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LOVEWORK: 6 Tips On Mixing Business + Pleasure [via Chatelaine]

When HomieLoverFriend and I started working on our comedy show earlier this year, I didn’t realize how much I was about to learn about working with my spouse. We all work in relationships every day – but actually working in a business-sense with your significant other brings out new dynamics that need specific time and attention.

My latest piece for Chatelaine (Canada’s leading women’s magazine) covers this very topic – including tips from a real-life business couple and two of Toronto’s top couples’ therapists. Take a read!

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The husband/wife team behind Wedge15.com

There are few risks in life as precarious as going into business with your significant other, but more and more couples are taking the plunge. Couples like Lynda and Stewart Resnick (of Fiji Water), design power-couple Robert and Cortney Novogratz, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith (of Overbrook Entertainment) took on the challenge of mixing business and pleasure – and were largely successful. Think you and your spouse could go from bedmates to business proposals? Here are some things to consider:

Define your skill sets

Are you organized, great with numbers and a master public speaker? Is your partner a tech whiz with an artist’s eye? Knowing what skills you both possess is a crucial step when getting started. As you decide what direction your business is going in, having an idea of what each person is good at will allow you to maximize skill sets and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

Gloria Roheim McRae and Ricardo McRae of Toronto-based social media company Wedge 15 have a unique strategy: “We take turns with our client projects,” says Ricardo. “Depending on which style our client prefers, Gloria and I will decide who is taking the lead and who is stepping back.”

“We have very different styles that work well together,” continues Gloria. “I’m the early bird who gets the worm, and Ricardo is the second mouse who gets the cheese.”

Keep work out of the bedroom

Nothing kills the mood like your other half crunching projection reports or revamping your company website when you’re ready for a little lovin’. Work has a way of creeping in on family and relationship time, and when you work with your partner, the chances of blurring those lines increase. Creating boundaries is imperative to the success of not only your business, but your relationship as well.

So how do Gloria and Ricardo carve out time for romance? ”We get our agendas out and discuss when we’re going on a date each week. It seems a little unromantic, but it’s great. Nothing in life just shows up — you have to be intentional,” explains Ricardo.

Gloria describes the priority pyramid that they utilize. ”We used to first plan business, and then the last thing on the list was us. We thought that was supposed to be right, and we didn’t feel it as much because we loved what we did and we spent the whole day together. But after a few months, we started to feel the impact.” The couple now reverses that pyramid by etching out personal time, then necessities like groceries and then business — finding that they’re not only more productive at work, but happier with each other.

Corinne Carter and Melissa Kroonenberg are clinical relationship therapists and owners of Whitby, Ontario’s New Roots Therapy, and they echo similar sentiments. “Sometimes couples tell us that it’s not romantic if they have to schedule time to be together – they’re under the impression that romance only happens out of spontaneity, which is just not true! Remember when you first started dating? You were probably planning everything – when to see each other, what to wear, what to talk about — and it was romantic, wasn’t it? Spontaneity is great when it happens…but when you’re busy running a business and possibly attending to other responsibilities, such as parenting, spontaneous moments can be few and far between.”

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Learn to swiftly handle disagreements

Have you ever butt heads with someone at work, and promptly vented to your partner upon arriving home? If you answered yes, you can see why that becomes a bit more complicated when your romantic partner is also your business partner.

“You have to talk about (disagreements) — debrief, debrief, debrief,” says Gloria. The couple also reiterates that when there’s so much “at stake”, in both business and relationship, it makes them fight harder for their work and for each other. Likewise, this mindset informs the way they manage conflict.

“We put a time limit on our fights — and you have to know how to fight. We take no longer than 30 minutes to deal with any arguments. We deal with it, then we move on and get back to work,” says Ricardo.

Trust is also a major component when it comes to decision-making. Gloria and Ricardo trust each other to make the best decisions — if they fall through, it’s used as a teachable moment, not as an “I told you so” moment. “We’re in this together,” they reiterate.

Corinne and Melissa remind couples that conflict is not inherently bad, and should not necessarily be avoided: “Conflict is most constructive when the focus is on learning and growing from the experience so that the same issues/concerns don’t continue to repeat themselves. Constructive or productive conflict is not about placing blame, attacking someone’s character/personality, or ‘winning’ the argument.”

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Three tips for mixing business with pleasure from New Roots Therapy:

1. Create a shared-vision for your business and your relationship.
Discuss your hopes and fears and come up with a plan, together, of how you want to make your vision a reality. By creating a shared-vision, couples can be more confident that they’re moving forward in a mutually-agreed upon direction, thus minimizing conflicts/issues and enhancing a sense of togetherness.

2. Make time to be a couple outside of the business relationship.
Have fun together! Try new things! Commit to having quality couple time in the same way you would commit to other appointments. In addition to this, it’s also very important to nurture your sense of individuality and make time for activities away from your partner doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you.

3. Come up with a plan for handling conflict in advance of a disagreement.
For example, decide to address work-related issues during work hours and personal issues when you’re “off the clock”. Come up with a plan for returning to issues at a later time if it’s not appropriate to discuss them immediately (if a personal issue arises while at work, for example). Develop strategies for transitioning from work life to home life, such as rituals for reconnecting as a couple at the end of the work day, to help mediate conflict/tensions and more clearly define your different roles.

Do you have experience working with you significant other? What worked for you, and what didn’t? Are you considering doing business with your lover? What are you most concerned about? Would you ever even agree to mixing business with pleasure?

HAIR & THE HUSTLE: How I Embraced Natural Hair In The Workplace

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Natural hair in the workplace is a discussion I haven’t had in quite some time. In all honesty, I’ve almost completely forgotten about (ignored? remained indifferent to?) outsiders’ perceptions and the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my physical presentation – but I was reminded of it all last night.

