“As a politician, there will always be opinions about performance as the Opposition’s job is to nit-pick. I actually thrive on criticism and am driven by it.” – Hon Lisa Hanna.
In Jamaica, politicians have come and gone without causing much public debate, but that is not the case for this strong-willed, witty, confident and of course beautiful member of parliament. The Honorable Lisa Hanna has had critics and supporters behind her over the years as she now focuses on her political career after being involved in pageantry.
Hanna’s Early Life
Born on August 20, 1975 in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica, Lisa Rene Hanna was raised in what she describes as a “typical middle class family” with her father Rene Hanna, who was a farmer and her mother, Dorothy Hanna, who owned a hair salon in St. Ann. She grew up in a close knit family along with her older sister; her mom was the positivity in her life and her dad was more logical and made her aware of the current issues in the world.
“The community influenced me a great deal. I grew up to love the animals, to appreciate the sense of belonging to the earth and being very comfortable around Jamaicaness and the Jamaican people; of eating off of a fire. I was stimulated by the simplicity,” she recalls. “We did not have a lot. People think the name Hanna meant I came from wealth. We were a typical middle class family.” – Honorable Lisa Hanna once told a reporter.
Her family moved to Kingston and she attended Immaculate Conception Preparatory School before moving to Kansas City in the United States. Missing home she was returned to Jamaica where she attended the Queens High School where she became fully involved in all aspects of school activities alongside her Head Girl title. Her years at Queens were her most memorable. She loved subjects such as History, English Literature, and English Language and had an overall love for the Arts. Martial Arts was also a part of her development, she achieved the rank of black belt and placed highly in major tournaments that she entered.
At age fifteen, she joined, Rapping, the television programme produced by the Creative Production and Training Centre at Queens where she received training in voice and speech. The show highlighted the happenings within high schools across Jamaica; they did sessions on events and current issues. She served on the School’s Parent Teacher Association and was involved in the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) currently known as the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning. She starred on ‘Enter the Dojo’ on Television Jamaica which was then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. Hanna also volunteered with the World Hunger Project, helping to make Jamaicans more aware of global hunger, starvation, and adult illiteracy.
When she left Queens High she became an advocate for causes such as the Candle Light Vigil for the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, becoming the youngest Goodwill Ambassador to lead the UN Development Programme in Jamaica.
At the age of 18 Lisa was crowned beauty queen in 1993 when she became the third Jamaican to proudly wear the title Miss World . Along with the crown, she walked away with five of the eight sectional prizes that year. She was the overwhelming crowd favorite who dazzled the crowd with her breathtaking beauty, brilliant intelligence, and winning smile.
“The Miss Jamaica World stage was at times a harrowing experience. It was then that I understood that Jamaican people like you or they don’t like you. And they will tell you whether or not you are fit to be in a situation,” – Hon Lisa Hanna.
After the attention of the Miss World pageant came to a simmer, Hanna sharply focussed on her education and achieved her undergraduate degree in Media and Communications from CARIMAC at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica in 1998. She furthered her education and was awarded her Masters in Communication Studies in 2000. She still had the vigor to make a difference and played an integral part in student welfare as the External Affairs Committee Chair of the Guild of Students. She also built a computer lab in the Faculty of Arts as her project for final year. She spearheaded workshops for youth in etiquette, grooming, and personal development. While studying for her masters, she worked as a project officer, business development officer, and as a public relations manager at the Hilton Hotel.
In 1998 she acted in the hit movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back. One year later, she married David Panton and had her son Alexander two years after. She signed up with the New-York based Williams Morris agency and went back into media where she hosted the talk show Our Voices. Her husband continued his political race but in 2004 following Panton’s political crisis and resignation, Hanna and Panton decided on a divorce due to “irreconcilable differences”. After a custody battle she moved back to Jamaica and landed a job as a communications consultant for the Hilton Hotel.
“A part of divorce is that you go through custody issues, it is always wise to act in the best interest of the child. As much as there’s hurt, you must look at the bigger picture. You have to check your ego at the door.” – Hon Lisa Hanna in an interview.
Hanna’s Political Career
She went into politics because she had an urge to make a difference, something she has been doing since at Queens.
“My social consciousness had never waned. I went to PJ and told him I wanted to give back in some way. I started doing charity work in several communities and visiting Omar’s (Davies) constituency. I also looked at basic schools in Michael Peart’s constituency.” – Hon. Lisa Hanna in an interview.
During the four year tenure (2012-2016), she performed the duty of Minister of Youth and Culture. She came under a lot of scrutiny about her job and capabilities. However, she overcame each one with confidence even when some tried to remove her from the position; as many as three of the four sitting PNP councilors in her constituency.
“Last year’s internal attempt to remove me as MP, I didn’t even bother to react… We were in clear breach of UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child of which Jamaica ratified in 1991 with children being locked up with adults, children being locked up for 48hrs, etc…I got blamed for all of it, despite my ministry not being the only area responsible for youth; I became the face for youths’ issues in Jamaica.” – Hon. Lisa Hanna.
