You’ve told us that your grandmother is a woman who inspires you. Can you tell us more about her?
No one from history inspires me more than my grandmother. A descendant of Maroons, she was born in a rural community in a small British colony (Jamaica), and was a one-room schoolhouse teacher, with only a high school education herself. Throughout my childhood, I would witness many of her students from those days share how much she impacted their lives and encouraged them to look to possibilities for prosperity beyond their circumstances. She has a way of doing that — casting a vision and moving forward, accepting no excuses.
The mother of 10 children, she became a widow at a young age, moved to the city for a better life, then after the decline of her youngest child's health, moved to the U.S. to clean the homes of wealthy white families in Westchester County, New York. She worked tirelessly to afford medical care and educational expenses for her children back home, and is, I believe, one of the core reasons I have had the opportunities I have in my life.
Her sacrifices paved the way for our family to eventually immigrate to the U.S. many years later. Watching her get her bachelor's degree at 54 years old laid the foundation for a lesson that would become very relevant later in my life: It's never too late to accomplish your goals.
Armed with her degree, she started her own home health care business, which she eventually sold to move back to Jamaica to start the country's first nationwide cellular retailer, contracted with the island's only telephone service provider at the time. I watched her build that business into a large enterprise, netting millions, until a later recession and significant loss of competitive advantage led to its decline.
She now is living out her late nineties in Florida surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Watching her easily live several lifetimes within one taught me yet another lesson that has also proved poignant for my later years: There is a season for everything — the ending of a season is part of the cycle of life, not evidence of failure. When one season ends, another begins.
What does being a Black woman mean to you in 2021?
In 2021, being a Black, immigrant, lesbian woman and mother with an invisible disability means authentic, unapologetic, confident expansion with measured urgency and deep gratitude. In other words, Black women are not a monolith. I lay out all of those identities not to highlight any individual one, but to illustrate how they operate as one — society only views me as a Black woman, but I am much more than that.
However, it is 2021 — the tide is shifting and we are being called to pull back the layers. As a professional and community-builder, it is critical that I remain aware of my intersectional identities at all times and approach others with that same awareness. In doing so, I expand society’s understanding of who I am and how I show up in the world, and encourage others to confidently embrace all of who they are and move with that sense of authentic confidence in all that they do.
Lastly, I recognize that my time here is finite and those who know me well know that I embrace most opportunities with a sense of urgency. It is my belief that we are each here to make a very specific and indelible mark. We cannot do that without fully understanding and embracing all that we bring to the world. Black women are very much leading this charge in 2021 and I’m in deep gratitude to be alive at this time in history to be a witness and, hopefully, an agent of change.
What are three leadership lessons you’ve learned throughout your career that others can benefit from hearing ?
- Always be learning. As a leader, you will be expected to know more, but not everything. I often say that if you aren’t growing, you’re not truly living. I would extend that to say that if you aren’t growing, you aren’t truly leading. By seeking to know (and be) more today than yesterday, you remain in the position of being able to continually add value to the lives and careers of those who have been called to lead. The ability and awareness to recognize that there is always room for growth in knowledge, skills and experience is critical for empathetic, effective and expansive leadership.
- Let your failures be fertilizer. I have come to learn that some of my missteps propelled me to be a better leader by helping others avoid those same pitfalls. Often, the challenges we overcome, or the lessons from the ones we didn’t overcome, serve as the blueprint for those we have been called to lead. Whenever you falter as a leader, or just as a human being, don’t let pride hold you back from sharing your authentic story and helping others grow from the lessons you learned along the way.
- We are all called to lead. Hierarchy is the backbone of corporate culture, and often this results in people in early to mid-stages of their careers having a limited view of themselves and their sphere of influence and impact. I truly believe everyone is called to lead. You are a leader in some arena in your world, whether consciously or unconsciously. The moment you recognize that and build your skills as a leader in that one arena, you will notice opportunities open up to lead in others. In another iteration of my career, I was a life purpose coach who helped corporate women experiencing stagnation awaken to this very truth, and I still receive notes as recently as early this year from women whose lives I touched. There is great reward in saying yes to the call to lead.