Tragedy and opportunity | Reflections from a YLAI fellow

YLAI group in DC


Kheston Walkins is a young entrepreneur from Trinidad and Tobago who was selected to attend the 2016 Young Leaders of the America’s Initiative (YLAI) pilot program by the U.S. Department of State. This presidential initiative supports social and business entrepreneurs from across Latin America and the Caribbean. Here are some of his reflections on his experience attending this prestigious U.S.-based exchange.

Tragedy and Opportunity: it is a strange courtship that is as clumsy as a duck’s waddle, yet the two travel abreast almost inseparably. My name is Kheston Walkins, and I am from Trinidad and Tobago. Let me tell you a story about this interesting couple and how I have come to know them.

As part of the YLAI program, I have seen many more sides of the star-spangled nation than I expected. It is a strangely cohesive chorus of struggles and successes that are unique yet common, as pervasive as life, yet as distinct as a lip mole or a toddler’s lisp. The roads are wider in the United States and there is cheese in everything, but we are oddly similar. Maybe it is because we instinctively know how to turn Tragedy into Opportunity.

kheston & alejandro
YLAI fellows Kheston & Alejandro at Meridian


Tragedy and Opportunity have become part of the American story. From the uncertain future of the early pilgrims to the now global superpower that is America. From the crippling injury of the Charlotte banking industry during the financial crisis to its status now as a rapidly growing city. I learned something important as a YLAI participant that I will not soon forget. Tragedy does not come alone: it can meet Opportunity.

Here he, Tragedy, stands on my left. He is in every act, in every tune with the drudge of loss; however, Opportunity, with her warm strings of tamed optimism, has the chance to change someone’s perspective and educate.

I lost a dear friend to stroke a few years ago. She was too old to recover, and I was too young to help. I searched for some way to ease her burden and calm the anxiety of her family, but could only give verbal support that felt like empty platitudes. Enter Opportunity with her chorus of “You can do something about it…You can help.” Today I am working to that end. My friend is gone, but strokes are still prevalent. Though Tragedy has sung his verse, Opportunity is there, showing me how to help others.

Each YLAI fellow has that common thread with me. The loss may not be so dear, but the care is no less. I am grateful to be part of a larger entrepreneurship community throughout the hemisphere which understands that while the Tragedy or setback may be discouraging or painful, it can create an incredible Opportunity to change the world. From the democratization of art trade in Mexico to the education of thousands in Chile, the story is the same though the actors are different. Tragedy and Opportunity.

kheston walkins
“Technology should be a vehicle for promulgating and realising improvement of the human race and its environment; supplementing our weaknesses and widening our knowledge and influence for good.” -Kheston

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