Thanks to Toronto’s humidity and recent torrential rains, I haven’t really been fighting whatever it is that my hair wants to do. A dry twist out from Sunday has grown into a majestic explosion of strawberry blondish kinks and curls that stretch for the sky instead of swinging down low, and I’m rollin’ with it. Some days, my hair will accept slight taming with a bit of water and a few bobby pins. Other days, my hair literally spits the bobby pins out onto the bathroom floor before I finish getting dressed. Today was the latter, so I went about my day and night with the big-ass ‘fro I’ve come to know and love.

My dope, smart, and hilarious cousin and her wife are moving away at the end of the month, and last night I met up with them and their friends to send them off well. It was a compliment from a new homie named Zee that got the conversation flowing.

She loved my hair. She asked how long I had been natural. She asked how my hair was received at work. And it was at that moment that I realized…I had pretty much stopped caring about what most people had to say.

During the time that I’ve worn my hair natural, I’ve held fairly senior executive/management positions. In my transitioning days, friends, family, and that little voice in my head all wondered if this new choice would have a negative impact on the way I was viewed at work. I moved from relaxed hair to kinky twists to a TWA with trepidation, always waiting for the moment where a comment or look would confirm that, yes – this choice DID have a negative impact on how I was perceived. It never came from the people I thought it would come from (see: older White men in leadership positions), but when I decided to apply for an internal promotion, I definitely got an earful from an unexpected demographic (see: other Black women). The position I applied for was a senior client-facing role that required the utmost in professionalism. If I had a dollar for every time a Black woman told me I’d never get the position “with your hair lookin’ like…THAT” – I’d have a lot of dollars. Despite their thoughts, I did win the position and went on to enjoy my new role. However, the idea of natural hair and professional perception stayed on my mind.

via naturallyrandom.com

via naturallyrandom.com

For my first few client meetings, I’d conveniently be in the mood for a flat iron. I didn’t want to admit that I was afraid to present myself to my clients with a head full of carefully coiffed kinks and curls, but that’s exactly what it was. Deep down, I knew I was concerned about “scaring” people or drawing extra attention to myself, and wanted to control the one thing I could to avoid all of that. Due to my name and telephone work voice, most people assumed that I was a White woman. When they’d later meet a 6ft tall Black executive who was often around the same age as their children, the reactions are jarring enough. I didn’t want my hair to be an additional She’s Different! red flag, so I consistently controlled that aspect.

Since those days, I’ve grown. I’ve learned to become much more comfortable with myself – the girl who’s almost always the tallest, youngest, brownest person in the room. Once I was able to accept and embrace the things I can’t change about myself, I learned to accept and embrace the thing I willingly chose to change – my hair. My hair has become part of the package of Bee – a thing I’m recognized by and known for, a thing that just is. I’ve changed my mindset around natural hair and professionalism, and no longer go to the default “straight hair” setting for formal or professional moments. I now know that my natural texture can be polished just as much as it can be wild and free, and find that my increased self-confidence hasn’t allowed much room to think otherwise.

Do I get questions? Sure. Do I get stares? Hell yes. Do I get people who are distracted by my hair and talk to my tuft of curls instead of making eye contact? Yup. Do those things make me say “Damn – next time I’m just flat ironing this sh*t and calling it a day!” or make me second-guess the way I chose to present myself? Not anymore. I’ve been known to stop business discussions and address the curly elephant in the room. I’ve been known to politely inform someone that the timing or phrasing of their question/comment is inappropriate and keep it movin’. I’ve been known to walk into business meetings with a sun-blocking Afro and not have anyone question my abilities or professionalism. I’ve grown lucky enough to reach a point where I am not oblivious to the implications of being a Black woman with natural hair in the workplace, but I’m not controlled by them either.  If anyone has ever assessed the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my hair – and had a negative reaction – I’ve been none the wiser, and they clearly haven’t been powerful enough to stop me from anything I’ve ever wanted to achieve. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

How do you view natural hair in the workplace? Have you ever felt the need to conform or change your look to a more “acceptable” one? 

BALANCING ACTS: Women’s Diverse Roles & The Impact On Self-Care [via UPTOWN Magazine]

In case you missed it – as of last month, I officially got on-board with UPTOWN Magazine as a contributing writer. Because I lost all power thanks to the crazy storm in Toronto last night, I didn’t get to finish the piece that I wanted to post today – however, I thought I’d re-up my first piece for UPTOWN! This is one that I have to repeatedly read to myself as a reminder to work towards better balance and self-care. Take a read and let me know what you think!

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image via shutterstock

The lyrical enchantress known as Erykah Badu once sang, “Been such a long time/I forgot that I was fine” - and for me in this moment, truer words have never been spoken.

In my hopeful naïveté, I always thought I’d be one of those women who would always have everything together. I thought that once I got all the pieces of life in place (happy relationship, fulfilling career, great friendships, healthy lifestyle, etc.), I’d be able to maintain and side-step the gaping hole of “letting oneself go” that I had witnessed other women tumbling into. That won’t be me, I thought – until it was.

With the New York Times reporting that women are more likely to be primary caregivers and are rising as primary breadwinners, women are redefining balance.  Increasing responsibilities, diverse roles, and juggling it all in today’s world means that it’s only natural for some balls to get dropped while focusing on all the others in the air. Thanks to life’s realities my naïve bubble has been burst, but I’m working on doing a better job with my own juggling act.

My mother is a key representation of balance – both the blueprint and the “Don’t try this at home!” model. As one of the key women represented in the NY Times article (a single mother, primary caregiver, and primary breadwinner in subsequent relationships), she exemplified the great ways to maintain balance, and imprinted in my mind the things I wanted to avoid. When she was bad, she was very, very bad – constantly taking on extra shifts at work, turning down opportunities to spend time with friends, and missing out on chances to do the things she loved like traveling and working out. When she was good, she was great – making time to pamper herself, enrolling herself in Continuing Education classes to fulfill personal passions, and finding time to enjoy the mature woman’s dating scene. Though her life’s motto was “Everything I do is for my kids,” my younger siblings and I found her so much more interesting when she did things for herself.

