This week, 27-year-old Trinidad and Tobago youth leader Nikoli Edwards made waves when he launched a new political party in Trinidad and Tobago.
Edwards, who is a politician and political activist, says he has been asked to join the country’s established political parties, but did not make a commitment because his values are not in alignment with either party. However, he has built the newly launched Progressive Party under the guidance of his own moral compass.
According to Edwards, the Progressive Party will focus on border protection, safe living environment, security, health, food security and economic growth.
“We are not here to play games, as that has been our reality for far too long. We are a serious party with serious supporters who are serious about the people of our country,” he told reporters earlier this week.
Born and raised in San Fernando, Edwards also says he is passionate about reformation of the criminal justice system and the advancement of youth across the globe.
Edwards links his passion for criminal justice reform to the tragic passing of his father, who, after escaping prison in 2015, was found dead – his body riddled with bullet wounds. This was one of the darkest moments of Edwards’ life. He believes that if the criminal justice system offered his father greater support, he would not have died. However, rather than stand back and critique the system’s flaws, Edwards made a conscious decision to use his voice, and life, as a positive force for change.
As a staunch youth empowerment advocate, Edwards believes it is imperative that youth be brought in to high level decision-making. Last year Edwards told the audience at a sexual and reproductive rights event, “We need to mainstream young people into the decision-making process… Where it’s not a matter of, ‘let’s bring a young person into the room as an afterthought,’ but it should be written that a young person has to be a part of the discussion or has to be contributing in a significant way.”
In 2015, Edwards was elected to the Commonwealth Youth Council where he held the post of Vice Chair of Policy, Advocacy and Projects. The council serves 1.2 billion young people across the Commonwealth. By 2016 he founded the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Convention, which highlights youth achievements and challenges, and presents opportunities to shape youth-focused national policy.
An ambitious, and arguably audacious political leader, Edwards also holds the title of youngest in several arenas.
In 2017, Edwards became the youngest elected independent member of the country’s senate, and is also the youngest member of the Procurement Board of Trinidad and Tobago. Steadily climbing his way up the ladder of success, by 2018 Edwards landed Trinidad and Tobago’s National Youth Award for Youth Activism.
“I have always been pushed by friends, family, young people and just members of the public who have heard me speak—to ‘hurry up and get in government’ to be able to put my solutions for national development to work,” Edwards told Trinidad’s Guardian Media earlier this year.
For Edwards, life in the public sphere seemed to be long in the making. He has worked in both private and state media, and is a go-to, recognized social and political commentator. He also studied communications and theater arts at the University of the West Indies.
“Our prerogative isn’t to simply remove a government. That’s short term thinking. We want to provide the best representation possible. We want to unite this country and we want to ensure that this nation’s prosperity is felt by all, not just some, but by every single citizen who has the honour of calling this place home,” Edwards stated about his Progressive Party’s mission earlier this week.