn’t own a computer. In order to finish her assignments, she made sure that she was always the first to arrive to school. She was so dedicated to her coursework that she finished second n her class, and after graduating, she became a certified graphic designer. Now Athaliah is back in school, and she will soon earn her degree in Mass Communications.
Athaliah began to seek out Miss World and Miss Universe castings when she was 18. Her first attempts were unsuccessful, so when she was 22, after the preliminary results of one competition had been announced, she decided to go back and ask a judge for feedback. “I thought everyone liked me—why didn’t I move on to the next round?” she asked. She was told it was due to the gap in her teeth, which they believed didn’t meet international beauty standards. “Hearing that that broke my heart, but it would never stop me from trying.”
Every year Athaliah worked harder. She developed as a model. She learned and grew from each job, working every local fashion show. Eventually, she entered Caribbean’s Next Top Model, where she placed fourth runner up. But things didn’t end there for Athaliah—she attracted the attention of the National Director of Miss World T&T, who took an interest in her professional development. Athaliah was given the opportunity to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the 63rd Miss World competition in Inner Mongolia, China.
When she first got the news, all of the obstacles she had overcome to reach this goal ran through her mind. She recalled many No’s she’d been given. She remembered dropping sports because her mother couldn’t afford it, she remembered being held up twice by gunpoint, and she remembered all of the jobs and opportunities she missed out on because she grew up in Laventille. “People assumed the worst of me because of where I came from. I was scrutinized because of the color of my skin. But that never stopped me.”
Athaliah has continued to represent Trindad and Trinbago, advancing in Beach Beauty and Top Model segments. She was dubbed the Dynamic Miss T&T by the Miss World Organization. Today, I she holds not just one title as Miss World T&T, but many, including Miss Intercontinental Trinidad and Tobago 2014, Top Model Trinidad and Tobago 2015, and a nomination for Global Model of the Year T&T 2016.
Athaliah is not just a model—she’s a designer, and entrepreneur, and a philanthropist as well. She has made it her mission to use her influence for good, making positive contributions to her own community and on the global stage. She serves as the National Director of Miss Intercontinental T&T, Miss Supranational T&T, and Top Model T&T. She manages my own pageant and runway coaching school, House of Tizrah. And she dedicates her time and resources to her community through the Athaliah and Friends Foundation. “I make it my duty to give back.”