These days, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I try to be am an attentive wife, productive employee, consistent blogger/writer, engaged community builder, household financial planner, dope sister/daughter/friend, and more. Unfortunately, self-care and ‘me time’ have gone right out the window as I work to build an empire, keep bills paid and make others happy. Erykah forgot that she was fine, and I have too. I’ve also forgotten that I love Afro-Cuban dance, working out at home, getting dolled up for dates with my husband, and spending quiet time writing in my journal. So, what can I (and the multitude of women who are experiencing the same thing) do?

It’s simple. Make YOU a priority.

Far too often, we can feel that making ourselves a priority alludes to the neglect of others – and while it’s a hard function to re-wire in our brains, we must. A friend reminded me that when we fly, we’re instructed to put on our oxygen masks before we assist others with theirs – so life must follow a similar principle. When I’m not balanced, I’m not happy. When I’m not happy, I’m not of good service to myself or others.  I’ve resolved to make Bee a priority in order to restore balance, be happier, and have more to offer to the world around me.

This morning I laid in bed and wrote in my journal while singing to Teedra Moses. Next week I’m buying a new blender to get back to making my favorite green smoothies. Tomorrow I’ll be returning to my beloved Afro-Cuban dance classes. The sensuality and passion I feel from dancing will no doubt transfer to my current schleppy appearance. Bright colors in my wardrobe, flirty summer dresses, getting a much overdue  mani-pedi, and taking time to do my hair are all part of my new balancing act.

For many of us, the NY Times are just catching up to a reality that many of us (and our mamas, and our mamas’ mamas) have lived for ages. We’ve been caring for others and bringing home the bread, bacon, and milk for decades. Simply put, we’ve mastered that. We now need to master the art of balance, and ensure that we nourish all aspects of our lives – not just the financial/career/family obligations. Operation Find Your Mojo/Get Fine & Prioritize is on – are you joining me?

BEE’S BUSINESS TIPS: Working With Less Than 6 Degrees Of Separation

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Two weeks ago when I attended the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Gala, something really interesting unfolded as the night went on.

First, I ran into someone who knew me from my work last year with the Caribbean Tales Film Festival.

Then, I ran into a fellow Battle of the Sexes Show panelist.

Then, I ran into one of the girls I mentored at the Ladies on the Rise program.

Finally, I ran into 3 sisters – two who attended Curls, Coils & Cocktails, and one who remembered me from hosting The Mystic Effect show.

Now, I don’t write this to exemplify my overactive calendar and various engagements, but to highlight an important point that is relevant for Toronto, if not other areas of the world.

This place is too damn small.

These days, we no longer need 6 degrees of separation between us. Social media has played a major role in tightening circles, but even without that medium, I find that it’s just too easy to know someone who knows someone who’s connected to you in some way. As I do more work with my blogging, writing, speaking, and other community building projects, I see that this fact is crucial to remember in a business sense. In Toronto, everybody knows everybody – so being aware of that will help or hurt you as you move about on your hustle.

For me, this 1-2 degree of separation reality we currently live in means that I have to stay on top of 3 major components: quality of work, professional conduct, and personality. I’ll break it down.

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Quality of Work

I understand that we live in a microwave popcorn society, where it seems like the people who make the most flamboyant show of doing absolutely nothing get put on to fame and riches. I get it and I see it, but for me, hard work always pays off. I feel I’m neither the tortoise nor the hare; I’ve taken the best qualities from both and have created a new animal that is diligent, dedicated, and hardworking – but is also strategic and doesn’t waste time jumping on great opportunities. I try to maintain that my quality of work is something I can consistently be proud of – I’m constantly learning and improving, but I try to remember one of Don Miguel Ruiz’ Four Agreements that states to always do your best. Whether it’s a blog post, a freelance piece, a speaking engagement, or an event – and whether I can do it with my eyes closed or it’s my first time out the gate – I aim to do my ultimate best at it. No short cuts or excuses are allowed.  When people link you with consistent good work, it will take you far. It may not happen overnight, but eventually you’ll stop to look back and think, “Damn. I really did come up, didn’t I?”

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Professional Conduct

Not everything is going to go swimmingly. You won’t get along with everyone or like their style of how they do their thing. Common sense is not common, therefore clashes in business are inevitable – but how you handle them is key. I got an email a few weeks ago from someone I was trying to do business with that had me ready to hit Reply and unleash a string of expletives in straight English and patois. I instead chose to vent to my husband, send some key friends “Can you BELIEVE what this MF tried to do?” text messages, and stepped away from my email inbox for a while. When I did respond, I did so in a way that clearly let the recipient know in no uncertain terms that I was displeased and no longer interested in working with them, but that could not be held against me as being over-the-top or unnecessarily harsh.  When it comes to business, I will get in your ass just enough for you to realize the error of your ways, but will not give you extra ammo to play the victim role with. Now, if I ever did have to go there and really let someone have it? I’d have to take responsibility for any consequence that may come from those actions. It’s not about being fake or a pushover, but it’s also not about blowing things out of proportion or inappropriately burning bridges either. Toronto consistently reminds me that you never know who knows who – so I move about my day ensuring that I can always stand by anything I’ve done or said.

In a positive light, maintaining professionalism just adds to your reputation. When people feel that they can depend on you and communicate well with you, that will push you to the top of the list for new opportunities.

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Personality

Hard work is crucial, and being professional is priceless. But if no one likes you as a person? You’ll be hard-pressed to find success. I’m much more drawn to people who have some personality, kindness, and sincerity behind the resume and accolades. When you’re aloof, egotistical, or downright rude, my immediate reaction is to overlook everything you do (no matter how well), and take you in for who you are.

