JANELLE PENNY COMMISSIONG
Janelle Penny Commissiong was born on June 15, 1953 in Trinidad and Tobago to Lucy Maria Joseph and Ruel Commissiong. She has one older sister, Gail Commissiong. Growing up, Janelle enjoyed many sports, including track and field. As a young girl, Janelle dreamed of becoming a flight attendant, but that job was not attainable for people of color, only the French Creole people. Throughout her life however, Janelle worked hard and made the most of all her opportunities.
When Janelle was five, her mother and father moved to Venezuela and she lived with her aunts. Her aunts taught her to be independent, honest and hardworking. Janelle would visit her parents once every two to three years when they visited for Carnival. After a few years in Venezuela, Janelle’s parents moved to the states. Her sister Gail, joined them shortly after. Being separated for the first time from her only sister was very hard on Janelle. Janelle learned to be resilient and patient as she awaited her turn to join her family in the states, which she did. Once in the states, Janelle’s family moved to Brooklyn, where she attended Erasmus High school. Janelle and her sister moved seamlessly into the new system and were hopeful for new opportunities and experiences. Her time in the states was formidable, but Janelle always had a desire to return to Trinidad when she got older.
When Janelle was 23 she moved back to Trinidad to open a boutique. She thought that a good way to promote her boutique would be to get involved in the local beauty pageant. Janelle never considered herself to be “pageant material,” but entered the pageant anyway, and won. She knew she had won because she “happened to be the best.”Because she won, she was required to attend Miss Universe.
While at Miss Universe, Janelle was a natural. She competed against 76 other women and won awards for Miss Universe’ Best Costume and Miss Photogenic. However, her most memorable experience during this time was when Miss Bermuda Connie Frith, complained that none of the contestants of color were being mentioned or promoted. Shortly after, the contestants of color began to see their images on print materials and other media outlets. The lack of promotion however, did not impact her performance and Janelle won Miss Universe. She was the first black woman to receive this international award. Janelle’s achievement impacted women and people of color around the world.
Winning Miss Universe was just the beginning of Janelle’s many accomplishments. In her official title as, “Miss Universe,” Janelle focused on traveling and bookings, charity work, promoting products and the Miss Universe brand. In 1977, Janelle was awarded Trinidad and Tobago’s highest award, the Trinity Cross. Her pageant photos were later used on the country’s postage stamps. Also, a street in the Port of Spain was named after her. Between 2012-2015 Janelle served as the Vice Chair of a Tourism Development Company in Trinidad and Tobago. She also owned and operated Bowen Marine, her late-husband’s boat business until about seven years ago, when she sold it.
Whether she was dealing with the separation from her older sister, gracing the stage for the first time in a beauty pageant, or learning to build boats with her hands, Janelle has always been determined to succeed, even if meant being the first to do something. Janelle’s life is a true testament to hard work, dedication and courage. “When you think you can do something, just go ahead and do it.” ~ Janelle ‘Penny’ Commissiong
Janelle ‘Penny’ Commissiong was selected as HOMMEWRK’s first muse because she represents that anything can be achieved if you believe it in your heart and try. Janelle “Penny,” was the first to do many things and paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps.
Now that you have read about Janelle ‘Penny’ Commissiong, It’s time to DO YOUR HOMMEWRK..