Chriselda Branford: A woman of substance
Written By: Alisha Ally on Dec 3rd, 2010
The name Chriselda Branford is legendary in the Royal St Lucian Police Force. It all began when Branford was a young woman in search of a career. She either wanted to be a nurse or a police officer. She applied to the British Army but during that time, they were not accepting non-nationals. She did nursing for a bit. Then at eighteen-years-old, she decided to join the police force with the intention of spending two years there then returning to nursing. Fortunately, she spent thirty-five years as a cop and retired as an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
Her police record can rival her social one. Through the years she has sang with Helenites, was a member of the National Arts Guild, the National Theatre where she acted in Banjoman. She has won the National Service Award and sat on many committees including the National Task Force for Discipline and the National Council for Drug Prevention (now known as the Substance Abuse Secretariat).
Branford warmly accepted the invitation to be interviewed. Sitting in the waiting area of the High Court in Peynier Street, it was amazing to see the respect this woman commanded from the younger generation of cops. How did she become the woman she is today?
“I loved challenges as a child,” Branford told the STAR. She continued, “So I found the force really challenging. There were days when it was good. There were days when it was rough. At the time, the type of discipline I was brought up with, I was able to conform in the force adequately. It was hard going into a man’s world because it was a man’s job and being a woman you had to work twice as hard.”
When Branford joined the force, her primary reason was to get to know her mom who resided in Barbados. Branford spent six months in Barbados training and returned to St Lucia as a rookie constable. She was first attached to Beat and Patrol. She laughed heartily as she said, “I think I’ve worked in every department on the force.”
Her record as a cop is admirable. The area she enjoyed most on the force was being an investigator, working at the training school molding young minds and her time at the Community Relations Branch.
Branford is also the initiator of the Drug Free movement in St Lucia. She told the STAR how it all began.
“As a detective, I had an opportunity to do law enforcement-crashing doors and chasing guys and what not. It took a toll on me arresting young people. I remember searching a house and there was a young girl with a baby. It really tore me because we had to arrest the guy and the girl. There was no where to put the baby and when I asked, “Wouldn’t your mother take the baby?” She responded that she doesn’t speak to her mother. We had to bring her along with the baby to the police station. We got the magistrate and bail was facilitated for her. She was just fifteen. There was no one really to charge the guy for having a baby with her because she wouldn’t say anything about the child. We got so much money and marijuana in the house. They were into the trade. Speaking with her, I realized she got into it through ignorance. Having to arrest other young persons, I realized they were getting involved in drugs through ignorance. They became vulnerable through poverty, want, greed. When I saw this, I wanted to educate myself more, to empower myself more, on drug use and abuse and prevention. I started reading on drugs so I could tell young people. I went to Georgia to do a drug prevention course. When I returned, then Commissioner Phillips was going around to the schools and he took me with him.”
At that time, Branford had already been working with young people since 1970 through the Police Youth Club. Upon her return from Georgia, she amalgamated all the police club and school tours into one movement.
St Lucia’s present Prime Minister Stephenson King was then the Minister of Youth. He received an invitation to an international visitors program and forfeited his spot to Branford because of her extraordinary work with the youth in the country. The program took place in the United States and Branford toured about nine states learning as she went along.
“I saw Blow the Whistle on Drugs in Chicago and also in Seattle. I liked the concept and I returned to start the Blow the Whistle on Drugs at the Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School. My son was there at the time so I utilized him to mobilize the children. From there, I was invited to a PRIDE conference.”
Branford was taken with PRIDE. By the time she was introduced to PRIDE, her Drug Free movement had already caught on in St Lucia. Clementia Eugene and a group of children started Bexon Youths Against Substance Abuse. There was also a group at the St Joseph’s Convent. Branford took the children from Hess, SJC and Bexon and formed one umbrella group. She remembers fondly:
“Those children really worked because they wanted to go to the PRIDE conference. At that time, we took twenty eight children and three facilitators. With the aid of Mr Romanus Lansiquot, Mr Stephenson King and Mr George Odlum we were able to make it to the conference. That was in 1990. We have travelled every year since until recently because of the recession.”
Branford is elated there have been so many success stories from PRIDE. Lennon Prospere also known as Papa Pops or Blaze is just one of the many PRIDE children who have benefitted. Branford is proud of the success of the movement even though a few have fallen by the wayside because of peer or societal pressures. To this day, neither of Branford’s two sons—one a pilot and the other a hotel worker—drinks alcohol and she attributes it to the Drug Free Club.
Said Branford: “It is disappointing that we lose children when they go off to Sir Arthur Lewis. Those that we really want to capture are the vulnerable ones. Finances are barely flowing. The corporate sector prefers to invest in activities that encourage smoking and drinking but not in drug prevention. When I was at work, out of my salary I budgeted for activities for PRIDE but I’ve been retired since 2001.”
PRIDE is still active and has partnered with Act Now Generation, which is a region-based organization. Branford is still hopeful that PRIDE can be restored to its glory days. “We used to raise funds to help children to pay for their CXCs. We used to keep a storage of food in our office to give to those who don’t have so they could go to school,” she said.
“It is difficult to organize and sustain this type of program,” explained Branford. “I feel good when I walk down the road and children say “Miss you don’t remember me?” Once, there was a woman from Anse La Raye hustling towards me and I was wondering why. She came up to me she said “I had to come and tell you thanks. You remember my son? He used to go to the College and I brought him for you and you spoke to him.” The woman’s son is now in Trinidad with a Masters degree. He has a job there and is doing very well. These little gratifications make it all worth it.”