At the Future Aces Gala, I ran into people from 5 different areas of life and business. Some of these people introduced me to other people who could be the gateway to new partnerships and opportunities, which is ultimately a blessing. Luckily for me, I have had all positive interactions with everyone I encountered, so I wasn’t worried about how I would be perceived to the new people I met. Simply put, being nice is worth it. Making positive impressions pays off. Having a unique personality means you’ll be remembered. Just ensure that you’re etched in someone’s memory for the right reasons.

Are you feeling the ’2 degrees of separation’ crunch these days? Does it change depending on if you work in the digital sphere or more face-to-face? What are your main tenets of doing business?

HOW SHE HUSTLES BRUNCH RECAP: Thoughts On Having It ‘All’

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This past Sunday, I attended my second How She Hustles Brunch, hosted by the amazing Emily Mills. Though this was the 4th annual brunch, it was year numero dos for me – check my recap of last year’s awesome brunch here.

Like last year, I spent a gorgeous afternoon connecting and re-connecting with some incredible women who are all hustling in one way or another. I met photographers, teachers, law students, singers, actresses, mothers, and more – and soaked up all the positive vibes they brought with them. At the lovely Hotel Ocho, 130 of us talked, laughed, hugged, exchanged cards, and snapped photos with each other while enjoying a delicious meal and an awesome event.

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Unlike last year, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with mixing, mingling, and networking with others. My shyness has dialed down a bit. Though my introvertedness will never go away, I’m much better at *gasp* making conversation with strangers and getting to know others without needing to assess the scene from the comfort of the corner of the room first.

Not only did I meet some great women, eat some great food, and win some great prizes (like a beautiful necklace by Nikki Clarke), but I got insight on something I’ve been thinking about. In the spirit of hustling, we often think about the age-old question of “Can women have it all?” ‘All’ is a funny concept, because the general discussions I’ve read/witnessed tend to assume that women are a monolith who all want the same things – and common sense would tell us that’s not true. Each woman’s ‘all’ is a unique and personal entity, and I was reminded of that in conversation with many of the women in attendance at the brunch.

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At its simplest breakdown, my ‘all’ looks something like this:

A happy, loving, passionate, supportive marriage.

Beautiful, healthy, and happy children.

A career path that fulfills both my spirit and my bank account.

Incorporating my passions and creative outlets into ways to diversify myself and my income streams.

Owning and maintaining a beautiful home.

Financial stability and prosperity.

Maintaining a thriving lifestyle centred around holistic health. 

Supporting my community, supporting my friends, supporting my family.

I could drill down and get extremely specific about what all of these things look like to me, but in a general sense, the above points encompass the ‘all’ that I feel I deserve, want, and can attain.

At the How She Hustles Brunch, I was reminded of just how diverse and unique we are as women – and I was again bolstered by the fact that there is no ONE right way to do things or move about life. I met women who are living some of the things I dream about, or are thriving through the some things I fear would be too challenging for me to handle. I met women who were defying convention or redefining convention, and it motivated me to release a bit of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself.

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To me, the debate around whether women can have it ‘all’ is a trick question. Are we placing a cookie-cutter mold on womanhood and our capabilities therein? Or are we accepting of the fact that not only can women have it ‘all’, but that their definition of ‘all’ and their game plan of how to achieve it are incredibly multitudinous? We need to beware of allowing the common threads that connect us as women to turn into strangleholds that tie us to perceptions that don’t actually fit. Do: Assess your values, dreams, and goals, imagine your ideal life, define your ‘all’, and create your gameplan to achieve it. Don’t: Compare yourself to another’s journey, follow a route that you feel forced to take, and focus too much on doomsday news reports and statistics. Create the life of your dreams, and live it well.

Were you at the How She Hustles Brunch? If so, how did you enjoy the event? Have you defined you ‘all’? Do you feel that it’s attainable? What’s your gameplan?

Special thanks to Samantha Clarke Photography for the beautiful photos!

HARRY JEROME AWARDS: 7 Questions With Award Winner Anne-Marie Woods

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The 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards are one day away, and I couldn’t be more excited! As part of my official HJA blogger duties, I’ve been posting interviews with various award and scholarship winners – and today I’m hittin’ y’all with one more before the big night!

The Harry Jerome Awards celebrate excellence in the African-Canadian community in all different arenas, and today I’m highlighting Anne-Marie Woods, winner of the G98.7FM Excellence in Entertainment Award.

Anne-Marie a.k.a. Amani is an actor, poet, singer, writer, artist educator, producer, and creative consultant. With a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre from Dalhousie University, Woods has used her talents to achieve some incredible feats. Performances at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, opening for legends like Maya Angelou and Roy Ayers, and headlining at the world-famous Nuyorican cafe in New York City are some of the items on her resume. She is a resident Artist Educator at Young People’s Theatre, created a theatre outreach program for youth called Word Up and continues to give back to the community via workshops on literacy, anti-bullying, and diversity at schools and organizations around the world. Without further ado, let me take it away to Ms. Woods, who tells us a bit more about herself in my 7 Questions series.

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Tell us a bit about your business and what you do. Also, what is one interesting or little-known fact about you?

Imani Enterprises is the name of my company and it was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1994 as a response to the need for positive cultural programming with an arts education focus. I moved to Toronto in 2000 and my company has continued to evolve over the years. We are now a Global Arts Education Service that introduces creativity as a means of communication and outreach. We provide creative and innovative services to individuals, schools, community based organizations and corporations. Our services are designed to help our clients realize that arts and creativity can add to a better quality of life and we make our clients part of the creative process. I am also currently in the middle of developing my third diversity presentation contract for TJX Canada/Winners Distribution Centre in Mississauga and Brampton, Ontario.