Not afraid of a challenge, she remains a member of the People’s National Party (PNP) and currently serves for the parish division of Saint Ann South East and the Opposition spokesperson for Youth and Culture. Lisa continues to be a strong advocate for the youth.
“When I was Minister of youth, one of the things that was very clear was the best persons to tell us how we should implement programmes and how we should implement them were young people. We spoke to over three thousand young people and through those consultations many programmes were developed and as a result 230,000 young people in this country were impacted. Under the Portia Simpson-Miller led administration we took youth unemployment from 38% to 28% and it is still trending downwards. Let us work to make sure that young people at all times have access to youth development and employment so that youth is at the center of National development, healthcare and access to education and capital.“ – Hon. Lisa Hanna in her Youth Month Message.
She has aided in the fundraising to build recreation and play areas for kids in the Arnett Gardens communities; gifting audio-visual equipment for basic schools in North West Manchester; and the re-building of basic schools in Clarendon and Kingston’s Denham Town.
“They were good learning years during which I grew politically and personally. I got very comfortable in my own skin, learning to master the art of balancing personal and public life.” – Hon Lisa Hanna.
Controversy Follows Hanna
As long as she has been in power, and under the looking glass of politics into all aspects of her personal and professional life, her physical appearance has garnered much attention. Yes, she is a crowned pageant queen, but the question that has been on the minds of some critics is: Can she ever be more than a beauty queen?
Apart from the fact that she is qualified and has made a name for herself having represented her constituency for a number of years, she still remains in the public eye as being too pretty to be in politics. One gets the impression that every time she appears on social media it’s controversial. Some forget to acknowledge that she is first human, as well as female, so perhaps living as such would be acceptable, but no.. it isn’t for one Lisa Hanna. Even an uproar occurred from her taking a picture with cows where persons said she had too much “time on her hands, to her posing in her carnival costume, and her picture without a brassiere.
Not to mention her wearing a bathing suit to the beach which was later received reproach, amidst compliments, by the public that it was inappropriate. Even Father Ho Long went as far as writing a review in 2014 bringing more attention to her attire, it read:
“Lisa Hanna, the new queen of politics, decided once again to grab the headlines. As we know, the media is always ready to look for excitement, whether it be vacuous or substantial.
Why would the minister of youth and culture, just short of complete nudity, strip herself down and post herself on social media in an obvious cry to the public through the media to call attention to herself? It is a desperate attempt at ‘Me, myself, and I’, the ego fearing loss of being forgotten by the public, by which Lisa Hanna is given her breath and life.
The minister of youth has clearly articulated for the youth what our future youth must be. Do you Jamaicans want your children to do what Lisa Hanna has done? If you wish them to be like her – worldly, secular and empty of any values but the self – then we are in for another Sodom and Gomorrah.”
If comments from the public aren’t enough, other members and staff within parliament are allegedly ‘attacking’ her. She has had to fight a lot of battles regarding her political career.
In 2013 she was dubbed the fourth Worst Politician in the World, as the worst performing cabinet minister, in her earlier stages as Minister. Ironically or amidst all the public ugliness, she was selected Jamaica Observer’s Sexiest Jamaican woman.
In 2016 Hanna released a letter threatening legal action if the People’s National Party General Secretary, Paul Burke, did not apologize for his “gravely libelous comments” made against Hanna during an interview.
if the People’s National Party General Secretary, Paul Burke, did not apologize for.
Additionally, Hanna was in an ongoing investigation (by the PNP disciplinary body) as it was alleged that she was supporting two independent candidates in the Local Government elections as well as failing to support Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller (the Leader of the PNP) in the Claremont, St. Ann division.
With the issue of the China’s plastic rice hitting Jamaica, Hanna was believed to be a victim of said rice and this sent some Jamaicans into a frenzy:
“It cyaah cook, all we can do is roll it into a ball… We even added some coconut milk to it but it won’t shell. However, you can roll it, you can bounce it.” – Hon Lisa Hanna in her posted Instagram video.
However the Bureau of Standards stated that the samples provided by Hanna did not show that it was in fact, plastic; which again stirred controversy.
In her tenth year in the political realm, she is still an amazing mother to her adolescent son and has married her boyfriend of ten years. She still has the backing of many supporters and comrades in her constituency and in parliament; and regardless of the backlash from her actions, she has made positive contributions to youth and society.
“After a while, people realized that “her back is broad” and she is not going to have an emotional response to something. Identifying emo tags and remaining objective are key to properly managing my workload.” – Hon. Lisa Hanna.
She has even made it her duty to acutely answer questions regarding Youths, to ensure that their voices are heard; since they form a large part of the Jamaican population. While some persons attribute her political standing to her ability to articulate effectively, her former pageant involvement, her sex appeal, her beauty and genuine concern for youth advancement, she still remains a resilient a member on Jamaica’s political stage striving to achieve her goal, which is to make a positive difference in the lives of all Jamaicans.
With her innovative ideas, cohesive policies, and social influences to politics she will continue on her journey successfully.
“Serving the people of Jamaica is not something I take lightly, it is a privilege, a great opportunity of a lifetime and as I go forward I want to thank all the people across the island for their love and support; it has inspired me.” – Hon. Lisa Hanna.
By Alexandra Daley