As a multi-disciplinary artist I am a: singer, writer, dancer, spoken word artist, producer and artist educator.  I started my company and often have to deal with the many misconceptions about what being a professional artist actually means. My degree is in theatre, I have an SEB Small Business Certificate, and years of experience as a professional performer.

In the 90’s I  founded the Imani Women’s Artistic Project, a theatre program developed for young women in Nova Scotia aged 16-25 to enhance their self-esteem through theatre and performance art.  In 2011 during my Artist Educator Residency at Young People’s Theatre I started I started the Word Up Spoken Word and Theatre Youth Outreach Program and have directed three productions – the first two at YPT and then the last one this February as part of Kuumba at Harbourfront Centre.  So, the question is: how do I earn my living when I do so many different things?  To me it’s simple. I teach, write, act, produce, perform and create. I will focus on three major projects a year and I make sure that my work is excellent which is why I have recurring clients.  I have been teaching theatre at Young Peoples Theatre for five years now and have also done work for various schools and school boards repetitively since I moved here in 2000.

One interesting or little known fact about me is that I have been on my own in every way since I was in grade 12. So, I know the true meaning of success through hard work, of finding a way to be able to put myself through University and finding my way from a very young age. It’s why I have that fighting entrepreneurial spirit to this day.  Another fun little known fact is that I started out as a rapper and won the first major Rap Contest in Nova Scotia held at George Dixon Community Centre in 1986.

What was your first reaction when you heard you won your Harry Jerome Award? What did your family/friends/colleagues think?

My reaction getting the news was probably a bit out of the ordinary (just ask Angelina [Harry Jerome Award Chair] who called me). I was taking a nap because I had a performance that evening for the Viola Desmond Awards. My phone rings and this lady says “Hi, this is Angelina Williams and I’d like to congratulate you for winning the Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in Entertainment!” To which I responded…“huh?” so she repeated herself, and then I said “What um uh…is this a real phone call?” She laughed and assured me the call was real. So, I was definitely completely thrown off guard, and I stayed that way for a few weeks – probably until the actual Media Launch in March. My family is proud of me, including my siblings in Nova Scotia and my family back home in Trinidad. I have had emails and support phone calls from various key members of the Black Community in Nova Scotia as well.

My cousin who has never been to Toronto is coming up to support me the night of the event, my niece will also be there and 2 of my good friends bought their tickets right away. My really good friend Tara was also proud, and the youth that I work with also gave me props. It’s been an interesting journey for me. But the praise I also listened to was the congrats and well deserved comments from the many mentors in my life…that was definitely a good feeling. And of course the public congrats from Diaspora Dialogues on Twitter and their website and also from the Playwrights Guild of Canada made me smile deeply when I ran across them online.

The one feeling I didn’t know I would have was a bit of sadness having lost a sister to lupus and my mother to breast cancer, and it made me sad to think they aren’t here to experience this. However, that soon passed and I feel that their spirits will be with me on the 27th smiling and cheering me on.

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Have you been to the Harry Jerome Awards before? If so, what was one of your top memories of the event?

I have never attended the event outside of being a performer, and that is primarily due to me being self-employed. In the year 2002 I opened up the Harry Jerome Awards with a poem I wrote for the event called I Am Canadian. It was a take on the beer commercials that were on at that time, but I made it about African Canadian History. That poem earned me a lot of recognition in Toronto and I performed it at many galas, conferences and events for the rest of that year, and to date I have integrated into one of my artivational speeches “Why Black History Month is for Everyone”. I remember being nervous because I opened up the entire award show… but I had the full support of the audience for that performance and it was exhilarating!

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s awards? Is there anyone you’re looking forward to meeting?

I am looking forward to sharing this special night with my cousin and niece and my good friends that will be attending. I am also looking forward to sharing the night with the other recipients and hoping to really be able to connect with them though we represent so many different walks of life. When I was at the Media Launch in March what I truly loved about the recipients was that amongst us there are those who are well recognized for their contributions and there are a few of us that are unsung Sheroes and I really liked that element… that perhaps some of us who are involved in grass roots work may not be the type of person that is normally recognized.

I also hope that there will be youth in attendance who will find each of our stories motivational and inspirational.  As far as looking forward to meeting anyone, I really am just looking forward to living, breathing, and taking in the entire experience because it is a true blessing.

What do you feel is the significance of the Harry Jerome Awards in today’s African-Canadian community?

Having also performed at the Awards last year, as well as having to look up the history of Harry Jerome, I feel that knowing our history is so important. A few ladies in my church were friends with Harry Jerome so since this happened I got to hear about the type of person he was, how he truly cared about community and was humble. I feel that by recognizing individuals through his name we are keeping the history of his story alive in Canada. It is so important to let our HIS stories and HER stories continue to live!

What does winning this Harry Jerome Award mean to you personally?

Personally, this means that for those of us who are self-made, and who may have been voted least likely to succeed when we were younger because of our skin colour or behavioural issues, that we can persevere through anything and gain recognition. It means that the little girl who came to Nova Scotia from Trinidad that they wanted to kick out of nursery school for telling the kids scary stories had a future after all. It means that dedicating my life to performing and working with youth and always being diligent and excellent in my artistic endeavours has proven to be a good thing. It means that I am glad I have always faced my fears or else I would still be sitting in a room in Nova Scotia dreaming about many of the places I’ve traveled or performed or taught. I have always been one to face my fears even when I was truly afraid to make that phone call or pursue that festival or showcase – I would never let that fear stop me. Finally it means that even when we think no one is paying attention…someone out there is, so always be mindful of what messages you are putting out there. I am a product of my family, my culture, Nova Scotia, Trinidad, my education and my miseducation. So it means that if I can live dreams especially doing this on my own, then anyone can!

Finally, what is your key to success?

My key to success is my sticktoitiveness, my perseverance, and my ability to never take no as an answer. My key to success is also having faith and a huge sense of humour to get me through the challenging and difficult life moments. I believe in what I’m doing, have done and will continue to do.  I will continue to be organized, focused, driven and never see my confidence or the successes that are yet to come as a negative. And I will continue to live by my daily Mantra “Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Hard, Pray Hard!”

Keep up with Anne-Marie via her Imani Enterprises site! Will you be at the Harry Jerome Awards tomorrow night? If so, make sure we meet! If not, keep up with my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as I capture the night – and tune in to Caribbean Connections TV for a live feed of the blue carpet at the awards! Stay tuned for more awards fun! 

HARRY JEROME AWARDS: 1 On 1 With BBPA Scholarship Winner Heather Tay

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This coming Saturday, I’ll be attending the Black Business and Professional Association’s (BBPA) 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards, and I’m SO excited! Never mind that it’s my first time attending this event – it’ll be even more special since I’ve been named the Harry Jerome Awards’ official blogger!

If you aren’t familiar, the Harry Jerome Awards is an event held here in Toronto to honour the achievements of Black Canadians in a variety of fields. The awards are named after Harry Jerome – one of Canada’s famed Olympic athletes whose social consciousness and civic works matched the impact he made on the track. Every year since 1982, this illustrious awards ceremony has recognized excellence in the Black Canadian community. Amazing people like Tonya Lee Williams, Trey Anthony, and Ben Johnson all call themselves Harry Jerome Award alumni, and this Saturday, more names will be added to the list.

As the official blogger for the Harry Jerome Awards, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing current winners, past winners, and even a past BBPA scholarship winner. Today,  I want to share one of my features so that you can get a feel of what the Harry Jerome Awards and scholarships are all about. So without further delay, meet Heather Tay – a past BBPA Scholarship winner!

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Here’s Heather’s impressive bio:

Heather is technology executive with a passion for design.  In the midst of a career change, Heather consults with and is part of the Advisory Board for the Israeli based mobile start-up tawkon.  She is on the board of OCADU’s (Ontario College of Art and Design University’s) Imagination Catalyst creative industries incubator in Toronto where she now lives. She also serves on the Board of Directors for ODC/Dance in San Francisco, currently holding the position of board secretary.

Prior to that, Heather was Vice President, Client Services for The Nielsen Company’s Telecom Practice Group (former tech start-up Telephia) in San Francisco.  There she led teams in providing market research and business insight to senior management clients at companies including AT&T, Sprint, Bell Canada, Telus, RIM and Rogers Wireless.  Her focus has been on strategic revenue growth for mobile service providers and handset manufacturers.

Before joining Nielsen, Heather was a management consultant at Adventis advising telecommunications companies on international expansion strategies, market growth and business plan creation.

Prior moving to San Francisco, Heather spent a year in London, England at a Nortel joint-venture start-up marketing their new Internet access technology solution to energy companies, which included time in Iceland helping to secure their first client.  She spent other brief stints living in Copenhagen and Paris consulting for companies such as Bang & Olufsen.  Prior to that, Heather was at Nortel Networks in Toronto where she led manufacturing operations teams whilst contributing part-time to the development of Nortel’s diversity strategy and training programs.

Heather holds an MBA from McGill University and an honors degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo in Canada.  She is deeply grateful for her Barbadian and Ghanaian parents who provided structure, guidance and exposure to many amazing opportunities.

Tell us 3 interesting/little-known facts about yourself.

1. I speak a little Danish – just enough to entertain a three year old.

2. I ride motorcycles. My last bike was a 750cc Ducati Monster in matte black. Now in the summers I get around in a cute little Vespa scooter.

3. I am a big believer in personal development – education outside the standard classroom.  I’ve pursued development through Landmark Education, PAX Programs, and mindfulness training among others.  This, alongside formal education, has had a huge impact on who I am and where I am today.

What year did you win the Scholarship?

In 1986 I believe.  I graduated high school in 1987 so that should be right.  It was a long time ago.

What subjects did you pursue?

I studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, graduating in 1992.  I later went on to complete my MBA in International Business at McGill University.
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What did winning the Scholarship mean to you?

It meant recognition for the work and focus I had put in in high school.  When studying long hours I sometimes questioned “Why? What’s the point?” It was encouraging for me to have my efforts be seen (and rewarded) outside of my immediate circles.

What advice do you have for other scholarship winners in terms of pursuing their dreams?

Do it!  And learn as much as you can about your dreams through lots of different channels.  Go talk to people, try out internships, go to conferences (many offer student discounts), shadow a person in that field.  The more you learn, the better you’ll be able to see if your dream aligns with you and what you really want.  As you find out more along the way, don’t be afraid to update what you dream about doing.  Nothing is fixed in stone.

What do you think needs to be done for our youth?

Exposure, exposure, exposure – to different people, different cultures, different professions, different religions, different ways of living.  One of the quickest ways to expand one’s world is to see how other people live, what’s important to them, what choices they make and the impact of those choices. It will help youth to expand their knowledge and in-turn what they dream about doing with their own lives.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

These days it is getting harder and harder to predict where one will be in future.  I hope to be combining my love for design with my background in business and technology, ultimately helping people to see beauty in their everyday lives.

Heather Tay is a shining example of what passion, dedication, and recognition can accomplish. Assisting youth to find their passion, motivating them to stay dedicated to their development, and recognizing their achievements are all crucial to their future. Thanks to the BBPA scholarships, more students have the chance to follow in Heather’s footsteps and become our communities’ next success story! Are YOU going to this year’s Harry Jerome Awards? I hope to see you there!  

SLASH ARTISTRY: Balancing Life As An Employee And Entrepreneur

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Hi. My name is Bee, and I’m a slash artist.

A slash artist (as I define it) is a person who carries multiple roles and titles, in a career sense. A few years ago, if you asked me what I did, I’d say “I’m a mental health researcher” or “I’m an account manager for a medical tourism company.” That’s what I did, that’s how I made money, and that was it.

These days, things are different. In efforts to go after goals, indulge in passions, and develop skills that I wasn’t developing in my regular 9-5, I have a new answer to the “What do you do?” question. I can now say that I’m a healthcare professional/blogger/freelance writer/speaker/social media consultant. My linear way of thinking has slowly fallen to the wayside, and I’m more of a Venn diagram of a chick.

Many of the people in my close and extended circles (especially my fellow Gen-Y/Millennials) are also slash artists. Embracing entrepreneurship, seeking out multiple streams of income, and finding ways to go after their dreams have all led to this slash artist boom. It’s a unique place to be in, and comes with its own set of challenges and successes – so how do we make it work?

For me, it’s not as black and white as forcing myself to choose between being an entrepreneur vs. working a traditional 9-5. At this point in my life, I benefit from both, and seek to make both work for me in a symbiotic way. In attempting to do so, I often sit back and take inventory of the things I’m doing, and see how they may be helping or hurting me. If you’re a slash artist who’s juggling both traditional work and passion work (for lack of a better term, since your traditional work may very well be your passion), you might want to do the same.

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Be careful of the hurts

It’s wise to be aware of the fact that your side hustles can come back to hurt you in different ways – especially when working with people who aren’t slash artists. Not everyone understands or sees the benefit in being a diverse person. Some may feel that your aspirations outside of the office will negatively impact your work within the office, even if you’ve never once given them any evidence to support that argument. I was once (allegedly) called a racist by a Google-sleuthing colleague with too much time on their hands. Their overzealous need to understand what I did on my free time led them to deliver “proof” of my extra-curricular activities to the higher-ups who created a mountain out of a mole hill. Guess what happened a year later? That same higher-up requested my help with a project based on the fact that I possessed a specific skill set thanks to those initially problematic extra-curriculars. One day I’ll elaborate, but I’ve learned a few things from that incident:

  • Ensure that you don’t give anyone a reason to believe that your out of office work is taking away from your in office work.
  • Employ whatever set of privacy tools (writing under a nom de plume, restricting access to social media profiles, etc.) you feel are necessary.
  • Educate yourself by reviewing your company’s policy list, and ensure that none of your extra-curriculars breach any of the terms of your employment contract.

My biggest takeaway? Assume. Even though we are told not to assume anything lest you make an ass out of you and me, this is one area where I assume all day long. I consistently assume that employers (whether current or future) have access to my blog, my Facebook, my Twitter, my LinkedIn, my Youtube, my about.me page – to anything that is in anyway public. I assume that and remain intentional in everything I do. If a blog post, Facebook post, tweet, or participation in an event comes back to bite me in the 9-5 ass, am I prepared to stand by it and accept my fate, or will I regret doing it? I weigh that out every time I engage in MY work, and it guides me well.

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Look for the positives

Given some of the places I’ve worked and some of the experiences I’ve had, I’ve become hyper-conscious of how my social media/blogging/freelancing/speaking life impacts my 9-5 life. However, I’m happy to see that more and more employers are beginning to understand the value of the slash artist. A friend mentioned that she obtained her corporate PR job because of the fact that she had a personal blog – and this is becoming more common from what I see.

A quick glance at open job descriptions shows that more employers are looking for people with skills that may or may not have been developed in the traditional sense. Social media is becoming very prominent in business, so your side gig as a freelance social media consultant could come in handy. Positions that call for a candidate who is resourceful, creative, and organized may find their pick in someone who’s organized events in the community. If you’ve been invited to speak at a conference in your given side hustle field, sliding that into your resume may help you snag a corporate position. As the “do what you have to have to do, not what you want to do” generation of workers clears out, we may just find that more employers will embrace diversity in skill sets and experiences outside of those displayed on the typical resume.

You may choose to live a Clark Kent/Superman existence and keep your lives as separate as possible as opposed to blending your various skills and experiences – and that’s OK. It may actually be preferable based on your particular fields, but if your side-hustle skills can give you a leg up in the job hunt or help you win an internal promotion, use them! I’m a firm believer that one can wear both hats – you can be a valuable and productive employee and still have the passion and drive to go after your personal dreams. To be a successful and balanced slash artist, be wise, be intentional, and be creative. You never know how things might work out!

Are you a slash artist? How do you juggle your various hats? How has being a slash artist hurt or helped you? 

DOPE READS: Britni Danielle’s Break Out Of Your Box E-Book

When you’re on the track to success and pushing towards your goals and dreams, there’s nothing like having a support group of sincere and likeminded people behind you. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have family and friends in our corner that push us along, but that isn’t always the case.

Here’s where I’ve found social media has stepped in to save the day. A loooong time ago, I started following writer Britni Danielle on Twitter. I loved the links she posted to her writings, and soaked up the advice she graciously doled out for other aspiring writers and dreamers. When she began mentioning that she was creating a Facebook group called the GOALDiggers (ha!) Project, I made sure I was one of the first to join in. Since then, the GOALDiggers group has served as an awesome sounding board for advice, a place where I can toot my horn, an understanding group where I can vent frustrations, and an environment where I can encourage and help others in their goal attainment as well.

Britni also served as my writing coach for a few sessions, and the knowledge and advice she gave me was priceless. As a writer for publications like Clutch Magazine, JET, Ebony and others, I knew I had to absorb what she had to offer – and her advice has helped me tremendously with my own writing.

In a day and age where people seem to selfishly hoard who they know, what they know, and how they do what they do, Britni is one of the most unselfish and giving success stories I know. While she will humbly say she’s still on her way, I can definitely say she has achieved a level of success many of us will never know – she took charge of her life, created her own lane, and is doing what she loves while taking care of herself and her family. Now, Britni has found a new way to give to those of us who need a push forward with our goals – her new free e-book, Break Out Of Your Box: 5 Steps To Start Following Your Dreams!

As a member of the GOALDiggers Project, I was able to get my hands on a preview copy late last week. I took the time to read and ingest the beautifully written and designed book, and LOVED it.

Want to get a copy for yourself? Click here!

As per Britni’s site, this book covers:

  • How to get clear about your vision
  • How to network with others who will support your dream
  • Why you need to give yourself a concrete deadline
  • How to set measurable goals to achieve your dream
  • How to overcome the need to be perfect
  • Resources to get your started on your journey

I read it, took notes, evaluated what I was currently doing and how I was doing it, and decided to make some tweaks to my game plan based on Britni’s thoughts and examples. At just 30 pages, Break Out Of Your Box is a clear-cut, entertaining, and motivating read that will really start to get your juices flowing and get your wheels turning. Even better – any book that uses a Biggie line as its dedication is good as gold in my eyes!

If you’ve been looking for a way to start making ANY kind of positive change in your life, try Break Out Of Your Box as a guide. Acknowledging that you want better for yourself is the first step – but that self-revelation will be in vain if you don’t start taking the steps towards initiating those improvements! Put Break Out Of Your Box on your must-read list, and get to work! Hey – you can even make it one of your 5 Before 8 and get your day started right ;)

Check out Britni Danielle’s site, and spread the word about her book via social media and email! Have any questions for Britni? Reach out to her via email (Britni@BritniDanielle.com), follow her on Twitter, and check out the GOALDiggers Project Group on Facebook! 

SHOP TALK: Why I’m Saying NO To The Malls & YES To Small Businesses

Photo source: Daily Delights

I don’t know how this happened, but it’s almost December, y’all. It feels like I JUST put away my summer clothes in favour of my fall jacket, and soon I’ll be scrounging around for my winter coat.

December for me means snow, family time, food, celebration, and reflection on the year gone by. However with the holiday season, I always seem to get swept up into the madness of gift purchases and exchange. I’ll admit, I love getting gifts – but I adore the feeling I get when I gift someone with an amazing present. It could be something they truly wanted, or it could be an unexpected gift that fits their personality to a tee. Either way, the satisfaction I get from friend’s and family’s happiness will forever keep me in the gift-giving cycle – however, I plan on doing things differently this year.

Unless I know that a friend/family member wants a specific gift that I can find at the mall, I’m avoiding traditional shopping altogether this holiday season. I plan to support as many small businesses as I can – especially Black businesses that are just starting to forge their way to success. Let me explain why.

  1. I cannot STAND the insanity of malls and shopping centres. I have no patience for fighting for parking spaces, plowing through crowds, lining up in ridiculous lines, none of it.
  2. I want to purchase gifts that are as unique as the people I’m giving them to. Like I said earlier – if a cousin wants a specific toy, or a friend wants a specific sweater, I’ll brave the malls to satisfy them. However, I’m leaning more towards giving gifts that are more personalized and one-of-a-kind.
  3. I’m much more comfortable with online shopping now. Many small businesses are online, which speaks to point #1, and allows me to shop from the comfort of my own home. As always, ensure that if you shop online, you do so from reputable and protected sites.
  4. I want to support people who are doing amazing things. My favourite small businesses are people who are offering products of impeccable quality, and do so out of sheer passion for their work. I want to support that. I’m also a major proponent of supporting Black businesses in order to circulate money in our community and to help provide financial stability. Dropping bands to make the owners of Old Navy and Toys R Us dance doesn’t quite fit with those intentions.

Photo source: Feature Pics 

Though I already celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada last month, the awareness of the US Thanksgiving – and subsequent Black Friday sales – is apparent. This Saturday is known as Small Business Saturday, and is set up as a day for small businesses to get some shine during this heightened shopping time. This weekend might be a good time to investigate and start making some purchases for the special people in your life, while supporting hard-working entrepreneurs at the same time.

Looking for some awesome small businesses to check out? I got you!

If you know someone who’s into hair and skin care, check out Ixora Botanical Beauty and Whipped Body Goods. I follow both of these amazing entrepreneurs on Twitter, and the incredible handmade products they sell have been getting rave reviews all over the cyber world. Check out some of Ixora’s testimonials, and this Black Enterprise feature on Whipped!

Looking for jewelry and accessories for men and women? Hit up Absynia, who I’ve featured right here on this site. GORGEOUS pieces with incredible prices. For some local Toronto entrepreneurs on the jewelry scene, you’ve got to check out Glass Hearts and The Diana Tracy Collection. Gifting from one of these small businesses will ensure that your recipient will likely never be wearing the same tired accessories as everyone else – and even better, personalized customizations may be available!

Need some unique threads for that special somebody? Why not take a peek at Afrodelik? I also featured this Toronto-based business a while back, and I adore their designs. Two other amazing lines are Mina Danielle and Kaela-Kay Collections. Both of these lines take African-inspired designs and find unique ways to merge them with street style and high fashion. Guaranteed – if you get one of these pieces, you’ll never walk into an event wearing the same thing as someone else.

For hair fanatics, you can support by purchasing products and gift sets from start-up lines like Earthtones Naturals or Shea Radiance. Get your friend a gift certificate to a local salon or barber, or pick up a gift card for a local store like Honey Fig (where you can shop online or in-store in Toronto)!

When it comes to gift-giving, think outside of the box! Books, art, even services – there are small businesses catering to almost any and every need you can think of. Take some time to research and seek out local or online businesses that can give you something of quality that no one else can – and support them!

If you’re in Toronto, Dwayne Morgan of Up From The Roots will be hosting a Pop-up Shop on December 8th! If you’re in the city and looking to support local small businesses, you’ve GOT to come out!

Are you gearing up for holiday shopping this year? Have you considered supporting small businesses? If you have others that you think we should know about, share them in the comments section! And a BIG happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

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